Water, the Nile and war

Hassan Tahsin
Hassan Tahsin
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A drop of water may these days result in military confrontations especially if there is a failure of diplomatic negotiations in various regions of the world. The surprising thing is that the conflict is taking place in areas which are rich in water resources while you do not hear a whisper from the countries that have a poor supply of this precious liquid. However, I do not totally dismiss the possibility of revolutions in these regions if there is a long period of drought.

According to water experts, the amount of rain falling inside the Nile Basin is about 1,660 cubic meters annually of which only about four percent are exploited including Egypt’s quota which has remained unchanged for more than 50 years. The remaining rainwater is either evaporated, lost in the jungle or goes to the sea.

A report issued by the Center of Information and Decision Support of the Egyptian Council of Ministers said the country’s need for water will exceed its water resources by 2017 due to population growth and the expansion of development projects. The report said Egypt’s annual water needs that year will rise to 86.2 billion cubic meters from the current 71.4 billion cubic meters.

According to the report, Egypt is now below the water poverty line. The quota of water for an individual is now 860 cubic meters every year while the poverty line starts from 1,000 cubic meters annually.

Egypt is also one of the countries which is poor in rainwater, and its underground water is also limited. This is in addition to the evaporation of water from Nasser Lake which has been formed from the excess of Sudan’s water quota. The strategic water storage in Nasser Lake may dwindle as a result of Sudan’s expansion in the establishments of dams, the latest of which is the Marawi Dam which has been constructed in the Nuba region in the north.

It is obvious that Egypt is being subjected to an Israeli-African attack aimed at reducing its water resources.

Hassan Tahsin

The Nile which is the vein of life for Egypt has been at the top of the country’s strategic priorities since Egypt and Sudan were one country under British colonial rule. Egypt and Sudan have tried to establish distinctive ties with the countries of the Great Lakes, which represent the source of the Nile, through technical assistance, field services, agreements and bilateral or group accords.

Britain signed an agreement on behalf of Egypt in 1929 with the source countries and in 1959, independent Egypt signed an agreement with the Nile Basin countries which included an article about water security forbidding all the source countries from establishing projects on the Nile without consulting Egypt and Sudan.

Egypt’s quota of Nile water was decided by a number of agreements and accords including the Addis Ababa Accord of 1902, the London Agreement of 1906, the 1925 Agreement between Britain and Italy and the 1959 Agreement between Egypt and Sudan.

An Israeli-African attack?

Ethiopia is the most important source country for Egypt due to the amount of water pouring from it into the Blue Nile. Regardless, Egypt has no binding agreement with Ethiopia on Nile water except the one signed in 1902 between Britain (which was in charge of both Egypt and Sudan at the time) and Italy which was responsible for Abyssinia. This agreement made it clear that Abyssinia should not undertake any works on Lake Tana or the Blue Nile that might adversely affect the water quota of Egypt or Sudan. In 1993, Egypt signed a cooperation agreement with Ethiopia stipulating the fair sharing of Nile water and the respect of the quotas of all the Nile Basin countries.

However, Ethiopia is now unilaterally undertaking some works that might adversely affect the water quotas of both Egypt and Sudan. Ethiopia is currently constructing the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam with the support of Israel which has been given the right to market the electricity generated from the dam. Ethiopia said when Egypt and Sudan signed a bilateral agreement in 1959 to organize their water quotas, they did not consult it or any other Nile Basin country. Under this pretext, Ethiopia built a number of dams including the Tekeze Dam on River Tekeze which holds more than nine billion cubic meters of water and generates about 300 megawatts of electricity. This dam may reduce the water quotas of both Egypt and Sudan. Furthermore, it is always possible that Ethiopia may construct more dams and projects that might affect the water quotas of Egypt and Sudan.

It is obvious that Egypt is being subjected to an Israeli-African attack aimed at reducing its water resources. Israel’s machinations whether in the open or behind closed doors may drag the countries of the Great Lakes into a devastating war.

Serious diplomatic efforts are underway to contain the differences between Egypt and Ethiopia over the water of the Nile. If these efforts fail, Egypt might go to the International Court of Justice. In a ruling issued in 1989, the court considered the water agreements to be similar to border agreements which could not be altered or amended. Egypt and Ethiopia must respect their bilateral agreements and come to a mutual understanding on the use of Nile water otherwise the alternative will be war which no one wants.

This article was first published in the Saudi Gazette on June 6, 2013.
Hassan Tahsin is a veteran Egyptian writer and a regular contributor to pan-Arab newspapers, including the Saudi Gazette. His writing focuses on Middle East conflicts. Tahsin’s political analysis particularly centers on Arab-Israeli relations on a regional level, and Egypt’s domestic and foreign policies, including ties with the Western world. Tahsin can be reached at [email protected].

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.
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