CAIRO — Ethiopia’s construction of Africa’s largest hydroelectric dam on the world’s longest river threatens to affect flows of water to Nile-dependent, water-starved Egypt, where there is growing outrage, anger and fear.Egypt in the past has threatened to go to war over its “historic rights” to Nile River water but diplomats from both countries this week played down the potential for conflict.“A military solution for the Nile River crisis is ruled out,” Egypt’s irrigation and water resources minister, Mohammed Baheddin, said Thursday amid newspaper reports recalling the threats of war from Egypt’s two previous leaders, Anwar Sadat and Hosni Mubarak.
Ethiopia on Tuesday started diverting the flow of the Blue Nile for construction of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam. Eighty-five percent of Nile waters originate in Ethiopia yet the East African nation whose name has become synonymous with famine thus far utilizes very little of those waters.
Ethiopia’s decision challenges a colonial-era agreement that had given downstream Egypt and Sudan rights to the Nile water, with Egypt taking 55.5 billion cubic meters and Sudan 18.5 billion cubic meters of 84 billion cubic meters, with 10 billion lost to evaporation. That agreement, first signed in 1929, took no account of the eight other nations along the 6,700-kilometer (4,160-mile) river and its basin, which have been agitating for a decade for a more equitable accord.
And Ethiopia’s unilateral action seems to ignore the 10-nation Nile Basin Initiative to promote cooperation.
Ethiopia is leading five nations threatening to sign a new cooperation agreement without Egypt and Sudan, effectively taking control from Egypt of the Nile, which serves some 238 million people.
Mohammed Abdel-Qader, governor of Egypt’s Gharbiya province in the Nile Delta, warned the dam spells “disaster” and is a national security issue for the North African nation.
“Taking Egypt’s share of water is totally rejected … The Nile means everything to Egypt,” said Gov. Abdel-Qader.
Baheddin said Egypt already is suffering “water poverty” with an individual’s share of 640 cubic meters well below the international average of 1,000 cubic meters.
Egypt protests that others along the Nile have alternative water sources, while the Nile is the sole water source in the mainly desert country.
Ethiopian officials say the dam is needed to provide much-needed power for development.
At a ceremony marking the diversion of the Nile, Deputy Prime Minister Demeke Mekonnin said Ethiopia could export cheap electricity from the dam to energy-short Egypt and Sudan. He insisted the dam would not affect the flow of water to Egypt.
Experts say otherwise.
Alaa el-Zawahri, a dams engineer at Cairo University and an expert on a national committee studying the ramifications of the Ethiopian dam, said Egypt stands to lose about 15 billion cubic meters of water — 27 percent of annual share — each of the five years that Ethiopia has said it will take to fill the dam. The country’s current share already is insufficient.
Faul reported from Johannesburg. Associated Press writer Maggie Michael contributed to this report from Cairo.