Political outbidding aside, local and international experts claim that Egypt’s concerns regarding water and power shortages that may result from the construction of the Ethiopia dam are unfounded, and that the dam could in fact provide more resources for Egypt.
Ethiopia, a Nile Basin country, diverted the flow of the river last week in preparation for the construction of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam, a $4.2 billion project on the Blue Nile, which started in 2011.
Egypt has demanded a halt in construction but to no avail since Ethiopia is pressing ahead with the project even as it continues to hold official talks with Egypt, which fears the dam could cause water and power shortages. Ethiopia claims it has reported evidence to claim otherwise.
Of the 84 billion cubic meters (BCM) of the Nile water, which reaches the Aswan High Dam annually, 68 percent comes from the Blue Nile.
A 10-man tripartite commission, composed of four international experts, two Egyptians, two Sudanese and two Ethiopians, has claimed that although “inconclusive”, the results from its year-long analysis of the project and inspection of the site show that it will not significantly impact Egypt or Sudan.
A Nile Basin Initiative (NBI) was created in 1999 to begin cooperation among Nile riparian countries, but its participants have failed to reach an agreement to date.
Tensions have been rising since 2007 when negotiations stalled, leading to the signing of a Cooperative Framework Agreement in 2010 by five upstream states to seek more Nile River water, a move fiercely opposed by Egypt and Sudan.
It is predicted that by 2050, at the current rates of consumption, Egypt will be under extreme water stress since 95 percent of its population is living on the Nile basin, compared to 39 percent in Ethiopia.
With annual precipitation at 150 mm/year and few water resources, according to a government report released last February, Egypt’s per capita share of water is 660 cubic meters – well below the international standard of water poverty of 1,000 cubic meters – compared to Ethiopia, where the per capita share is about 1,575 cubic meters. Egypt has 24 cubic meters per capita access to renewable freshwater compared to Ethiopia, which stands at 1,543 cubic meters.
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“The Renaissance Dam is not designed to hold back huge amounts of water, but rather to let the water pass for the generation of hydro-electricity.”
Mohammed El-Mongy, of the Water Institute of the Nile, claims that having legal and financial ownership rights in the dam could allow Egypt to reduce loss of water by 6 percent through ensuring water is released right before the peak agricultural season.
During his assessment of the Renaissance Dam, Islam Awad, a geotechnical consultant engineer at Dar El-Handasah, discovered that water losses from evaporation could be minimised by 5 percent, equivalent to 0.58 BCM, by storing water in Ethiopia for a period of time before it reaches Egypt.
Egypt’s arid climate causes 10 BCM, about 12 percent of its stored water, to evaporate per year.
Evaporation rates reach as high as 2,970 mm/year in Egypt, about half of what is lost in Ethiopia at a rate of 1,520 mm/year.
Another possible benefit of the Renaissance Dam is its reduction of siltation, a process where soil erosion or sediment spill creates large particles that pollute water.
By acting as a barrier, the dam could reduce approximately 160 million tones of silt which flows in the Blue Nile every year, and therefore increases the Aswan Dam’s efficiency in power generation.
The Renaissance Dam could also have economic benefits if Egypt pursues economic integration with Nile Basin countries and become an investment partner in the project.
Egypt’s close proximity to Ethiopia, feasibility of transportation and demand for power, would create a favourable climate for cooperation with Ethiopia.
Only 40 percent of the project is locally funded, which means that Egypt could invest in the remaining 60 percent guaranteeing some ownership rights.
“Egypt can play a proactive role to economically integrate the 400 million inhabitants that live in the Nile Basin countries,” says Ana Cascao, Programme Manager at Stockholm International Water Institute (SIWI).
Historically, Egypt is seen by many of its African neighbors as being hegemonic and quasi-colonial in its water usage.
When the $10 billion Red-Dead Canal plan got the axe earlier in August, we discussed plan B for restoring some sense of water security to northern Jordan: a smaller desalination plant in Wadi Araba to trade water with Israel and Palestine.
Sure enough, just a couple of weeks later, Jordanian Prime Minister Abdullah Ensour announced that as a matter of strategic national interest, the Kingdom will trade water with Israel.
Jordan will sell water produced by a new Red Sea desalination project to their neighbor to the West, in return for which Israel will transfer 50 million cubic meters of water taken from the Tiberian reservoir to the northern section of the Kingdom, which has been especially hard pressed to provide a decent supply of water since hundreds of thousands of refugees have spilled across its borders.