Egyptian-Ethiopian Tensions Over Nile DamJune 13, 2013 in Africa, Egypt, Ethiopia
Ethiopia’s plan to divert a stretch of the Blue Nile for a hydroelectric dam has caused outrage in Egypt. The Great Ethiopian Renaissance Dam is part of a major investment project to boost power exports. The dam will have a capacity equivalent to six nuclear power plants.
Ethiopia, which is the source of the Blue Nile, believes that it could wean itself off of food aid by irrigating the river, however some experts say that the reserve could cause nearly 20% reduction of the water supply to Egypt and Sudan. A colonial agreement gives Egypt and Sudan the right to use up to 90% of the Nile’s water. In 2010, six countries attempted to create a new arrangement for redistribution of Nile waters, but Egypt and Sudan refused to enter any agreement that affected their share of the water supply.
Egyptians see the building of the dam as a threat to national survival. As a desert nation with very little rainfall, the growing population is increasingly dependent on the water supply. The nation relies on the Nile for 98 per cent of its irrigation, and estimates show that Egypt will require an additional 21 billion cubic metres of water per year by 2050 to meet the needs of a projected population of 150 million. Supporters of the dam say Egypt could solve the crisis by being more efficient with water usage; opponents argue that Egypt already recycles up to 15 billion cubic metres of water.
In a surprise move in late May, Ethiopia decided to proceed with the project days after a state visit by Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi. The Ethiopian government says a scientific report ensures that the dam will do “no appreciable harm” to Sudan and Egypt downstream. The report, which was to be released in early June, is still shrouded in secrecy.
The Egyptian Parliament denounced Prime Minister Hashim Kandil for failing to prevent the construction. One MP shouted, “Egypt will turn to a graveyard… We have to stop the construction of this dam first before entering negotiations.” Egypt’s Foreign Minister is planning a visit to Addis Ababa on 16 June to continue discussions.
In early June, senior Egyptian politicians were unknowingly caught on live television discussion options with President Morsi. Ayman Nour, head of Egypt’s Ghad party, suggested leaking false reports that Egypt was building up its air power. Younis Makhyoun, leader of the al-Nour party, suggested supporting Ethiopian rebels, or as a last resort, destroying the dam. The “secret” meeting triggered heavy backlash. Egypt has not issued an official apology for the broadcast; one member tweeted she was sorry members of the meeting were unknowingly broadcast. Opposition leader Mohamed El Baradei was invited but did not attend the meeting. He tweeted sincere apologies to the people and governments of Ethiopia and Sudan.
Egypt’s ambassador to Ethiopia has been summoned to explain the hostile remarks.
Meanwhile, President Morsi gave a speech to supporters on 10 June, in which he announced that “all options are open” in dealing with the situation. Morsi said to a cheering crowd, “We are not calling for war, but we will never permit our water security to be threatened.” Morsi received a standing ovation after quoting from an old Egyptian song, “If it diminishes by one drop, our blood is the alternative.”
A spokesman for the Ethiopian prime minister called Morsi’s speech irresponsible, and promised that the project would proceed. “Of course we are going to go ahead with the project, because we believe we are justified.”
Nile Basin Nations Water Relations
Disputes over the Nile’s water supply span over a century. Colonial treaties promised Egypt a vast majority of the water supply, and an agreement following Sudan’s independence in 1956 allocated 55.5 billion cubic metres of the Nile to Egypt, and 18.5 billion to Sudan, totalling 87 per cent of the Nile flow. However, the treaties provided nothing to nations further upstream.
Ethiopia and other nations believe the colonial treaties are antiquated. Ethiopian Foreign Minister Tedros Adhanom said, “Ethiopia cannot remain poor. It must utilise its resources to lift its people out of poverty.”
The Nile Basin Initiative was created in 1998 to bring together all ten states that border on the Nile to discuss the issue, but have failed to reach an agreement as the Cairo government guards historic treaties. The failure to agree on water redistribution has created deep bitterness among other Nile nations. In March 2011, Ethiopia, Rwanda, Uganda, Kenya, Burundi and Tanzania signed a new agreement to overturn the colonial-era treaties and replace them with a more equitable utilisation of the river.
Many in Ethiopia believe that Egypt is the source of many of its troubles. In 1959, Egyptian President Gamal Abdul Nasser excluded Ethiopia from the planning of the Aswan Dam. In response, Ethiopian
Emperor Haile Selassie caused the separation of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church from its sister church in Alexandria, ending a 1,600 year relationship.
In response to the Emperor’s actions, Nasser backed the Eritrean revolt against Ethiopia, and encouraged Somali Muslims to fight for Ethiopia’s Ogaden region. Eritrea’s eventual independence caused Ethiopia to become a landlocked nation, a source of great anger. Eritrea backs the Egyptian position over the Nile.
Meanwhile, Ethiopia continues with the project, with a $1 billion loan from China. The project, according to the Ethiopian government, began in May and is 21 percent complete.