AFRICANGLOBE – The Nile Basin countries are staring at a fresh crisis that could deepen in the coming weeks after a rare disagreement occurred between Sudan and Egypt last week over the use of the Nile’s waters.
The Nile Treaty signed in 2010 by Ethiopia, Tanzania, Rwanda and Uganda could cause regional dispute as Egypt starts feeling the pressure of being denied exclusive rights to control the Nile waters.
Sudan is warning of a possible water war between the Nile Basin countries because of Egypt’s “provocative” stance. The latest spat has been caused by the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD), which could see the course of the Blue Nile tampered with — Egypt has warned it will spare no effort to guarantee its share of the water.
Ethiopia has begun diverting the Blue Nile 500 metres from its natural course to construct the $4.2 billion GERD hydroelectric project.
The first phase is expected to be complete in three years, with a capacity of 700 Megawatts. Once complete, the dam will have a capacity of 6,000 megawatts.
The project, in Ethiopia’s northwestern Benishangul-Gumuz region near the border with Sudan, was launched in April 2011 by the late prime minister Meles Zenawi.
Sudan has announced that it is supporting the Ethiopian dam project, but Egypt is concerned about possible decrease in the water share of the Nile’s downstream countries, and has declared the issue a matter of national security.
In Khartoum, the Foreign Ministry said Sudan would not be affected by the project, stressing in a statement that there were agreements and consultations between Sudan, Egypt and Ethiopia.
“Sudan respects the agreements to co-operate with those two countries (Egypt and Ethiopia) in matters that concern sharing the waters of the Nile and sharing mutual revenues,” the ministry said.
It is against this backdrop that Sudanese government spokesman Ahmed Bilal asked Egypt to stop what he called “provocations” after an Egyptian opposition leader, Ayman Nour, described Khartoum’s stand on the GERD as “disgusting.”
Egypt believes its “historic rights” to the Nile are guaranteed by two colonial era treaties of 1929 and 1959, which give it 87 per cent of the Nile’s flow as well as veto power over upstream projects.
But the new deal signed in 2010 by upstream Nile Basin countries allows these countries to work on river projects without Cairo’s prior agreement.
The 2010 agreement signed in Uganda endorsed new water sharing between the Nile basin’s 11 countries. But the Egyptian Ministry of Water Resources and Irrigation had announced that Egypt will not be signing the Entebbe agreement with other Nile-Basin countries as the agreement in its current form is not suitable for downstream countries.
It is telling that at the time of the signing of the 2010 agreement, Egypt considered an African economic powerhouse, had not gone through the Arab Spring, Hosni Mubarak was still president and the country’s military was powerful.
Today, Egypt is struggling economically and experiencing internal political strife. President Mohammed Morsi is now using the Nile issue as a rallying point to bring the country together.
Egypt has warned that all options are open to protect its share of the Nile waters.
The Cabinet issued a statement saying it opposed all projects that could affect the flow of the Nile, and the country said it had planned “several scenarios” depending on the outcome of an assessment to be conducted by the three governments.
“We cannot let even one drop of Nile water be affected,” Islamist Morsi said during talks with political and religious leaders broadcast live on state television.
President Morsi also wrote on his official Twitter account: “It is necessary that we take steps to ensure Egyptian water security. The current situation necessitates unity among our ranks to prevent any threat against Egypt.”
The Blue Nile joins the White Nile in Khartoum to form the mighty Nile River, which flows through Sudan and Egypt before emptying into the Mediterranean.
Through the Blue Nile, Ethiopia supplies most of the water of the Nile.
Mr Bilal demanded that Cairo work with Sudan to safeguard Egypt’s interests instead of resorting to provocations.
He added that Sudan would get many benefits from the dam, including a better supply of electricity and year-long regulation of the Blue Nile’s flow.
The Nile is Egypt’s lifeline. Without its water, there would have been no civilisation in Egypt or Sudan.
Since the 12th century, Ethiopian kings constantly warned Egyptian dictators of their power to divert waters of the Nile, but they remained empty threats.
Before the 2010 treaty, Egypt claimed it had the right to veto any project along the Nile and full rights of inspection.
In 1959, this deal was overtaken by a new agreement between Egypt and Sudan splitting the waters 75 per cent to 25 per cent respectively and guaranteeing Cairo full control of the river with no consideration made for the needs of other African countries.
By: Mohammed Amin