Egypt is facing a major challenge in balancing between its water resources and needs, especially with around 97 percent of its water resources flowing in from outside its borders, Irrigation Minister Mohamed Abdel-Aty said on Sunday.
In a speech during the third edition of Cairo Water Week, Abdel-Aty said that Egypt cannot rely in filling the gap on underground water, which faces a risk of depletion.
He said that Egypt has shifted to the desalination of sea water amid a rise in challenges and water scarcity, highlighting the adverse effect of climate change on the Nile Delta as the rise in sea levels makes the Delta one of the world’s prime candidates in danger of drowning.
His statements on the country's water challenges come after years of talks between Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan on the disputed Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD), which would adversly impact Egypt's share of the Nile water, have failed to reach consensus.
Egypt and Sudan have been in talks with Ethiopia for years now to reach a legally binding agreement on the filling and operation of the massive hydropower dam that Addis Ababa is building on the Blue Nile.
The latest round of talks mediated by the African Union (AU) came to a close in late August without reaching a consensus on the legal and technical points of contention, after Ethiopia proposed a package of non-binding guidelines for the filling and operation of the mega-dam.
On the disputed Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD), Abdel-Aty said that Egypt has sought since the signing of the 2015 Declaration of Principles (DoP) with Ethiopia and Sudan a fair agreement that takes into account the concerns of the three countries on the dam.
He said that the “unilateral” filling and operation of GERD by Ethiopia represent a significant challenge and pose risks to the downstream countries, Egypt and Sudan, during severe droughts and flooding.
Meanwhile, Prime Minister Mostafa Madbouly stressed in a recorded message to the water-focused forum the necessity of reaching a legally binding accord on the dam’s filling and operations that preserves common rights and interests.
He accentuated that an an agreement should be reached without any unilateral decisions that would negatively affect stability in the region.
“Egypt is keen on continued negotiations with Sudan and Ethiopia to reach this binding agreement [on GERD],” he said.
Madbouly noted that President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi had affirmed in a speech to the UN General Assembly last month that Cairo has worked in the past decades to bolster and deepen cooperation with Nile Basin countries.
He said that El-Sisi warned that a continued collapse in talks over the dam would have a negative impact on the stability and development of the region.
“While acknowledging Ethiopia’s right for development [through GERD], the Nile water for Egypt is a matter of life and existence,” he said.
The GERD, built 15 kilometres from the Ethiopian border with Sudan, has been a source of contention between the three countries since its construction began in 2010.
The first filling of the controversial dam took place this summer, despite Ethiopia not having reached any binding agreement with its downstream neighbours.
Cairo fears the massive hydropower project will significantly cut its crucial water supplies from the River Nile, while Sudan fears it could endanger the safety of its own dams.
Ethiopia says the 6,000-megawatt dam is key to its development and hopes to become Africa’s biggest electricity exporter.