Egypt: Losing the Nile
The nearly completed construction of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam on the Nile river is posing a new threat to Egypt, a country that has always believed to be gifted with one of the greatest world watercourses. Herodotus used to refer to Egypt as “Gift of the Nile” for how its fortunes have since the pharaohs been related to the might river, slithering as a snake through kilometres of desert and feeding the people settling as its shores. The Ethiopian new dam is aimed to turn the fortunes of the river for the development purposes of Addis Abeba. The government in Cairo, dealing with political instabilities and a staggering population growth, raised the prospect of a water conflict to defend the destiny of what the ousted president Morsi has compared with the “Egyptian’s blood”. 85% of the river waters comes from lake Tana in Ethiopia (Blue Nile), the rest originate in lake Viktoria (White Nile), so that 450 million people in eleven countries are living in the Nile’s basin: Ethiopia, Sudan, South Sudan, Egypt, Rwanda, Tanzania, Uganda, Burundi, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Eritrea and Kenya. However, at the moment Egypt still receives the lion’s share of the Blue Nile: 55 billion out of the 88 billion cubic meters of water that flow down each years. This amount is becoming scarce for a population of 97 million, which has increased 5 times since 1970 when the Aswan High Dam was built.
Every Egyptian can access just 660 cubic meters per person, one of the lowest per capita water shares in the world. The quality of water is also a matter of concern due to pollution, poor structured drainage and sewerage system as well as expansion of industrial and agricultural activities. Losing more water would severely affects Egyptian agriculture, as every 1 billion cubic meters of water potentially lost would cost 200,000 acres of farmland to Egypt, affecting 1 million people. The Ethiopian government has assured Egypt that the new dam would only be used for electricity and pleased Sudan offering a deal on shared electricity production and water management to control the Nile’s flooding and increase agriculture productivity. Egypt fears that the filling of what would be the world largest reservoir on the Renaissance dam would hold water that is vital for the Egyptians relying on the Nile for the 97% of their water needs. The country that built the pyramids can no longer claim its supremacy on the river that created its myth, as most of upstream countries are organising themselves diplomatically to reshape the water treaties that are remnants of the British colonial time. The scramble for the Nile river waters will inevitably characterise and destabilise the geopolitics of the basin and Egypt finds itself in a position that makes it unlikely to accept to be losing part of its blood.