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Wednesday, 20 November 2019

Selling water and electricity to Egypt

Bassem Ali interviews two experts from the irrigation and foreign ministries who give their takes on developments in the GERD negotiations

Bassem Aly , Wednesday 23 Oct 2019
Selling water and electricity to Egypt
The Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam
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Former minister of water resources and irrigation Mohamed Nasreddin Allam explained that most Nile Basin states want to sell water and electricity to Egypt

The majority of Nile Basin countries want to sell water to Egypt, while Ethiopia wants to do the same with the electricity that will be generated from its Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD), said Egypt’s former water resources and irrigation minister Mohamed Nasreddin Allam in an interview with Al-Ahram Weekly.

The Nile Basin countries, Allam said, think that if other states can make profits selling gas and oil, why shouldn’t they do the same with water. He argued that Ethiopia seeks to export electricity to both Egypt and Sudan and get foreign currency in return.

The interview took place on the sidelines of a one-day conference about the implications of the GERD organised by the Egyptian Centre for Strategic Studies (ECSS), a leading Cairo think-tank, attended by Egyptian government officials, politicians, legal scholars and diplomats. It received major media coverage.

Allam referred to President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi’s announcement about the need for mediation in order to start proper studies of the impacts of the GERD, which Ethiopia is not currently allowing to happen. “These studies will tell us whether the GERD is good or bad for Egypt,” Allam stated.

The former top-level state official believes that the GERD will certainly decrease Egypt’s share of the Nile River, which is the lion’s share among the Nile Basin countries by virtue of the 1959 Agreement on the use of the river, though he stressed that Egypt has other options.

“What we [Egypt] need to do is not to buy the electricity that will be generated by the GERD, and the dam will then become useless,” he suggested. He added that Egypt “shouldn’t let a mess take place” because if it did so the consequences would be serious. Farmers might not be able to exploit agricultural land in Egypt due to water shortages, for example.

Negotiations between Cairo and Addis Ababa came to a stalemate due to disagreements about the process of filling the reservoir behind the dam, as Cairo has asked for this to be linked to the level of the water in the reservoir behind the Aswan High Dam so that Egypt’s water quota is not drastically affected.

This demand was rejected by the Ethiopian side, as it would make “the GERD the hostage of the Aswan High Dam”, a note issued by the Ethiopian Foreign Ministry earlier this month said.

 Cairo has also asked for an annual quota of 40 billion cubic metres of water from the GERD after the first stage of filling the reservoir, a demand that Addis Ababa has described as “unrealistic” in years of drought.

Allam recommended Egypt’s improving its relations with Sudan in order to guarantee the latter’s backing during the negotiations.

He said that Egyptian-Ethiopian relations have long been tense. Ethiopia’s former emperor Haile Selassie took a number of actions against Egypt at the UN Security Council during the Nasser period, for example, he said.

He added that Selassie had backed France and Britain after Egypt nationalised the Suez Canal Company in the 1950s, which led to the Tripartite Aggression against Egypt in 1956.

“In the past, they [the Ethiopians] were not capable of taking steps concerning the River Nile because they were weaker than they are today. In recent years, we [the Egyptians] have been deeply involved in a revolution, in addition to not being completely scientifically developed,” he said.

“Without the proper science, no one will put your interests into consideration, which was not the case during the rule of former president Gamal Abdel-Nasser. Moreover, Ethiopia now has a high rate of population growth and other issues that are putting pressure on the country,” he added.

“They [the Ethiopians] consider the River Nile to be their own property as a result.”

 

*A version of this article appears in print in the 24 October, 2019 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.

 

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