April 22, 2012
ASWAN, EGYPT - About 1,287 kilometres south of this Egyptian city where the Nile river pours into Egypt, construction has begun on a massive dam being built in Ethiopia that could destabilise Egypt in a way that would make the last year of political upheaval look minuscule, analysts say.
If constructed at specifications revealed last year, the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam would result in cuts in electricity, a reduction in agricultural lands and water shortages across major cities in Egypt, new studies say.
"In short, it would lead to political, economic and social instability," said Mohamed Nasr El Din Allam, who was Egypt's minister of water and irrigation until early last year. He edited a book-length collection of studies on the dam published last month. "Millions of people would go hungry. There would be water shortages everywhere. It's huge."
Those dire forecasts stem from Ethiopia's decision last year to announce an increase in the size of the dam, which is already under construction 40 kilometres from the Sudanese border. Ethiopian officials revealed the depth of the dam would be enlarged to 150 metres from 90m, alongside plans to boost electricity production and use water pooling behind the dam to irrigate more than 500,000 hectares of new agricultural lands.
Ethiopia's announcement has created new tensions in water-rights negotiations among the 10 countries that form the Nile Basin and emerged as one of the biggest diplomatic challenges for a growing Egypt.
More than any of the other countries along the basin, Egypt and Sudan are dependent on the water from the river because of their lack of secondary water resources and little rainfall. Egypt receives 55 billion cubic metres and Sudan receives 18.5bn cubic metres per year, under a series of agreements that date back to a 1929 treaty drawn up by Britain when it held power over much of North Africa.
Those agreements have long irked upstream countries, which they describe as a colonial-era injustice because of treaties' favourable distribution of water to Egypt and Sudan, as well as giving them the right to veto projects that would be "harmful" to their national interests.
The Nile Basin Initiative was established in 1999 to establish an equitable agreement among the countries. But divisions emerged from the start, hinging on Egypt's and Sudan's unwillingness to negotiate their share of the water and insistence on retaining veto rights. Ethiopia, Uganda, Tanzania, Rwanda and Kenya signed their own deal, known as the Entebbe Agreement, that said projects could be built as long as they don't "significantly" affect the water flow. Egypt, which sees the wording as a precursor to cuts of its share, called the agreement a "national security" threat.
Ethiopia in particular has struck a defiant stance, with Prime Minister Meles Zenawi saying in a television interview in 2010 that "some people in Egypt have old-fashioned ideas based on the assumption that the Nile water belongs to Egypt… The circumstances have changed and changed forever".
Just a month after the uprising in Egypt forced Hosni Mubarak to resign and hand power over to the military, the Nile river tensions escalated to new levels when Ethiopia announced new details of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam. Ethiopian officials said there would be no impact on Egypt, but analysts and officials in Egypt argue the impact would range from bad to devastating.
The problems would start with the filling of the 62bn cubic metre reservoir behind the dam, which would immediately reduce the flow of water to Egypt and Sudan. How bad the impact would be depends on the rate they decide to fill it.
Source: The National
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