Key talks: Cairo seems resigned to the Nile dust finally settling

18 Oct

Posted by The Ethiopia Observatory (TEO)

At the conclusion of the Cairo Nile talks, Ahram Online on October 17, 2014 reported that the irrigation ministers of Ethiopia, Egypt and the Sudan had harmoniously agreed to receive offers from seven consultancy firms that would conduct more studies on the possible effects of Ethiopia’s Blue Nile dam. The long known bickering gone, the ministers also quietly agreed to settle on one or two firms during their meeting next month at a location to be agreed on.

More telling about the state of play between the three countries regarding the dam under construction in Ethiopia is the October 16 article by Reem Leila, appearing under the title Key talks on Al-Ahrma Weekly. It has silenced the usual predictors of wars and conflicts between Ethiopia and Egypt, far too common in that ‘Gift of the Nile’, must now finally see it is not going to happen. After all, this is also in concert with the long history of mankind, which attests that there has been no time when nations have gone to war because of water. This does not mean that there has never been threats or muscle flexing, as has Egypt loved to do it all the time – but no more.

A day before the Cairo meeting, Egypt’s Irrigation Minister Hossam Moghazi appeared sedate. He simply stated: “The Tripartite Technical Commission will choose one of nine consultancy companies. Each of Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia are suggesting three different companies to undertake the required studies about the GERD’s impact as requested by the international technical panel in May 2013… Financial costs will be equally divided among the three countries”.

Egyptian President El-Sisi had audience with the water ministers of Ethiopia and the Sudan. He is reported to have reassured them that strong relations between the three countries cannot be limited to water resources issues, since economic development can only be reached through cooperation, according to Ahram.

Still much healthier is the fact that Egyptian experts of all shades are still talking. Only three days ago, Nader Nour El-Din, a professor of water resources at Cairo University, told Ahram Online that Ethiopia is continuing with the dam project without taking into consideration any research or studies on the dam’s impact.”I don’t see the importance of these tripartite meetings as Ethiopia is building the dam without taking into consideration any of the studies,” he added.

Mohamed Salman, another noted expert and close to the talks between the three countries, held similar views. He argued, “In May 2013, an international expert committee formed of experts from Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia, and others from France, Germany and USA, said that Ethiopia’s studies on the dam’s impact were very basic and that they needed more details. However, Ethiopia turned a blind eye to this international report and went on with constructing the dam.” For him now, “the real issue is that Egypt thinks there might a solution to the stand-off.”

As to other analysts and experts that are tweaking here and there or fidgeting to find their balance, there seem to be evident signs about the beginning of a new era in the Nile Basin, as Reem Leila’s article on Al-Ahram Weekly is showing:

    “Historically, only Egypt and the Sudan have had shares of Nile water. The other Nile Basin countries did not have any need of the water, receiving enough annual rainfall to cover agricultural needs. Egypt has historical rights to the Nile confirmed by many international agreements. Diaa Al-Qoussi, the veteran international water expert, pointed out that earlier agreements were signed by Britain and Italy and the Upper Nile countries. The last such agreement was signed in 1959 by Egypt and Sudan. “We stress that these historical rights are protected by international law,” stated Al-Qoussi. Until 1959 Egypt received 48 billion cubic metres of water.

    After the 1959 agreement, Egypt’s total share of Nile water was increased to 55.5 billion cubic metres, while Sudan has received 14.5 billion cubic metres. This amount only comprises six to eight per cent of the total rainfall over the Nile Basin. Much of the rest is lost, some through evaporation and transpiration, some under the ground. “What we use, then, is very little compared to the potential. Yet to tap this potential, water management must be introduced in some areas, such as the equatorial lakes, where water losses are huge. The weeds consume more than is lost through natural evaporation,” said Al-Qoussi.

    Benefiting from Nile water respects several principles. According to Al-Qoussi, the share of any country must be in proportion to its population and the size of its agricultural land. None of the Nile Basin countries should harm any of its neighbouring countries who benefit from the River Nile. An international dispute will develop between Egypt and Nile Basin countries if they are to insist on their stance. “Alternatives in such cases aren’t much. Other than political and diplomatic negotiations and international arbitration, the only remaining option will be the use of military force,” added Al-Qoussi.

    Ibrahim Nasreddin of Cairo University’s African Studies Institute stated that the Nile Basin countries have begun to develop and many of them want to use Nile water for irrigation. “However, decisions such as these cannot be made by one country. From now on there must be consultation and mutual agreement,” emphasised Nasreddin. Egypt will eventually need to increase its quota as this is a legal right, nonetheless. “Due to the ever increasing 80 million souls inhabiting the country, the individual’s share of potable water became less than 750 cubic metres per year, compared to 2,000 as that person’s share in any of the source countries. Officials must start talking and the details will come later. They should focus on joint projects similar to that of Gongli. The most important principle, though, is that the Nile is for all its countries. This understanding relieves the Upper Nile countries and definitely today there is a new attitude emerging,” he explains.”

 

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