Officials, experts differ on impact of Ethiopia dam move on Egypt

Ahram Online, Tuesday 28 May 2013

While Egyptian officials say Ethiopia's diversion of Blue Nile will not impact country's access to Nile water, some local experts disagree, describing potential effect on Egypt as 'hugely negative'

(Photo: Reuters)

Reactions on the part of Egyptian government officials, diplomats and experts varied regarding Ethiopia's decision to divert the course of the Blue Nile – one of the Nile River’s two major tributaries – as part of its Renaissance Dam project.

On Tuesday, the Egyptian presidency announced that ongoing construction work on the dam by the Ethiopian government would not adversely impact Egypt's annual allotment of Nile water.

The planned dam has been a source of concern for the Egyptian government, amid sensitivities about its possible effect on the volumes of water that will reach Egypt if the project is completed.

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

In a Tuesday statement, Egypt's irrigation ministry said that Egypt would "not accept" any project that has a negative impact on Nile water flow.

The ministry added, however, that Ethiopia's diversion of the Blue Nile would not stop the river flow, stressing that Tuesday's development in Ethiopia simply constituted an "engineering procedure."

According to the ministry, the Egyptian government is currently awaiting a final report by a joint committee – including Egyptian, Sudanese and Ethiopian representatives – on the impact of the planned dam. The report is expected within days.

Egypt's ambassador in Addis Ababa Mohamed Idris, for his part, said that Ethiopia's intention to divert the Blue Nile had been known among Egyptian officialdom since November.

Ethiopia formally began the project on Tuesday to coincide with the country's national day celebrations, Idris said in televised comments.

He went on to stress that Egypt would continue to receive its full quota of Nile water despite the launch of the Ethiopian project.

Hani Raslan, on the other hand, head of the Sudan and Nile Basin desk at the Cairo-based Al-Ahram Centre for Political and Strategic Studies, asserted that the Ethiopian dam project would have a "hugely negative" impact on Egypt.

Raslan went on to accuse Egypt's government – especially Irrigation Minister Mohamed Bahaa El-Din – of downplaying the project's potentially negative impact.

"They have hypnotised Egyptian society, making the issue appear much smaller than its repercussions will be," he said.

Raslan called on Prime Minister Hisham Qandil to take "urgent steps" to contain the crisis, including the prosecution of those who he said were responsible for "neglecting Egypt's national security."

An informed government official told Ahram Online that that Addis Ababa was offering "reassurances" that it would be "sensitive" to Egyptian concerns and would "try to accommodate" Cairo's demand that it fill the planned dam's reservoir only gradually, so as to ensure that the effect on Egypt's annual share of Nile water would not be too abrupt.

On Tuesday, Sudanese Ambassador to Egypt Kamal Hassan stated that Egypt and Sudan may call for intervention by the Arab League in response to the Ethiopian move.

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