Thursday, July 20, 2017

Egypt faces water insecurity as Ethiopian mega-dam starts filling | Climate Home -

Farmers along the lower Nile have little information to guide them as upriver barrage threatens to compound the impacts of global warming

Egyptian farmers depend on the Nile to irrigate their crops (Pic: Flickr/Florian Lehmuth)
“The land has become very dry,” observes Mahmoud Abo Khokha, a farmer from Al Monofeyya governorate, in Egypt’s Nile delta. “Drought is no longer predictable; it used to hit a certain 15 winter days. The whole year’s crops could be destroyed because of one week’s drought.”
Like most farmers round here, he blames Ethiopia. They are under the impression that a massive hydropower dam being built upriver is already affecting their water supply.
In fact, the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam is only starting to store waterthis month, reports Daily News Egypt, citing Ethiopian officials. The water scarcity farmers have experienced to date has other causes: climate change and the demands of a growing population.
But during the 5-15 years it is expected to take to fill the reservoir behind the 1,800 metre-wide barrage, the Nile’s fresh water flow to Egypt may be cut by up to 25%.
“Nobody is telling farmers how to mitigate and adapt to climate change,” says Magda Ghoneim, a socio-economist and professor of agricultural development at Ain Shams University. “Adding the pressure of a dam puts Egypt on the verge of catastrophe. Soon enough we won’t [find food to] eat.”

The challenges for farmers are myriad: new diseases and insects, unprecedented humidity, rising seas contaminating groundwater with salt. Indeed, when Abo Khokha tried pumping underground water to make up for reduced river flow, he found only half the usual volume, with a higher level of salinity.
A study recently published in Nature found that climate change is bringing greater variability in the Nile River flow this century compared to the last. In the Nile’s seven-year cycle of flood and drought, the former is becoming heavier, and the latter more extreme.
Egypt’s five million feddans (21,000 square kilometres) of crops consume more than 85% of the country’s share of Nile water. With an annual supply of 600 cubic metres per person, the country is approaching the UN’s “absolute water scarcity” threshold, as the population closes in on 100 million. Water is a sensitive subject.
Although Ethiopia claims to have taken climate change into consideration in the dam’s design, the government did everything at the same time: construction and civil works, financing, and social and environmental impact studies, explains Emanuele Fantini, a researcher at IHE Delft Institute for Water Education. “So by the time these studies are concluded, we are already in front of the fait accompli”.
Building was under way when the governments of Ethiopia, Egypt and Sudan – sandwiched between the two – in 2016 agreed to commission an independent study from Artelia, a French consultancy. “We are not sure if and when the results will be made public,” says Fantini. “They should be made public so that the accuracy can be checked by the international scientific community”.
“Some information, like worst case scenarios, might cause unnecessary panic”
So far, though, there has been little attempt to explain the risks to those at the mercy of the weather and geopolitics.
Alaa al-Zawahri, an Egyptian member of the tripartite committee studying the effects of the dam, tells Climate Home: “There are several scenarios, but nothing certain. Some studies predict a rise in temperature and thus little rain, and others predict more rain”. Diaa al-Qousi, a water specialist who worked for government, says the findings point to heavy rains for the next 30 years, then a huge drop the 60 years that follow.
Asked if the different conclusions have been communicated with farmers, al-Qousi says “farmers would not understand such specialists’ findings”. Government is selective about what it releases to media, adds al-Zawahri: “Some information, like worst case scenarios, might cause unnecessary panic.”
In the absence of reliable information, farmers turn to conspiracy theories and militaristic fantasies.
Qatar “is funding the dam, like it is funding terrorism” to harm Egypt, claims Mohamed Nasr, who owns three feddans in Al Gharbeyya. There is no evidence for this common rumour; the Ethiopian government says it is funding the project nationally.
Ethiopia will not be allowed to alter the balance of water supply along the river, Nasr asserts: “Egypt’s water share is internationally known. If the share is touched, the dam will be completely removed.”1
Osama Saad, a farmer in the Upper Egypt governorate of Minya, is more explicit: “People talk about how the president should bomb it.” The idea is not alien to higher level discussions around the dam. Previous leaders have threatened military action.
Yet work on the 6GW dam, a prestige project for the Ethiopian government, has continued unabated.
Al-Zawahri outlines some peaceful options for responding to water stress. The government is looking into telemetry, water-saving irrigation systems, and desalination. A navigational course from Lake Victoria to the Mediterranean is on the table, which would provide eight billion cubic meters more water for Sudan and Egypt. Egypt can also manage its own High Aswan Dam more efficiently to decrease evaporation of water. “These plans are to be applied gradually,” he says.
Water expert al-Qousi is upbeat: “The Egyptian farmer has been cultivating lands for seven thousand years, and has always found a way around water shortages.”
Ghoneim begs to differ. “Farmers have traditional knowledge, which they lived by for a long time. But this knowledge is now falling short,” she says. “It is not an awareness problem that faces farmers, it is an issue of the state obstructing information.”

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Egypt fails to make headway as it navigates Nile River talks

Heads of state meet at the first Nile Basin States Summit held June 22 in Entebbe, Uganda, June 22, 2017. (photo by Ethiopian Ministry of Foreign Affairs)

CAIRO — At the first Nile Basin States Summit held June 22 in Entebbe, Uganda, Cairo failed to amend the three clauses it rejects in the Entebbe Agreement. The latter, also known as the Cooperative Framework Agreement, was drafted as part of the Nile Basin Initiative (NBI) and is aimed at regulating use of the river's waters in the 10 countries it flows through. While six of the upstream countries have signed the agreement, Egypt, Sudan and Congo maintain their opposition. 
SUMMARY⎙ PRINTIn the wake of a failed attempt by the Nile Basin states to reach an agreement, Al-Monitor speaks with a former Egyptian Foreign Ministry official on what comes next.

The most important of the three clauses Cairo rejects is the one relating to water security. This one, which addresses the fair use and distribution of Nile water, failed to recognize Egypt’s historical annual quota from the Nile River, amounting to 55.5 billion cubic meters of water, or Sudan's 18.5 billion cubic meters in accordance with the 1959 Nile Waters Agreement. Egypt must now pin its hopes on other rounds of negotiations between the heads of state as it calls for another summit in Cairo.
Both the Sudanese and the Ethiopian delegations withdrew from preparatory meetings on the water issue held two days before the Nile Basin States Summit.
Cairo is seeking to resume technical projects and other activities in the Nile Basin that were suspended when Egypt froze its membership in the NBI in 2010 after six countries signed the Entebbe Agreement. In addition to not recognizing Egypt’s water quota, the agreement allows upstream countries to build dams, block or store water from the river without prior notice. Cairo believes that the agreement poses a threat to its water security.
The agreement also stipulates that decisions must be voted upon based on a majority system, while Cairo demands decisions be made by consensus as stipulated in the NBI constitutive act because the numerous upstream countries have many common interests, while the downstream countries will be greatly affected by any decisions that do not take their interests into account.
Al-Monitor interviewed Mona Omar, Egypt's former ambassador to South Africa, Denmark and Rwanda, who is now the director of the African Center at the British University in Egypt and assistant to the former Egyptian foreign minister for African affairs.
The interview includes questions about the future of cooperation between Egypt and the other Nile countries and about the feasibility of holding future meetings of heads of the Nile Basin states. The text of the interview follows:
Al-Monitor:  What is your take on the future of cooperation between Egypt and the Nile Basin states following the recent summit’s failure to reach solutions on the differences over the Entebbe Agreement?
Omar:  First of all, I don’t agree that the summit was a failure, because it was the first positive step taken in many years. The Nile Basin states’ presidents met to discuss the issue, and their differences were technical, not political. Their positions differed given their different interests, and no one expected them to reach a consensus at the first meeting, especially considering that the principles that Egypt is clinging to cannot be waived. Cairo insists that the use of the river water be determined in accordance with the needs of each country and its population. It also insists on the principle of prior notice before any project is started in the upper Nile and to a unanimous voting mechanism instead of a majority one.
As for the fate of future cooperation between the Nile Basin states and Egypt in the event of continued differences, the current Egyptian approach is to strengthen relations with all of the Nile Basin states, all the while entrenching the principle of common interests rather than the interest of one party at the expense of another. The meetings held at the sidelines of international forums among leaders of the Nile states and Egypt confirm that there is an ongoing dialogue and that Egypt is on the right track.
Al-Monitor:  Do you expect other similar meetings?
Omar:  Egypt has offered to host another summit focusing on cooperation in order to achieve joint development projects away from any points of contention.
Al-Monitor:  The Egyptian historical quota of the Nile waters is the main point of contention with the upstream countries. To what extent does the water security clause in the Entebbe Agreement fail to assure Cairo regarding its quota?
Omar:  This article has two parts, the first of which is about quota sharing. It wouldn’t be fair for water quotas to be distributed without regard for the needs of each country and population. The second part calls for prior notification in accordance with international law. Being a downstream country, Egypt has the right to be notified before any project is started on the Upper Nile so that it can assess the potential danger and negative impact that might ensue as far as the flow of water to it is concerned. Egypt suggested that prior notification should not be made in a bilateral way so that Egypt is not accused of undermining the sovereignty of any state. It said that notification should be made collectively through the NBI. Third, Egypt objects to the majority voting mechanism stated in the agreement, and instead calls for unanimous voting because the two downstream states are a minority.
Al-Monitor:  What is your take on the Nile document submitted by Egypt during the recent summit of Nile Basin states’ presidents as an alternative to the Entebbe Agreement?
Omar:  I haven’t looked at the document yet, but I don’t think it included general issues that all countries could have agreed on, and Egypt might have once again incorporated controversial points, thus preventing the upstream countries from adopting it.
Al-Monitor:  Can Egypt participate in the NBI activities without being part of the Entebbe Agreement, similar to Sudan?
Omar:  The agreement and the NBI are two sides of the same coin, and I wonder how a state objecting to a cooperation mechanism can join the entity behind this very mechanism. Frankly, Sudan's position is incomprehensible. By the way, Congo and South Sudan have not yet signed the agreement. There are still upstream countries whose parliaments have not yet ratified the entry into force of the agreement. I think that by doing so, these countries are keeping a leeway that could lead to the return of Egypt.
Al-Monitor:  To what extent are the differences on the Entebbe Agreement related to the Renaissance Dam crisis, in light of the current obstacles hindering the finalization of the dam’s impact study?
Omar:  Had the article of prior notice in the agreement been approved, and had the issue of equitable quota been based on the Egyptian request, things would have gone smoothly. The current course of the Renaissance Dam negotiations is stalled, which required Egypt to call for an urgent meeting among water ministers in Ethiopia, Sudan and Egypt.
Al-Monitor:  Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir did not attend the Nile Basin states summit despite Sudanese media reports of a desire to join the agreement. How do you think Cairo would be affected?
Omar:  Sudan's accession to the Entebbe Agreement would weaken [Sudan], being a downstream country, and when Egypt negotiates the principles of respect for historical water rights, it speaks for both downstream states, namely Egypt and Sudan. As for the Renaissance Dam, international reports have shown that it can cause damage and that the first victim would be Sudan. If there are differences between Egypt and the Sudan, then they should be put aside to serve the two countries' interests.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Renaissance Dam: Need for political intervention as technical negotiations get complicated | MadaMasr

Renaissance Dam: Need for political intervention as technical negotiations get complicated

Intense activity by several official Egyptian actors is underway as Ethiopia begins to pool water at the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam reservoir site, which Ethiopia began without providing Cairo with official notice. An Egyptian government source told Mada Masr that Addis Ababa has started what he called an “early filling” of the dam.
A government source linked to the renaissance dam file told Mada Masr that vigorous governmental action had in fact started regarding the dam, the construction of which is nearing completion and would lead to a significant decline in the Egypt’s historical share of Nile water. “We are now facing a different situation than the one we expected and feared: the possibility that Ethiopia will move even faster than it is entitled to move. We are thus currently considering which way to react,” said the source, speaking on a condition of anonymity.
Egypt’s share of the Nile water is already considered insufficient in meeting the growing needs of the country. It is expected that the flow of water will decline for an unspecified period before reaching its new rate – according to the most optimistic estimates – in five years.
The source indicated that the governmental activity includes several ministries, among which are the ministries of foreign affairs and irrigation, as well as security and information entities.
On Thursday, Hossam al-Imam, the official spokesperson for Egypt’s Ministry of Irrigation and Water Resources, denied that Ethiopia had begun filling the dam. He said that the amount of water recorded at the dam “is not significant” and that it coincides with the flooding of the Blue Nile. These statements coincided with the Egyptian irrigation minister’s visit to Tanzania and Kenya, two members of the Nile Basin countries, where he conducted bilateral negotiations aiming to raise the efficiency of the joint use of water resources.

Cairo was “flexible and understanding”

Cairo is preparing to organize a tripartite committee meeting,  with representatives from Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia. It is expected that the meeting will take place at the end of this month. The committee is working on following up on obligatory technical studies relating to the dam, as specified by the agreement signed by the committee in Spring 2015. The tripartite agreement bars the upstream countries from beginning the construction process before these studies have been completed and confirming that Addis Ababa has taken into account all technical considerations.
“It’s too late now for such actions. We are now following this path just to ensure our legal rights in case we decide to follow legal or diplomatic procedures, seeing that Ethiopia has already begun construction without the submission of the technical reports,” said another governmental source, familiar with the dam file and speaking on condition of anonymity.He also indicated that Cairo was very flexible in dealing with the renaissance dam.
The Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam is projected to hold more than 70 million cubic meters of water. As a result, Egypt could lose 65 billion cubic meters of its share. The two parties disagree on the specific timeframe for filling the reservoir, with Addis Ababa suggesting three years while Cairo aims for a period between three and seven years, according to the source.  “The negotiations between the two parties cannot be seen as achieving any kind of progress,” the source said, indicating that the stalemate was clear in the Nile basin states’ summit meetings, which were hosted by Uganda last month.
The lack of progress was also palpable during a meeting between Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry and his Ethiopian counterpart, that took place on the margins of a meeting between the African Union foreign ministers. “Cairo feels that it has shown a lot of understanding regarding Ethiopia’s position and has refrained from exerting any exaggerated pressure on it, but Ethiopia did not reciprocate this understanding,” he said.
He also emphasized the failure of the mediation attempts made by several actors, who tried to persuade Addis Ababa to deal more positively with Egypt’s concerns. However, he refused to comment on whether Israel was one of the states mediating between Egypt and Ethiopia. He also refused to comment on the position of Saudi Arabia regarding this issue. Nevertheless, he did add that Sudan “does not stand by Egypt at all. It, in fact, stands by Ethiopia.”

A possible intervention

A Sudanese diplomatic source told Mada Masr that “Khartoum understands Egypt’s concerns. However, it [Sudan] finds that its direct and developing interests lie with Ethiopia.” He added that Cairo cannot expect a full and direct alliance from Khartoum at this stage.
The Sudanese source pointed out that Cairo’s two most prominent regional allies are Riyadh and Abu Dhabi, and that they are the ones who can persuade Addis Ababa to “appropriately schedule filling the reservoir” in a way that reduces the damage befalling Egypt, especially given the interests that Saudi Arabia and the UAE share with Ethiopia, whether in regard to the dam, or in other areas.
The two Egyptian sources confirmed that the path to technological negotiations with Ethiopia and Sudan does not seem easily navigable. They indicated that the statement Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry made on the margins of the African Union summit in Addis Ababa earlier this month, accurately sums up the situation: “The matter now is in need of political intervention.”

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Egypt: Ethiopia is yet to start filling its reservoir – Middle East Monitor

Image of the Renaissance Dam in Ethiopia [file photo]

Image of the Renaissance Dam in Ethiopia [file photo]
Ethiopia has not yet started storing water from the Grand Renaissance Dam, the Egyptian Ministry of Water Resources and Irrigation announced yesterday.
Responding to several satellite images that have been circulated online showing the formation of a lake on one side of the dam, the ministry stressed that the lake was formed due to a flood.
The Blue Nile flood starts in June and lasts until the end of September each year. The river receives the largest chunk of its water during the flood period with its water levels decreasing the remainder of the year.
Concerns have risen in Cairo over the “possible” negative impact the Ethiopian dam will have on Egypt’s allocation of Nile water, which amounts to 55.5 billion cubic metres.
For its part, the Ethiopian government has stressed that the dam “does not represent any harm on the downstream countries [Egypt or Sudan],” adding that it helps generate electricity for the south African country.
“The current lake’s water level does not represent any harm to Egypt’s annual water quota,” the ministry stressed.
“The lake size will witness a bigger expansion than last year, due to the increase in construction works,” the ministry pointed out, stressing that the lake will gradually shrink after the flood ends.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

How Egypt Is Slowly Losing Its Hold Over the Nile River - worldpoliticsreview

 Friday, July 7, 2017
For millennia, the Nile River has served as the backbone of Egypt, the lifeblood of its people. Gradually, though, the land of the pharaohs is losing its grip.

Late last month, Uganda hosted the first ever heads-of-state summit aimed at resolving disagreements over the waters of the Nile. But it produced no major breakthrough and appeared to be a flop. In coming months, the opening of a major dam in Ethiopia will truly test Egypt’s anxieties that countries upstream are refusing to bow to its demands. The dam’s opening will reveal just how much leverage Egypt has lost.

Egypt has a strong historical and legal claim to the Nile dating back to the colonial era, but that framework is being undercut by rapid development and population growth upstream. Currently, more than 430 million people live across the 11 countries that make up the Nile Basin: Egypt, Sudan, South Sudan, Ethiopia, Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, Tanzania, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Eritrea. The population of the Nile Basin is likely to jump to nearly 1 billion by 2050.

The upstream countries “can’t wait forever for Egypt to get onboard,” says Aaron Wolf, a professor of geosciences at Oregon State University. At the same time, he adds, the river is being valued less for its water supply and more as a means of producing electricity. “That whole conversation is shifting both the power balance and the interest to upstream states.”

Under a 1959 agreement, rights to virtually all of the Nile’s water was split between Egypt, which is entitled to 55.5 billion cubic meters, and Sudan, with 18.5 billion. Egyptians and Sudanese depend on the water much more than their upstream neighbors; Egypt in particular receives practically no rainfall, and relies on the mighty river for 97 percent of its water. But over the years, upstream countries have taken issue with the terms of that decades-old agreement, to which they were never parties.

In 1999, nine riparian countries formed the Nile Basin Initiative to try and manage the waters. South Sudan became the 10th member after it gained independence in 2011; Eritrea sits as an observer. The initiative began work on a new framework for governing the river, but Egypt and Sudan refused to sign on to a deal reached by other nations in 2010, known as the Entebbe Agreement. Egypt subsequently froze its participation in the initiative and has held out ever since, insisting it won’t return unless it is guaranteed notification before the construction of any new project on the river and until all decisions are made by consensus.

Other nations are loath to give Cairo de facto veto power over their domestic infrastructure plans. But to hear Egypt tell it, any major change to the framework and its historical water rights could leave it dying of thirst. 

Sissi has made a noticeable push toward greater engagement with his African neighbors south of the Sahara, but the dispute over the Nile is proving to be a stubborn obstacle.

That position inspired Egypt’s initial opposition to the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam, which is scheduled to open along the Blue Nile at some point in the next three or four months. Ethiopians view the dam, which will be Africa’s largest hydroelectric facility, as a source of national pride that they hope will power the continent’s fastest-growing economy. When construction is complete, the dam will stand more than a mile wide and 570 feet tall, and will more than double the country’s current capacity to generate energy. Waters from the Blue Nile comprise roughly 80 percent of the river that traces its way into Egypt.

For decades, Egyptian politicians have discussed any interference with the Nile’s waters as an existential threat. In 2013, Egyptian politicians unknowingly mused about sabotaging the Ethiopian dam on live television. Before construction began in 2011, Egypt reportedly considered a military response to block Ethiopia from interfering with the river’s flow. Decades earlier, Egyptian President Anwar Sadat declared that water was “the only matter that could take Egypt to war again.”

Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan—where the Blue and White Niles meet to form the great river—signed a deal to resolve their dispute in 2015. Egypt has since offered grumbling support for the dam, suggesting it recognizes the need to support upstream nations’ demands. Once the dam opens, no one expects Egypt to take a rash step and follow up on Sadat’s old threat.

But Egypt’s internal politics have made it difficult to back down entirely, so some amount of posturing is likely. Yet Cairo has few cards to play.

The more apocalyptic predictions about the dam’s impact on Egypt’s waters are likely overstated, says Kevin Wheeler of Oxford University’s Environmental Change Institute. “There’s a lot of hyperbole, ranging from some believing it’ll do nothing, to others claiming that it will devastate Egypt,” Wheeler says. “Neither of those two extremes are accurate, and there’s a lot of space in the middle for reality.” If anything, the dam could help regulate water flowing into Egypt and keep the country supplied during times of drought.

The biggest test will be in the first few years, as Ethiopia plugs up the Blue Nile to fill a vast new reservoir. If Egypt and Ethiopia are on the same page, Wheeler says, they will be best positioned to mitigate any droughts or water shortages. After that, water is likely to flow downstream at a constant pace.

The Ethiopian dam was not explicitly on the agenda during the recent Nile summit. But Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn and Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi were the only two foreign leaders who bothered to show up, suggesting that other nations want them to resolve their differences before anything else can be accomplished.

The summit began inauspiciously, when presidential guards for Sissi and Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni got into a shoving match inside the State House, Uganda’s presidential residence. It didn’t get much better when technical teams from multiple countries reportedly walked out at one point during the discussions. Analysts said little of consequence had been achieved.

Sissi has made a noticeable push toward greater engagement with his African neighbors south of the Sahara, but the dispute over the Nile is proving to be a stubborn obstacle. Still, his presence in Kampala suggests that he recognizes Egypt’s changing position and is trying to maintain some authority.

With Egypt’s population set to grow by nearly 30 million by 2030, its own demand for water will increase. All the while, climate change will increase the variability of the river’s flow by 50 percent, according to a recent study by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The Nile’s volume is likely to rise by 10 to 15 percent, researchers predict, but there will also be more years of drought as well as years of surplus. All that instability might make it more appealing to rely on a system of dams that regularize and control the river’s flow.

The passage of time will force Egypt into signing on to a new or modified river management agreement, predicts Salman M. A. Salman, a consultant and former water law adviser for the World Bank. “Egypt will look right and left and will find that the dam is completed, that Ethiopia is trying to build other dams and the only alternative left for them is to cooperate,” Salman says. “Time is not on their side.”

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Egypt’s play for control over Nile present and future at Uganda summit | MadaMasr

Upstream politics: Egypt’s play for control over Nile present and future at Uganda summit
While Egypt submitted a proposal to formalize filling the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance dam reservoir over 5 years, Foreign Ministry sources detail attempts at a longer bid for control over the process

Amid President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi’s calls for unity among Nile Basin countries at the presidential summit held in Uganda, Egypt attempted to shore up its ability to control the technical process at the heart of the Grand Renaissance Ethiopian Dam — a pressing concern for the upstream country’s immediate and future ability to lay claim to water sovereignty in the region.
A government source says that, in the first instance, Cairo submitted a draft of a general statement to the wider summit — which was not officially issued — and which would have formalized Ethiopia’s earlier proffered commitment to fill the dam’s reservoir over a period of five years.
The delegation submitted the draft statement despite the fact that the Egyptian government sees the five-year period as less than ideal. According to sources at Egypt’s Foreign Ministry, the real battle in the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam talks will be fought over the timeframe in which the dam is filled. It is a battle, the sources say, that Egypt has to win decisively by pushing the time period to seven years, if it hopes to minimize expected damage.
According to diplomatic sources, the draft of the formal statement submitted in Uganda was only part of Egypt’s wider aims to intervene in the political process surrounding the dam’s construction.
Earlier this year, Ethiopia sought to persuade Egypt to sign a bilateral agreement that would have cemented terms to fill the dam over a five-year period. It was a proposal that Cairo had initially judged to be sensible, before the majority of concerned parties agreed that Cairo should not go forward with an agreement that would have stemmed any remaining legal right to contest Ethiopia’s lack of commitment to the cooperative framework on the technical procedures of the construction of the dam and the test filling of its reservoir.
Ethiopian sources, as cited in the privately owned Al-Shorouk newspaper, state that Addis Ababa is preparing to begin to fill the Renaissance Dam’s reservoir next July over a five-year period, without waiting for the completion of the technical study conducted by the French consulting companies, which is trained on testing the dam’s effect on the water flow from the Blue Nile to the High Dam lake.
This decision has not gone unaddressed by the Egyptian government. A source at the Foreign Ministry tells Mada Masr that deputy Foreign Minister Hamdy Loza summoned Ethiopia’s ambassador to Cairo, Taye Atske-Selassie, in early June to send a “sharp and clear” message regarding Egypt’s anger at Addis Ababa’s retreat from its commitment to postpone filling the dam until after an understanding has been reached on a number of technical issues related to the construction of the dam, its capacity and storage mechanism details.
According to the source, the decision to summon Atske-Selassie was meant to serve two goals: First, it intended to send a clear message that Cairo is alarmed by Ethiopia beginning the trial phase; and second, it aimed to prevent Cairo from shifting its position from containment to escalation, which is the reason the issue was not tackled in the media through the Foreign Ministry spokesperson.
According to a Foreign Ministry authority working on the Renaissance Dam file who spoke to Mada Masr on condition of anonymity, Foreign Minister Sameh Shokry is also aiming to prompt a realignment in the Nile Basin, by affecting change in the position of a sufficient number of member states in the Nile Basin Initiative to re-launch the initiative on a new basis that would see members agree on two issues: First, that none of the member states can start a project on the banks or the pathway of the river without the “consensus” of member states; and second, that any projects launched by a member state without prior warning will be suspended.
The points which Cairo believes it can garner support from its Nile Basin neighbors remain general, and include seeking to maximize the benefit of Nile resources through joint projects, and talk of “the right of all people on the banks of the Nile to life, development and mutual benefit.”
The proposal was met with “strong support” by Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni, according to the Foreign Ministry source familiar with the Renaissance Dam file, and the result of Shoukry’s communication with the Nile Basin countries. The source says that Museveni spoke directly with Sisi days before the summit, promising continued support until an agreement that ensures Egypt is immune to an acute water crisis is reached before Ethiopia begins the process of filling the reservoir in the summer of 2018.
The ministry source, however, says that Museveni’s efforts in support of Egypt’s proposal amounted to little, as the majority of the Nile Basin countries stand behind Ethiopia, for reasons that range from the possible benefit they might secure through favorable electricity export prices the new dam will facilitate to setting a precedent that they could cite if they wanted to pursue water projects on the Nile in the future without having to notify Egypt.
Official figures indicate that Egypt’s annual per capita water consumption has fallen from 2,526 cubic meters in 1947 to 663 cubic meters in 2013, placing the country below the United Nation’s water security line. The UN forecasts that Egypt will be in a state of water scarcity by 2025, when average consumption will fall to 500 cubic meters per capita.
Egypt announced its decision to freeze its membership in the Nile Basin Initiative in 2010 after five upstream member states signed a Cooperative Framework Agreement that would reallocate Nile water quotas without Egypt’s involvement. The parties to the agreement asserted that the framework by which Egypt is allocated 56 billion cubic meters of water per year was signed in the 1950s, before most of the concerned states gained their independence.
The five signatories to the NBI in 2010 were Ethiopia, Uganda, Tanzania, Rwanda and Kenya. The following year, Burundi joined the agreement, taking the number of Nile Basin Agreement members states party to the NBI to six and thereby ensuring a majority that could push for a new framework agreement — a move which Egypt rejects — to come into effect once each country’s parliament adopts the international deal.
Misaligned friends to the south
Egypt has not gotten support from its southern neighbor in its political play in the dam struggle, according to a Foreign Ministry source who participated in a number of meetings with Sudan’s Foreign Minister, Ahmed Ghandour, referring to what he describes as “the unfortunate stance of Sudan.”
Another diplomatic source that took part in the Khartoum meeting of irrigation ministers of the Nile Basin states in March speaks of “a disturbing situation” in which the Sudanese irrigation minister attacked his Egyptian counterpart and accused Cairo of ignoring delays in water projects in other Nile Basin states or their right to development.
This situation, according to the source, bolstered information Cairo had received through what it considers to be trusted sources regarding discussions between Ethiopia and Sudan of water projects to be implemented in Sudan that would cause the quality of water that reaches Egypt to suffer, and thereby affect the country’s agricultural production and soil ecology, among other cumulative environmental factors.
The source adds that Cairo has not succeeded in obtaining a clear message regarding Sudan’s position on these potential projects during Shoukry’s meeting with his Sudanese counterpart, nor was Cairo able to ascertain Sudan’s position on the NBI, despite Shoukry subtle disapproval of Sudan’s position on the issue.
However, a Sudanese diplomat currently in Cairo says Khartoum feels Egypt is overestimating the support it can expect from the Sudanese government, especially given what the source says is Egypt’s record of “intervention in domestic Sudanese issues.”
Egypt and Sudan’s relation has been marked by increased tension in recent months, against the backdrop of Sudanese accusations that Cairo is interfering in Darfur, in addition to supporting opposing parties in Libya and engaging in a border conflict over the Halayeb and Shalatin triangle and Abu Ramad.
“Today we are seeking today to exert pressure on Ethiopia and Sudan in parallel through a network of understanding and cooperation with both Eritrea and South Sudan,” says a sovereign source speaking on condition of anonymity. “But it’s difficult to predict the path the issue will take.”
Historical missteps in the political game?
A retired diplomatic source who was in charge of the Renaissance Dam file in the months after the fall of former President Hosni Mubarak in 2011 believes that the way Cairo has dealt with the crisis from the very beginning has been “unfortunately marked with an exaggerated confidence in its ability to suspend the project by exerting pressure on African states and the states funding the project, without sufficiently taking into account the diminishing influence of Egypt in the region, after Egypt’s presence shrank following the assassination attempt on former President Hosni Mubarak in 1995.”
The retired diplomat adds that Egypt “underestimated Ethiopia’s diplomatic ability to mobilize sympathy in its favor, not only through Israel, but also through mobilizing western sympathy for Ethiopia’s desire for development and heralding the Renaissance Dam as the project that will allow the country to achieve a massive leap in electric power production.”
“Those who took charge after the ouster of Mubarak were, without exception, less qualified to deal with the issue,” the retired diplomat states. There were several issues in the post-January 25 revolution period, according to the source, punctuated by “a little skit performed by a popular delegation in Ethiopia after 2011, who obtained worthless pledges that do not bind Ethiopia to suspend the project until an understanding has been reached with Egypt; a na├»ve discussion that took place about the dam during the rule of former President Mohamed Morsi, which was broadcast on air without prior notice being given to the president and most participants; and finally the signing of the Khartoum agreement without a proper understanding, and instead aiming only to secure a quick containment of Ethiopia, a country that had already started construction at a rapid pace.”
The three Foreign Ministry sources agree that the presidential decision to sign the Khartoum agreement at the end of 2015 under the banner of “resolving the disputes over the Renaissance Dam” was, to a large extent, a hasty move, and one that took place without sufficient agreement among the president’s senior aides.
According to one source, Fayza Abul Naga, the president’s national security advisor — who is considered one of the most important Egyptian government experts on African issues — was one of the most prominent voices opposed to the agreement. Naga reportedly perceived it as an official acknowledgment from Cairo of Ethiopia’s right to proceed with the project, thus closing the door on international arbitration in the future.