Egypt said on Thursday it will impose immediate fines on farmers growing the water-intensive rice crop illegally amid fears that a second planned filling of the disputed Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) in July will diminish Cairo’s water share.
According to an official statement, Irrigation and Water Resources Minister Mohamed Abdel-Aty ordered that immediate fines be imposed on farmers wasting water by cultivating the strategic crop illegally.
He said that growing rice illegally negatively affects canal systems in providing necessary water during the summer period, when it is most needed.
Egypt said it will allow for the cultivation of approximately 750,000 acres of rice in 2021, down from 1.1 million acres in 2019.
The move, embarked on since 2018 to battle water shortage, comes amid concerns over a second filling of the controversial dam by Ethiopia over the summer.
Egypt’s 100 million-plus population is dependent on the Nile water for 95 percent of its renewable water needs.
The country fears that the massive $4.8 billion Ethiopian hydropower project will significantly diminish its crucial water supply, which is already below scarcity level.
Ethiopia plans to move forward with the second filling of the dam — set to take place in July — despite the objections of Egypt and Sudan over the execution of such a move in the absence of a legally binding deal.
The second filling aims to collect around 18.4 bcm of Blue Nile water, up from the 4.9 bcm secured during the first filling last year.
Tensions have mounted in the past weeks after the latest trilateral round of talks in Kinshasa earlier in April failed to produce an agreement to re-launch the deadlocked negotiations.
Ethiopia’s rejection of several proposals by Egypt and Sudan on the negotiation mechanism, which includes an international quartet mediation, has led to the collapse of the Kinshasa talks.
The three countries have resorted to diplomacy in the past weeks, briefing regional and international counterparts on their stances and developments on the latest deadlock in negotiations.
On Wednesday, Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi told US Special Envoy for the Horn of Africa Jeffrey Feltman that Egypt will not accept harm to its water interests and its people’s resources in a meeting that focused on the GERD crisis.
El-Sisi has repeatedly called on Ethiopia not to compromise Cairo’s share of Nile water, saying “all options are open,” and stressing that “cooperation is better than fighting.”
Last month, El-Sisi said that failing to resolve the dam crisis will negatively impact the security and stability of the region.