Egypt is at a major risk of water shortages from the Nile

Nile river bank

Egypt is at a major risk of water shortages from the Nile

 Egypt is at a major risk of water shortages from the Nile

Nile river bank

 Egypt is worried about its water source

The scarcity of water has been an increasingly worrying problem in Egypt that the government is yet to find a solution to, and Cairo has declared a state of emergency due to a decline in water flow from last year. “The job of an irrigation engineer in Egypt has changed,” Mohammed al-Sibai, spokesman for the Ministry of Water Resources and Irrigation, told Al-Monitor. “We no longer manage water flooding but manage water scarcity, and make precise plans to deal with it, so as not to harm the main interests and the citizens’ needs.” The statistics are worrying, as a report that was released on the 27th of July, read that the total annual Nile River flow dropped 5 billion cubic meters (1.3 trillion gallons, or 6.5 billion cubic yards) from the year before due to decreased floodwaters from the Ethiopian plateau and equatorial lakes. 

Now, Egypt faces an even further decrease in water from the Nile, that could lead to a drought, should Ethiopia go through with the planned construction of the dam on the river Nile.  Hence, Egypt is blaming Ethiopia for the failure of the latest round of talks on the construction of a controversial Nile dam, a critical issue for Cairo as it seeks to protect its main source of freshwater for its large and growing population.

The construction of the $4.6 billion Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam on the Blue Nile, which is around 70% complete and promises to provide much-needed electricity to Ethiopia’s 100 million people, has been a contentious point among Ethiopia, Sudan and Egypt, the three main Nile Basin countries.

The result could be a dramatic reduction in the amount of water Egypt receives from the river. Economists estimate that the country will lose 10 billion cubic meters of water a year, out of an average of about 50 billion cubic meters annually that it was getting until two years ago. 

Egypt is therefore very worried and tense about its construction, and last month, Egypt’s Irrigation Ministry, in a statement released, said that despite its delegation’s attempts to “narrow differences” among the three countries, the Ethiopian government failed to prove that it would take all necessary precautions to ensure that its dam will not affect Egypt’s water supply, especially in times of drought.

The US is pushing for a Nile agreement

The US is trying to push this deal through, and act as an intermediary between Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia to help solve the crisis. The nation is hence hosting talks in Washington DC in an attempt to resolve the issue. 

The latest talks hosted by the U.S. Treasury produced some progress but failed to achieve a comprehensive agreement on the filling and operation of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD). Egypt and Ethiopia are still deadlocked over the dam, despite urging from U.S. President Donald Trump that parties reach a “mutually beneficial agreement.” 

The latest U.S.-sponsored talks were held after Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi and Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed met on the sidelines of the Sochi Summit in Russia on Oct. 24, 2019. The major sticking points include the different scenarios of drought and extended drought, if and when it happens — such as the one in 1984 and how much water should Ethiopia be releasing downstream in those scenarios. 

US President Donald Trump took interest in the dam in September after Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi asked him to mediate the conflict. He appointed Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin to be the point of contact in the matter. The U.S. State Department has engaged with parties of the dam project since 2011 and repeatedly urged tripartite negotiations to resolve the matter.

A solution is in sight

Despite Egypt’s deep worry, and the countries still having distances between them, a solution is expected to be reached. The US mediation seems to be working, as Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy ِAhmed stated that since the involvement of the US Department of Treasury and the World Bank in the tripartite negotiations between Egypt, Egypt and Sudan over the construction of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD), the issues of disagreement between the three countries seem to be resolved. “Since the involvement of the observers, it is encouraging that we [Ethiopia, Sudan, and Egypt] seem to get close to obtaining solutions to the issues that used to take extended time,” he was quoted as saying by the Ethiopian News Agency (ENA) when he gave a speech at a hearing session by the Ethiopian parliament.

Furthermore, last week, officials from Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan announced they have cleared the way for the filling and operation of a disputed multibillion-dollar dam being built by the Ethiopian government on the Nile River. In a joint statement issued after four days of talks in Washington, DC, the foreign ministers and water resources officials of the three Northeastern African countries said on Friday they had agreed on a schedule for filling the dam. 

Many of Egypt’s concerns have been addressed, like how to fill the dam during periods of drought, and how to operate the power plant in the long term during droughts. The ministers also discussed and agreed to finalise a mechanism for the annual and long-term operation of the dam, a coordination mechanism, and provisions for dispute resolution and information sharing. 

The US-drafted a document of agreement regarding the three above-mentioned points and was unilaterally signed by Egypt, and the 3 nations are expected to form an official agreement by the end of February if no obstacles come in the way. 


Hazem Zahab

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