Egypt PM calls Nile file 'national security issue,' urges 'cooperation'

Ahram Online , Monday 10 Jun 2013

Prime Minister Hisham Qandil tells Shura Council MPs that colonial-era Nile-sharing treaties must be respected, says Egyptian FM would soon be dispatched to Addis Ababa to convey Cairo's position to Ethiopian officials

Egypt's Prime Minister Hisham Qandil (Photo: Reuters)

Speaking before members of the Shura Council (the upper house of Egypt's parliament) on Monday, Prime Minister Hisham Qandil affirmed that the issue of Egypt's access to Nile water was one of "national security" and "a matter of life and death."

Qandil added that the upriver states of the Nile Basin were entitled to their share of Nile water in accordance with pre-existing agreements. He stressed, however, that Egypt would oppose Ethiopia's hydro-electric Renaissance Dam project if it were found to pose a genuine threat to Egypt's traditional share of river water.

Qandil went on to list the various international and regional water-sharing treaties to which Egypt is signatory, stressing that countries were still expected to abide by them even if they were signed during periods of colonial occupation.

Most of Egypt's annual allotment of Nile water, which – according to a 1959 water-sharing agreement – stands at 55 billion cubic metres, comes from the Blue Nile. The decades-old water-sharing agreement grants Egypt, along with Sudan, the lion's share of Nile water.

In 2010, Egypt and Sudan refused to sign on to the Entebbe Agreement – signed between Ethiopia and five other Nile Basin countries – which sought to reallocate Nile waters on a "more equitable" basis. Signatories argued that the old agreement had been written by colonial powers and unfairly favoured Egypt and Sudan.

"Given the arid nature of its topography, Egypt depends on the Nile for 98 percent of its water needs,” said Qandil. He added that, of the some 1600 billion cubic metres of rain that falls on the Nile Basin annually, only about 84 billion cubic metres – roughly 5 percent – reached Egypt's southern borders.

Qandil went on to assert that Egypt’s traditional 55-billion-cubic-metre share would not be enough to meet Egypt’s needs amid anticipated increases of the national population.

"This confirms the importance of cooperation between the states of the Nile Basin," the prime minister added, stressing that the wise use of water resources would allow for the development of all Nile Basin states.

Qandil also said that Egypt's minister of foreign affairs would soon be visiting Addis Ababa to articulate Egypt's stance on the issue to Ethiopian officials and implement recommendations made by a tripartite commission – consisting of Egyptian, Sudanese and Ethiopian representatives – tasked with studying the dam's effect on downstream states.

Ethiopia's Renaissance Dam project has been a source of concern for the Egyptian government, which fears that the project, if completed, could negatively impact the volume of Nile water reaching Egypt.

Ethiopian officials, for their part, have attempted to dispel fears regarding the dam's potential impact on downstream countries, insisting that the project would ultimately benefit all of the riparian states.

According to Egypt's National Planning Institute, Egypt will require an additional 21 billion cubic metres of water per year by 2050, on top of its current annual allotment of 55 billion cubic metres, to meet the needs of a projected population of 150 million.

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