On his first visit to Ethiopia as President of Egypt, Mohamed Morsi stressed his country’s desire to peacefully negotiate with other Nile Basin countries regarding a longstanding dispute over Nile River water rights. That Morsi visited Addis Ababa at such an early stage of his presidential term reflects his determination to maintain Egypt’s annual share of 55 million cubic meters granted in a 1929 treaty. But it won’t be easy.
An African Market
At an African Union meeting in Ethiopia’s capital, President Morsi sought support from other Nile Basin countries to rebuild Egypt and a stronger “African Market,” reports The National.
“I would like to officially announce that Egypt has a desire to work towards a common African market,” he said. “Egypt will use its human and financial resources to ensure that. We stress our concern with education, health, construction and development.”
Naturally Egypt and Sudan would like to continue their long held monopoly on the Nile’s water, but a coalition of the remaining basin countries and a $4.8 billion dam project jeopardizes their privileged access.
Prime Minister Meles Zenawi has been fighting to reclaim Ethiopia’s fair share of the Nile River in order to develop the country’s agricultural and electricity sectors. But environmentalists are concerned that the hastily-planned Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam will have negative environmental and social consequences. A team of experts analyzing its impact will release its findings next year.
Other critics warn that despite issuing bonds to finance the dam’s construction, the country can’t afford a project of this scale.
Egypt’s Bargaining Power
To date Egypt has been able to use its political sway to discourage international investors from supporting the Renaissance dam project, but that has not alleviated fears that its 83 million strong populace will lose one of its only steady supplies of water.
Former Minister of Water and Irrigation Mohamed Nasr El Din Allam expressed concern in March that Ethiopia’s dam will cause great “political, economic and social instability” in Egypt. And now Ethiopia has planned to make the dam even deeper than originally planned.
Instead of digging to 90 meters, Ethiopia hopes to expand the dam’s depth to 150 meters in order to optimize the amount of electrical power that can be produced. The dam will also provide irrigation for a variety of agricultural projects.
Meanwhile, even with its current share of the Nile’s water, Egypt will still face shortages in the years to come. Now is a good time to take water conservation, water recycling, and irrigation efficiency more seriously back home.
:: The National