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
x
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

Video VOA EXCLUSIVE: Iraq President Vows to Fight IS 'Until They Are Killed or We Die'

In wide-ranging interview with VOA Kurdish service reporter, Fuad Masum describes conflict as new type of fight that will take time to win More

Russian Anti-Corruption Campaigner Slams Putin’s Crackdown on Dissent

In interview with VOA Alexei Navalny says he believes new law against 'undesirable NGOs' part of move to keep Russian president in power More

Video On The Scene: In Ethiopia, 'Are You a Journalist?' Is a Loaded Question

VOA's Anita Powell describes the difficulties faced by reporters in fully conveying the story in a country where people are reticent to share their true opinions More

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
Comments
     
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.
Expelled from Pakistan, Afghan Refugees Return to Increased Hardshipi
X
Ayesha Tanzeem
May 28, 2015 6:48 PM
Undocumented refugees returning to Afghanistan from Pakistan have no jobs, no support system, and no home return to, and international aid agencies say they and the government are overwhelmed and under-resourced. Ayesha Tanzeem has more from Kabul.
Video

Video Expelled from Pakistan, Afghan Refugees Return to Increased Hardship

Undocumented refugees returning to Afghanistan from Pakistan have no jobs, no support system, and no home return to, and international aid agencies say they and the government are overwhelmed and under-resourced. Ayesha Tanzeem has more from Kabul.
Video

Video Britain Makes Controversial Move to Crack Down on Extremism

Britain is moving to tighten controls on extremist rhetoric, even when it does not incite violence or hatred -- a move that some are concerned might unduly restrict basic freedoms. It is an issue many countries are grappling with as extremist groups gain power in the Middle East, fueled in part by donations and fighters from the West. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London.
Video

Video Floodwaters Recede in Houston, but Rain Continues

Many parts of Texas are recovering from one of the worst natural disasters to hit the southwestern state. Heavy rains on Monday and early Tuesday caused rivers to swell in eastern and central Texas, washing away homes and killing at least 13 people. As VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Houston, floodwaters are receding slowly in the country's fourth-largest city, and there likely is to be more rain in the coming days.
Video

Video 3D Printer Makes Replica of Iconic Sports Car

Cars with parts made by 3D printers are already on the road, but engineers are still learning about this new technology. While testing the possibility of printing an entire car, researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy recently created an electric-powered replica of an iconic sports roadster. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Al-Shabab Recruitment Drive Still on In Kenya

The al-Shabab militants that have long battled for control of Somalia also have recruited thousands of young people in Kenya, leaving many families disconsolate. Mohammed Yusuf recently visited the Kenyan town of Isiolo, and met with relatives of those recruited, as well as a many who have helped with the recruiting.
Video

Video US Voters Seek Answers From Presidential Candidates on IS Gains

The growth of the Islamic State militant group in Iraq and Syria comes as the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign kicks off in the Midwest state of Iowa.   As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, voters want to know how the candidates would handle recent militant gains in the Middle East.
Video

Video A Small Oasis on Kabul's Outskirts Provides Relief From Security Tensions

When people in Kabul want to get away from the city and relax, many choose Qargha Lake, a small resort on the outskirts of Kabul. Ayesha Tanzeem visited and talked with people about the precious oasis.
Video

Video Film Festival Looks at Indigenous Peoples, Culture Conflict

A recent Los Angeles film festival highlighted the plight of people caught between two cultures. Mike O'Sullivan has more on the the Garifuna International Film Festival, a Los Angeles forum created by a woman from Central America who wants the world to know more about her culture.
Video

Video Kenyans Lament Losing Sons to al-Shabab

There is agony, fear and lost hope in the Kenyan town of Isiolo, a key target of a new al-Shabab recruitment drive. VOA's Mohammed Yusuf visits Isiolo to speak with families and at least one man who says he was a recruiter.
Video

Video Scientists Say Plankton More Important Than Previously Thought

Tiny ocean creatures called plankton are mostly thought of as food for whales and other large marine animals, but a four-year global study discovered, among other things, that plankton are a major source of oxygen on our planet. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Kenya’s Capital Sees Rise in Shisha Parlors

In Kenya, the smoking of shisha, a type of flavored tobacco, is the latest craze. Patrons are flocking to shisha parlors to smoke and socialize. But the practice can be addictive and harmful, though many dabblers may not realize the dangers, according to a new review. Lenny Ruvaga has more on the story for VOA from Nairobi, Kenya.
Video

Video Iowa Family's Sacrifice Shaped US Military Service for Generations

Few places in America have experienced war like Waterloo. This small town in the Midwest state of Iowa became famous during World War II not for what it accomplished, but what it lost. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, the legacy of one family’s sacrifice is still a reminder today of the real cost of war for all families on the homefront.

VOA Blogs