Water Wars

[caption id="attachment_813" align="aligncenter" width="460"] Satellite image of the Northern section of the Nile, AFP[/caption]

“The only matter that could take Egypt to war again is water,” said Egypt’s second president Anwar Sadat defiantly in 1979, making it clear that any limitations to this vital resource would be aggressively opposed.

For Egypt, water has become a matter of national security.  Last month, secret documents from Stratfor, a private intelligence company that sells security information to clients, show the country may have been talking to Sudan about military alternatives to protect its vital resource.  Both countries have denied the allegations, with Egypt calling it a rumour designed to disturb Egyptian-Ethiopian relations“. 

A 2010 internal e-mail procured by Stratfor and leaked by the whistle-blowing website Wikileaks, suggests that Egypt and Sudan may have agreed to build an Egyptian airbase in the Sudanese country’s western region of Darfur potentially to be used for assaults on Ethiopia and a large dam it had been planning, if diplomatic efforts failed to resolve the dispute between Egypt and Ethiopia over Nile water-sharing.

Ten countries are involved in a decades-long conflict over Nile Water rights and billions of cubic metres of badly needed fresh water.

One on side, seven East African countries want more water from the Nile, and on the other stands Egypt and Sudan, who get 90% of the river’s water under colonial-era accords and strongly oppose the move.

Upstream countries including Uganda, Rwanda, Tanzania, Kenya and Ethiopia say it is unfair and want a new deal but very little has been agreed in more than a decade of talks.

The drawn-out tussle only intensified after the Egyptian revolution, when Ethiopia announced the size of its Grand Renaissance Dam which was much larger than expected.   It was at attempt to muscle in on the river while Egypt was at its weakest, analysts said at the time.

Egypt became concerned that the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam on the Nile would impact its vital flow of fresh water when completed with a capacity to create a reservoir of 65 billion cubic metres.  Egypt is entitled to 55 billion cubic metres of the Nile’s total annual flow of around 84 billion cubic metres.

The real fear wasn’t the dam itself, but that it would permanently choke off water downstream as Ethiopia filled a massive reservoir behind the dam, and sucked out the water for agriculture.

The situation became murkier recently after the sudden death of Meles Zenawi, Ethiopia’s former president and a major proponent of the dam, slowing the plans down.

Ethiopia is also struggling to fund the dam and needs foreign donors to help.  Egypt and Sudan can lobby foreign donors to cut off access to funding for the project if it is found to potentially hurt the flow of water downstream.

Meanwhile, Egypt has quietly set itself up for a win.  President Mohammed Morsi made Ethiopia one of his first trips as a sign of good will.  That is after former president Hosni Mubarak never returned to Ethiopia after an assassination attempt there in 1995.

The North African nation has also appointed former water minister, Hisham Qandil, as prime minister, who was involved in water negotiations in the past.

Egypt’s appears determined to keep its side of the bargain through any means necessary.

But none of this deals with the bigger problem at stake: the impasse between upstream countries who are demanding a more equitable agreement, and Egypt and to a lesser extent Sudan, which has vehemently lobbied against this.
Rather than renegotiate rights, the nation has proposed increasing the flow of the river through a number of proposals to reduce evaporation and leakage from the river throughout its course.
However, until Egypt recognises that it cannot hog the majority of the Nile forever, the dispute will continue to loom in the background.
The country must face up to these negotiations if it is to be recognised as having real democratic influence in the region, or the situation does not look pretty for Egypt which has few other real sources of water.  

One Comment

  • Posted October 15, 2012 at 12:32 pm | Permalink

    It is somewhat misleading to say that this is a situation of Egypt and Sudan vs. the rest of the nile basin countries. 80% of the nile’s water flows through the blue nile – meaning it originates in Ethiopia, then runs through Sudan and Egypt. really, this is a case of Egypt and Sudan vs. ethiopia

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