Monday, September 26, 2011

Egypt, Ethiopia mull Nile dams dispute

Egypt, Ethiopia mull Nile dams dispute
Published: Sept. 23, 2011 at 10:53 AM

CAIRO, Sept. 23 (UPI) -- Egypt and Ethiopia are making an effort to
settle a long-running bitter dispute over sharing the waters of the
Nile River but Ethiopia seems determined to press ahead with plans to
build a string of large hydroelectric dams that Cairo says will choke
off its lifeblood.
Egyptian Interim Prime Minister Essam Sharaf met last week with
Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi" class="tpstyle">Meles Zenawi in
Cairo and agreed to set up a technical team to study the impact of the
$4.8 billion Great Renaissance Dam.

That's the centerpiece of Ethiopia's ambitious dams project. It will
be the largest dam in Africa, able to generate 5,250 megawatts of

Sharaf said Cairo and Addis Ababa are discussing a "comprehensive
development plan" for the two countries.

Zenawi says his government will delay ratifying a May 2010 treaty that
Ethiopia signed with four of the 10 African states that seek to scrap
colonial-era agreements that give Egypt and neighboring Sudan rights
to 85 percent of the Nile's waters.

The delay will allow Egypt to have parliamentary elections to
establish a new government following the Feb. 11 ouster of President
Hosni Mubarak in the pro-democracy uprisings that have swept the Arab
world since January.

The voting is scheduled for November, with presidential elections due
soon after.

But since Egypt, with a rainfall close to zero, depends on the Nile
for 90 percent of its water and will need more as its population of 82
million expands, a more accommodating position on the Nile issue is
far from guaranteed.

Mubarak fiercely opposed Egypt surrendering any of its 75 percent
share of the waters of the Nile, the world's longest river, which runs
4,184 miles from Lake Victoria, Africa's largest lake, to the

"We have agreed to continue to work on the basis of a win-win solution
for all countries in the Nile Basin," Zenawi said in Cairo.

His remarks indicate a sharp divergence from his defiant refusal to
compromise with Cairo, a hard-line stand reciprocated by Mubarak's

But it seems more likely that Ethiopia, along with the other
signatories of the 2010 agreement -- Uganda, Tanzania, Kenya and
Rwanda -- is prepared to give Egypt time to determine its position
following Mubarak's downfall.

The signatories gave the other Nile states -- Burundi, the Democratic
Republic of Congo, Eritrea and Sudan -- a year to join the pact before
putting it into action.

These, along with the newborn state of South Sudan, are expected to
sign up since all the upstream countries say they too need to
accommodate swelling populations and need water to irrigate more
farmland and to power hydroelectric projects to develop their economies.

Sudan and South Sudan have an overall population 44 million. Ethiopia
has 83 million. They're growing even faster than Egypt.

U.N. projections indicate the combined population of the three
countries will increase to 272 million by 2025 from 208 million now.

What action they will take if Cairo doesn't accede to their demands
isn't clear. But Ethiopia, the most militant of the riparian states,
is likely to press ahead with its plans for a chain of large dams on
the Nile.

The Economist Intelligence Unit warned in May 2010 that "if Egypt were
to continue to battle against the agreement it would compromise its
ability to pursue broader trade and investment goals in Africa and
there would be an increasing risk of political tension escalating to
military conflict."

Addis Ababa has already built dams that have infuriated Cairo, which
considers the Nile, "the Eternal River," a national security issue of
the first magnitude.

Ethiopia is particularly riled by Egypt's position since 85 percent of
the Nile's waters originate in the Ethiopian Highlands, the source of
the Blue Nile that meets the White Nile in Khartoum, capital of Sudan.

In June, Mihret Debeb, manager of Ethiopia's Electric Power Corp.,
said work on four more dams capable of producing up to 11,000MW of
electricity will start in 2015. Some of the power will be exported to
neighboring states.

The corporation has awarded the Italian construction firm Salini
Costruttori a contract to build three giant dams intended to generate

Apart from these, Zenawi has inaugurated the 460MW Tana Beles Dam on
the Blue Nile in May 2010 and the 420MW Gilgel Gibe 2 Dam on the Omo

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