Egypt worried over negative impact of Ethiopian Dam

Dina Ezzat , Thursday 18 Apr 2013

A report on the effects of the Ethiopian mega dam on Egypt’s water safety is to be issued late May, government official says

A young girl looking at flowing tap water in Egypt. (Photo by Reuters)
A young girl looking at flowing tap water in Egypt. (Photo by Reuters)

An Egyptian government official said a technical report on the impact of the new Ethiopian mega dam, currently under construction, will reveal the need for Addis Ababa to attend to safety and environmental concerns at the construction process.

The report will also reveal concerns of potential negative influence on Egypt’s share of the Nile Water "depending on the mechanism and time of water storage behind the dam," the government official added.

The report will be issued at the end of the 6th session of a joint Egyptian-Sudanese-Ethiopian technical committee in late May. The committee has been meeting for almost two years to examine the plan of construction for the Renaissance Dam, which Ethiopia had started building with the intention of storing 84 billion cubic meters of water. The water stored will then generate electricity sufficient for its advanced use and for exports to neighbouring countries, not excluding Egypt.

The report, according to the same government official, is not suggesting that the Renaissance Dam will drive Egypt into "water starvation but it is certainly saying that certain measures have to be followed to make sure that Ethiopia gets the water necessary for storage in the dam in line with Egypt’s consent and needs."

Planning of Nile dam

Originally conceptualised in the early 1960s by an American-African team of irrigation engineers to deconstruct the High Dam project, championed at the time by Gamal Abdel Nasser, the Renaissance Dam was baptised in the original blueprint as the Border Dam. It was one of four dams the American-African team said could be built over the Blue Nile, which provides Egypt about 60 percent of its annual over 55 million cubic metres of Nile waters.

A few years ago, Ethiopia decided to embark on the project with a mega international fund and to the contest of Egypt, which is considered the poorest in individual shares of Nile waters. According to national and international records, an individual’s share of water in Egypt is somewhere around 625 cubic metres, which is below the safe average of 1,000 cubic metres. Multiple water recycling projects, adopted during the past twenty years, have aided Egypt in making ends meet.

Ethiopia is one of the nine Basin countries (now ten with the two-year old independence of South Sudan) that have failed through a century to regulate differences over the shares of the Nile water with low stream countries, including Egypt and Sudan. Ethiopia, however, argues that it deserves a bigger share of the course water than the upstream countries, given the latter's large share of rain waters.

As of 1902, there have been over ten agreements on the uses of Nile water, including the 1959 agreement that specified the exact share of Egypt. The bulk of these agreements specify that no dams or other irrigation projects should be built on the Nile without prior notification to all the Basin states. This is a precondition consistent with international law and with the applied regulations adopted by the basin states of other rivers.

Egypt had in 1999 agreed to join the other Nile Basin countries in a negotiation process that would address the demands of the upstream countries essentially. Egypt prescribed two things in the course of the process: (1) to reduce water losses, which is estimated in millions of cubic metres – some studies indicate that the loss is more than all of Egypt’s annual share – but requires billions of dollars to do the job, and (2) to pursue less costly projects to improve the quality of usage of the upstream countries of the water resources it has – not excluding the rich rain waters.

In 2010, both Egypt and Sudan, the latter still untied, suspended their participation in the talks over failure to define the terms of agreement for building irrigation projects over the Nile. The fate of this process is still undecided with both Cairo and Khartoum insisting on a position of full consensus of all Basin countries ahead of the construction of any dams on the Nile.

Egypt and Nile waters – further cooperation

The issue of the Renaissance Dam, however, is a matter that strictly affects Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia given that it is these three countries that overlook the Blue Nile.
Egyptian officials assess, in goodwill, the matter could be regulated with minimum influence on the annual Egyptian share.

In a seminar earlier in the week, Mohamed Nasseredine Allam, former minister for water resources, said that the Egyptian annual loss could go up to 18 million cubic metres.

However, concerned government officials tell Ahram Online it could be significantly less – the highest figure offered by an official was around 8 million cubic metres. "And the loss could be compensated for if we actively pursue better water resources management in Egypt, and if the Nile Basin countries collectively pursue projects to reduce the volume of the Nile water loss."

Most of the Nile water losses that could be easily spared will require intensified cooperation with South Sudan – something that Egyptian officials say is being carefully pursued.

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