News / Middle East

Nile Power Shifts Away From Egypt

Ethiopia started building the Grand Ethiopia Renaissance Dam two years ago. The hydroelectric power project will use the waters of Ethiopia’s  Abai River, which is the primary source of water for Sudan and Egypt.
Ethiopia started building the Grand Ethiopia Renaissance Dam two years ago. The hydroelectric power project will use the waters of Ethiopia’s Abai River, which is the primary source of water for Sudan and Egypt.
David Arnold
Before the Muslim Brotherhood’s Mohamed Morsi was ousted as president earlier this month, his government was planning to catch up on overdue negotiations with nine upstream neighbors in the Nile River Basin to salvage the country’s historic stake in the Nile River waters.
Morsi’s government had planned to talk with Ethiopia and Sudan over the future management of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD), a massive hydro-electric project on Ethiopia’s Abai River, and to re-start talks on what promised to be very tough a new agreement with Ethiopia and its other upstream partners.
The upriver countries have been busy in recent years signing papers that could have serious consequences for Egypt’s almost total dependence on the Nile waters.
Grand Renaissance Dam, EthiopiaGrand Renaissance Dam, Ethiopia
Grand Renaissance Dam, Ethiopia
Grand Renaissance Dam, Ethiopia
But when the Morsi government began objecting to Ethiopia’s upstream dam project a few months ago, it quickly discovered that it did not have control over the Abai River – whose basin provides 75 percent of the Nile waters.  The Morsi government also found it was going to have trouble with at least eight other countries that were interested in acquiring their own share of Nile waters.
Two previous Nile access treaties were based on river rights the British had guaranteed to colonial-era Egypt and Sudan. But countries at the Nile’s several sources upstream were kept out of those agreements.
That may soon change as the other Nile nations seek to ratify a new agreement, the Nile Basin Initiative (NBI). And here again, Egypt could be a loser in the world’s latest water conflict.
Equal rights on the Nile
“What’s going on in the Nile Basin is to some degree what’s been going on in the Nile basin for many years,” said Peter Gleick, president of the Pacific Institute for Studies in Development, Environment, and Security. “And that is growing competition over the limited resources of the Nile River, increasingly by the upstream nations.”

The era of Egyptian dominance is being replaced by an era “when many more countries, and especially Ethiopia, want to have a say in the ways it’s managed. The potential new agreement and the Abai dam could affect the amount, timing and quality of the water Egypt gets in the future,” said Gleick.
Six upstream countries have signed the new Nile Basin Initiative accord: Ethiopia, Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania, Uganda, and Burundi. Newly independent South Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo are also expected to sign.
Each country must also ratify the agreement. Ethiopia’s parliament did so in June and Uganda’s may soon follow.
Sudan stands to be a key beneficiary of a new Nile basin agreement. A completed Abbai dam just across its border would offer Sudan much-needed cheap electrical power and put the country first in line for regulated flows of water from a friendly ally, Ethiopia.
The World Bank encouraged such regional cooperation when it created and funded the NBI process. But a western government official who monitors cross-border water rights issues says reaching an accord on the Nile has been more difficult than achieving similar water management agreements for the Tigris and Euphrates, the Mekong and the Indus rivers.
“At the national and regional level, many have done better,” the official said of the Nile talks.
Power shifts on the Nile
And regional experts say Egypt has been slow and ineffective in protecting its water rights to the Nile compared to other nations in the river basin.
Richard Tutwiler, director of the Desert Development Center at the American University in Cairo, says Egyptian politicians were so consumed with maintaining or winning political power during the recent upheavals that they didn’t pay enough attention to the Nile water negotiations.
“Water was not part of the revolutionary conversation,” said Tutwiler.
According to Eric Trager of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, this lack of attention could cost Egypt dearly.
”Egypt’s eye was not on the ball when it came to these negotiations over the Nile Basin Initiative and [it] was completely caught off guard by the construction of the [Ethiopian] dam,” Trager said.
The problem started well before Morsi took office last year, Trager added, noting that the Mubarak regime had balked at collective ongoing water rights negotiations with its upstream neighbors on the Nile.
At one point, Cairo even suspended its negotiations on an overall accord and tried to negotiate separate deals with some of its upstream neighbors.
“There is not much they can do about it” now, said Harry VerHoeven, a political scientist of the University of Oxford specializing in Nile basin issues. He said Egyptian efforts to block World Bank support of Ethiopia’s water initiatives and dam construction projects got Cairo nowhere.
“The world has changed very much and it is no longer the world of 20 or 30 years ago when Egypt could have veto [on] this sort of thing,” said VerHoeven.
And when Morsi finally realized how serious the situation was becoming for Egypt, he and other politicians began hinting or talking openly about possible military action to halt Ethiopia’s dam construction. But Trager noted that “the military gave a very clear signal it would not tolerate that.”
The generals, he said, were “not prepared to fight a war right now.”
Taking the Nile to court
One possible way to resolving Nile water issues peacefully is the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague, according to Tom Campbell, dean of the Chapman University School of Law and a former Congressman who served on the House of Representatives' Foreign Affairs subcommittee for African Affairs.
Campbell encouraged Ethiopia to take its case to the ICJ early so it could preempt any military conflict over the water rights. This is important, he added, because the court would not intervene in an on-going war.
And Ethiopia is on good legal ground, Campbell said, because legal precedent on trans-border water rights favors existing population needs. Egypt previously sought to expand its water rights on the Nile “to serve new settlements in the Sinai, he said, while Ethiopia was seeking to preserve existing life and livelihood” following severe periodic droughts.
In addition to its legal arguments in favor of Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam project, experts say Addis Ababa can make a good political case as well.
First, Ethiopia’s population is now estimated to be slightly larger than that of Egypt. Ethiopia’s economy has grown by 6 percent or more in recent years and its future economic progress now depends heavily on dams for irrigation and for energy production.
The nation’s 12 existing dams are designed to irrigate lands once subject to drought and famine, provide electricity to the majority of Ethiopians who live in rural poverty, boost foreign investment in agriculture and earn needed foreign currency by selling hydroelectric power to its neighbors in the Nile basin at a low price.

You May Like

Nearly Every Job in America Mapped in Detail

A nifty map pinpoints practically every job in the United States, revealing the economic character of America’s metropolitan areas, which also helps to inform the local culture

Corruption Busting Is Her Game

South African activist is building 'international online community of thousands of corruption fighters'

Former SAF Businessman Gives Books, Love of Reading to Students

Steve Tsakaris now involved in nonprofit Read to Rise, which distributes books in Soweto, encourages lower-grade primary school students to read

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
by: Mohammed from: Egypt
July 18, 2013 7:28 AM
Egypt has hold back the NBI negotiation and it takes more than a decade. If the other countries were smart enough to exclude Egypt this agreement were signed 10 years and the dam was built well before. For Nile Egypt has made many nasty things to Ethiopians including organ stealing to big number.

by: mok from: Egypt
July 16, 2013 3:03 PM
For all starvation that can be prevented with small irrigation, for all civil war in Ethiopia Egypt was sponsor it, for the lost of our port to red see, for the selling of human organ from Ethiopian … soon or later Egypt will regret.
In Response

by: lakech
July 18, 2013 5:14 AM
Egypt will regret very soon. They were investing in creating internal instability and external enemies for more than half a century. and now they are doing very nasty human organ stealing from big number Ethiopian who are working in Arab countries. We are receiving a number of dead bodies everyday and big number of sick people and when they get a check up hear at least one kidney is stolen. We Ethiopian knows it is Egypt. Justice will happen very soon!!!

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Belgium-Germany Border Remains Porous, Even As Manhunt For Paris Attacker Continuesi
Ayesha Tanzeem
November 25, 2015 10:46 PM
One of the suspected gunmen in the Nov. 13 Paris attacks, Salah Abdeslam, evaded law enforcement, made his way to Belgium, and is now believed to have fled to Germany. VOA correspondent Ayesha Tanzeem makes the journey across the border from Belgium into Germany to see how porous the borders really are.

Video Belgium-Germany Border Remains Porous, Even As Manhunt For Paris Attacker Continues

One of the suspected gunmen in the Nov. 13 Paris attacks, Salah Abdeslam, evaded law enforcement, made his way to Belgium, and is now believed to have fled to Germany. VOA correspondent Ayesha Tanzeem makes the journey across the border from Belgium into Germany to see how porous the borders really are.

Video Islamic State Unfazed by Losses in Iraq, Syria

Progress in the U.S.-led effort to beat Islamic State on its home turf in Iraq and Syria has led some to speculate the terror group may be growing desperate. But counterterror officials say that is not the case, and warn the recent spate of terror attacks is merely part of the group’s evolution. VOA National Security correspondent Jeff Seldin has more.

Video Taiwan Looks for Role in South China Sea Dispute

The Taiwanese government is one of several that claims territory in the hotly contested South China Sea, but Taipei has long been sidelined in the dispute, overshadowed by China. Now, as the Philippines challenges Beijing’s claims in an international court at The Hague, Taipei is looking to publicly assert its claims. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.

Video Syrian Refugees in US Express Concern for Those Left Behind

Syrian immigrants in the United States are concerned about the negative tide of public opinion and the politicians who want to block a U.S. plan to accept 10,000 Syrian refugees. Zlatica Hoke reports many Americans are fighting to dispel suspicions linking refugees to terrorists.

Video After Paris Attacks, France Steps Up Fight Against IS

The November 13 Paris attacks have drawn increased attention to Syria, where many of the suspected perpetrators are said to have received training. French President Francois Hollande is working to build a broad international coalition to defeat Islamic State in Syria and in Iraq. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video US, Cambodian Navies Pair Up in Gulf of Thailand

The U.S. Navy has deployed one of its newest and most advanced ships to Cambodia to conduct joint training drills in the Gulf of Thailand. Riding hull-to-hull with Cambodian ships, the seamen of the USS Fort Worth are executing joint-training drills that will help build relations in Southeast Asia. David Boyle reports for VOA from Preah Sihanouk province.

Video Americans Sharpen Focus on Terrorism

Washington will be quieter than usual this week due to the Thanksgiving holiday, even as Americans across the nation register heightened concerns over possible terrorist threats. VOA’s Michael Bowman reports new polling data from ABC News and the Washington Post newspaper show an electorate increasingly focused on security issues after the deadly Islamic State attacks in Paris.

Video World Leaders Head to Paris for Climate Deal

Heads of state from nearly 80 countries are heading to Paris (November 30-December 11) to craft a global climate change agreement. The new accord will replace the Kyoto Protocol on Climate Change that expired in 2012.

Video Uncertain Future for Syrian Refugee Resettlement in Illinois

For the trickle of Syrian refugees finding new homes in the Midwest city of Chicago, the call to end resettlement in many U.S. states is adding another dimension to their long journey fleeing war. Organizations working to help them integrate say the backlash since the Paris attacks is both harming and helping their efforts to provide refugees sanctuary. VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports.

Video Creating Physical Virtual Reality With Tiny Drones

As many computer gamers know, virtual reality is a three-dimensional picture, projected inside special googles. It can fool your brain into thinking the computer world is the real world. But If you try to touch it, it’s not there. Now Canadian researchers say it may be possible to create a physical virtual reality using tiny drones. VOA’s George Putic reports.

Video New American Indian Village Takes Visitors Back in Time

There is precious little opportunity to experience what life was like in the United States before its colonization by European settlers. Now, an American Indian village built in a park outside Washington is taking visitors back in time to experience the way of life of America's indigenous people. Carol Pearson narrates this report from VOA's June Soh.

Video Even With Hometown Liberated, Yazidi Refugees Fear Return

While the northern Iraqi town of Sinjar has been liberated from Islamic State forces, it's not clear whether Yazidi residents who fled the militants will now return home. VOA’s Mahmut Bozarslan talked with Yazidis, a religious and ethnic minority, at a Turkish refugee camp in Diyarbakır. Robert Raffaele narrates his report.

Video Nairobi Tailors Make Pope Francis’ Vestments

To ensure the pope is properly attired during his visit, the Kenya Conference of Catholic Bishops asked the Dolly Craft Sewing Project in the Nairobi slum of Kangemi to make the pope's vestments, the garments he will wear during the various ceremonies. Jill Craig reports.

Video Cross-Border Terrorism Puts Europe’s Passport-Free Travel in Doubt

The fallout from the Islamic State terror attacks in Paris has put the future of Europe’s passport-free travel area, known as the "Schengen Zone," in doubt. Several of the perpetrators were known to intelligence agencies, but were not intercepted. Henry Ridgwell reports from London European ministers are to hold an emergency meeting Friday in Brussels to look at ways of improving security.

Video El Niño Brings Unexpected Fish From Mexico to California

Fish in an unexpected spectrum of sizes, shapes and colors are moving north, through El Niño's warm currents from Mexican waters to the Pacific Ocean off California’s coast. El Nino is the periodic warming of the eastern and central Pacific Ocean. As Faiza Elmasry tells us, this phenomenon thrills scientists and gives anglers the chance of a once-in-a-lifetime big catch. Faith Lapidus narrates.

Video Terrorism in Many Forms Continues to Plague Africa

While the world's attention is on Paris in the wake of Friday night's deadly attacks, terrorism from various sides remains a looming threat in many African countries. Nigerian cities have been targeted this week by attacks many believe were staged by the violent Islamist group Boko Haram. In addition, residents in many regions are forced to flee their homes as they are terrorized by armed militias. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video Study: Underage Marriage Rate Higher for Females in Pakistan

While attitudes about the societal role of females in Pakistan are evolving, research by child advocacy group Plan International suggests that underage marriage of girls remains a particularly big issue in the country. VOA’s Ayesha Tanzeem reports how such marriages leads to further social problems.

VOA Blogs