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Can Egypt and Ethiopia share the Nile River? | BY DANIEL PIPES

Oil is the Middle East’s glamor product, sought after by the entire world and bringing the region wealth beyond the dreams of avarice. But water is the mundane resource that matters even more to locals for, without it, they face the horrible choice of leaving their homes or perishing within them.
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That choice may sound hyperbolic, but the threat is real. Egypt stands out as having the largest population at risk and being the country, other than Iraq and Yemen, with the most existential hydrologic problem.
As every schoolchild learns, Egypt is the gift of the Nile and the Nile is by far the globe’s longest river. Less well known is that most of the Nile’s volume, 90 percent, comes from the highlands of Ethiopia and that the river passes through 11 countries. For uncounted eons, its water flowed to Egypt in uncounted quantities.
In 1929, the British government, representing Egypt, signed an agreement with the independent government of Ethiopia guaranteeing an annual flow of 55.5 billion cubic meters (bcm) of water to Egypt. Counting a minimum of 1,000 cubic meters per capita per annum (the average worldwide is 7,230 cubic meters), that amount more than sufficed for the 15 million Egyptians of the day.
The succeeding 87 years saw Egypt’s population increase six times until today it numbers 90 million. Adding to the river’s 55.5 bcm, Egypt gets about 5 bcm from nonrenewable underground sources and 1.3 bcm from rain, leaving it with about 62 bcm a year, or one-third less than the country’s minimal needs. In addition, Egyptians recycle about 10 bcm of agricultural runoff water, whose highly polluted nature (fertilizer and insecticide residues) eventually kill the land through salinization. Exacerbating this shortage, Egypt’s high temperatures leads to higher rates of evapotranspiration, requiring more water for agriculture than in places with cooler climates.
This water shortfall translates into a need to import food and, at present, Egypt must borrow funds to import an alarming 32 percent of its sugar needs, 60 percent of yellow feed corn, 70 percent of wheat, 70 percent of beans, 97 percent of food oil and 100 percent of lentils. The need to import will get worse with time; estimating Egypt’s population at 135 million in 2050, it will need 135 bcm annually and, based on present assumptions, the water deficit will more than double to 75 bcm.
Making matters worse, Ethiopians recently woke up to the fact that vast quantities of water leave their land without benefit to themselves. Accordingly, they initiated a network of dams, culminating with the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD).
As presently planned, the lake behind this dam would hold 74.5 bcm, plus 5 bcm would be lost through seepage and 5 bcm lost to evaporation. Four auxiliary upstream dams to reduce silting will retain another 200 bcm. Noting that 86 percent of Egypt’s water originates in Ethiopia, Egyptian specialists not unreasonably conclude that the allotted 55.5 bcm would not be forthcoming. Nader Noureddin, a professor of soil and water sciences at Cairo University, sees the dams placing “the lives of 90 million Egyptians at risk.” (Most statistics in this analysis derive from Noureddin’s work.)
Ethiopians reply: Not to worry, all will be fine, the guaranteed allotment and more will reach Egypt. When Cairo protests nonetheless, Addis Ababa agrees to one study after another, even as it furiously builds the GERD, which is scheduled to begin operations this year, storing an initial 14 bcm.
The potential for disruption is enormous; in 2013, during the Mohammed Morsi era, Egyptian politicians inadvertently bruited in public their military plans about special forces, jet fighters, and rebel groups to deal with the GERD (shades of the opera “Aida”). Morsi now sits in jail, but such ideas offer insight into Egyptian desperation.
At base, the Nile River confrontation lies in variant understandings of water possession. Downstream states like Egypt point to the immemorial nature of rivers flowing across borders. Upstream states like Ethiopia point to the water belonging to them in the same way that oil belongs to the Arabs. There is no right or wrong here; resolution requires creative compromise (for example, by lowering the height of GERD saddle dams), allowing the Ethiopians to benefit from their waters without Egyptians facing cataclysm.
Short term, statesmen are needed to prevent disaster. Long term, Egyptians need to learn how to manage water more resourcefully.

Read Aloud:   Ethiopia As a Nation: Where Are We Heading?

Daniel Pipes, president of the Middle East Forum, depended on Nile water for three years while living in Cairo. © 2016 by Daniel Pipes

4 Comments

  1. Waw Daniel P. who live 3yrs in Cairo adviced us to lower the GERD dam …. Clearly Daniel P is ‘a Pipe for the Midel East’ that adviced stupidly…

    • The key word here is, compromise! Ethiopia has the right to use the Nile to her advantage, there is no question on this, but Egypt is also wholly dependent on the Nile I mean there is no other river/source of water in the country, we can’t just ignore them on this, if we do so we would be engaged in perpetual confrontation which is not in our interest either, hence the situation calls for leadership and critical thinking to come up with a win win solutions, the science and the environment have to be taken in to consideration too, yes this is a feasible project but it was solely planned by zenawi/woyane for political purpose, for the legacy of he visionary leader with out any consultation with the Ethiopian people in general or Ethiopian experts in particular, of course with exception of woyane’s developmental engineers. I wouldn’t be surprised if the technical study team sends it back to the drawing board

  2. u wrote this statement is this true?
    ”In 1929, the British government, representing Egypt, signed an agreement with the independent government of Ethiopia guaranteeing an annual flow of 55.5 billion cubic meters (bcm) of water to E
    gypt”
    U stupid!!
    Daniel Pipes, president of the Middle East Forum.
    please learn ABC…of the nile there is no any agrement with British or her dog egypt which ethiopia signed.u have to go KG school in u’r visinity if there is any.

  3. u wrote this statement,is this true?
    ”In 1929, the British government, representing Egypt, signed an agreement with the independent government of Ethiopia guaranteeing an annual flow of 55.5 billion cubic meters (bcm) of water to E
    gypt”
    U stupid!!
    Daniel Pipes, president of the Middle East Forum.
    please learn ABC…of the nile there is no any agrement with British or her dog egypt which ethiopia signed.u have to go KG school in u’r visinity if there is any.

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