Renaissance Dam, which we believe to be an error)
Losing the Nile
Egypt has long held unrivaled ï¿½historic rightsï¿½ over nearly all of the
Nile Riverï¿½s resources. But now all that could be changing as upstream
states like Ethiopia and Burundi seize on Egyptï¿½s post-revolution
political uncertainty to finally wrest at least some control of the
worldï¿½s longest river. The result could be mean dire food and water
shortages for Egypt, and maybe another revolution.
Egypt is losing its grip on the Nile
Political uncertainty in post-revolution Egypt is allowing other Nile
states to wrest control of the worldï¿½s longest river.
CAIRO, Egypt and MARAWI, Ethiopia ï¿½ Amid the barren, earth-dug canals
and emaciated livestock that stalk the dirt roads of Ethiopiaï¿½s
northern highlands, Teshale, a 25-year-old farmer, waits idly for the
rain to come.
His small, parched field of maize ï¿½ sometimes wheat, if the weather
permits ï¿½ relies solely on the areaï¿½s seasonal rainfall to produce its
harvest, which fails to turn even a meager profit.
If Teshale could just harness some water from the mighty Blue Nile
River nearby, which eventually cascades north to meet the White Nile
in Sudan, flowing onward to Egypt, he might finally be able to halt
his endless cycle of poverty, he says.
Until now, Ethiopia has lacked both the technical capacity and the
diplomatic support to trap its Blue Nile waters ï¿½ which give Egyptï¿½s
Nile 86 percent of its own flow ï¿½ for domestic use. A 1959 colonial-
era treaty brokered by Great Britain gave Egypt, and to a lesser
extent Sudan, unrivaled ï¿½historic rightsï¿½ over nearly all of the Nile
But now all that could be changing as upstream states like Ethiopia
and Burundi seize on Egyptï¿½s post-revolution political uncertainty to
finally wrest at least some control of the worldï¿½s longest river.
More from GlobalPost: Could Egypt be out of water by 2025?
Just 16 days after President Hosni Mubarak stepped down in February
2011, Burundi reneged on its erstwhile promise to Egypt not to sign a
new treaty that seeks to adjust water rights in the basin. If ratified
by other basin states, the agreement would strip Egypt of its majority
share of the riverï¿½s water.
The most serious threat, however, comes from Ethiopia, already Egyptï¿½s
regional rival. In May 2011, Ethiopia announced plans to build a
massive, $4.8 billion hydropower dam ï¿½ known as the Grand Renaissance
Dam ï¿½ along the stretch of river within its own borders, despite
Egyptï¿½s opposition to the project.
ï¿½Most of us here are eager to use the Nile. But every farmer expects
Egypt to be the enemy,ï¿½ said Manichey Abey, a 33-year-old Ethiopian
While hydropower dams ï¿½ used to generate electricity ï¿½ in theory
eventually allow the dammed water to flow through, Egyptian officials
remain wary of Ethiopiaï¿½s intentions. They demanded in October of last
year the creation of a tripartite committee, now at work, to study the
new damï¿½s effects and are worried the project could set an unwelcome
precedent for more ambitious schemes in the future.
At 6,000 megawatts, the dam would be the largest hydroelectric power
plant in Africa, with a reservoir capable of holding roughly 65
billion cubic meters of water.
ï¿½It will be a renaissance for the Ethiopian system,ï¿½ Abey said. ï¿½The
Nile is the main source of Egyptï¿½s economy, and if the amount of water
they use is reduced, it will be a big problem. But we have the right
to use it.ï¿½
More from GlobalPost: Video: Ethiopia claims its fair share of the Nile
Such ambitions by upstream states are contributing to the gradual
loosening of Egyptï¿½s 5,000-year grip on its nearly sole source of
freshwater, threatening not only the desert nationï¿½s ability to grow
enough food for its expanding population, but also its political
stability and regional hegemony.
Egyptï¿½s uprising ushered in a period of political and monetary
volatility, stalling the economy, shaking up relations with the US and
kicking off a year of sporadic protests and clashes between protesters
and Egyptian security forces.
All of this has diminished the Egyptian governmentï¿½s traditional
ability to stonewall both financing and diplomatic support for
independent Nile Basin projects.
ï¿½Ninety-five percent of Egyptï¿½s water comes from the Nile. We depend
on the Nile more than any other country,ï¿½ said Hani Raslan, an expert
on water politics at the government-affiliated Al-Ahram Center for
Political Strategic Studies in Cairo.
ï¿½But right now, the [Egyptian] government is only a transitional
government,ï¿½ he said. ï¿½It has nothing to do with the long-term plan
for the Nile, and is only paying attention to our internal affairs.ï¿½
The importance of the Nile to Egypt is hard to exaggerate. Like a
slender, green thread, the waterway fastens Upper Egypt in the south
to Lower Egypt in the north, and has nurtured agricultural
civilizations in its verdant Delta for millennia.
More from GlobalPost: Could a lack of food and water spark Egypt's
As a result, and also because of significant US financial and military
patronage over the years, Egypt has long been able to dominate the
terms of Nile basin negotiations, thwarting independent water projects
by other countries and manipulating international customary water law
to maintain the status quo, water experts said.
ï¿½Egypt did have, until fairly recently, some kind of ideological
hegemony [in the Nile Basin],ï¿½ said Richard Tutwiler, director of the
Desert Development Center at the American University in Cairo, a
research facility aimed at serving Egyptï¿½s desert communities.
ï¿½They were able to frame the entire issue of Nile waters in their own
context, both within the basin, but more importantly outside the basin
and in international forums and so forth,ï¿½ he said.
For years, Egypt also skillfully influenced international financial
institutions such as the African Development Bank and World Bank to
sustain its outsized water quota, says Christine Anderson, former
associate professor of international water law at the American
University in Cairo.
ï¿½The UN moved on to an international water law treaty standard
incorporating equitable distribution [of water resources],ï¿½ Anderson
said. ï¿½But the IMF and World Bank ï¿½ upheld their regional alliance
structures in Egyptï¿½s favor ï¿½ thus preventing any forward movement for
the rest of the Nile states.ï¿½
Since Egyptï¿½s revolution, however, its new rulers have made decisions
that run afoul of the organizations that once helped it maintain its
control over the Nile.
Last spring, for instance, Egyptï¿½s headstrong military rulers scoffed
at the International Monetary Fundï¿½s offer of a $3.2 billion loan
package ï¿½ only to later backtrack and ask again for the funds. They
also brazenly put American democracy activists and their Egyptian
colleagues on trial for attempting to subvert the state, souring
relations with the US, the IMFï¿½s largest stakeholder.
More from GlobalPost: Photos: Just miles from the Nile, Ethiopia's
farmers struggle to find water
Analysts say Western donors are wary, and that the Egyptian
governmentï¿½s erratic behavior may temper support for its Nile
dominance in the future.
In addition, Anderson said, Chinaï¿½s willingness to finance a number of
Ethiopiaï¿½s dams, including the new Grand Renaissance Dam, has startled
Egyptian officials, and indicates a potential new regional order in
which US largesse may no longer secure Egyptï¿½s place as the Nile
Basinï¿½s most powerful state.
Egyptian officials, for their part, remain defiant.
ï¿½Egypt has been asking these countries to come together so we can
reach an agreement on the Nile,ï¿½ said Al Ahramï¿½s Raslan, adding that
because Egypt receives negligible rainfall, its water quota should
remain the same under any new agreement.
ï¿½But no one is responding to Egyptï¿½s call. These countries, especially
Ethiopia, are making a grave mistake,ï¿½ he said. ï¿½Because Egypt is not
a weak country. If it was ever in real peril, it wonï¿½t be silent.ï¿½
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