30 April 2012 – The National reports Mohamed Nasr El Din Allam, former minister of water and irrigation of Egypt until last year, as saying that Ethiopia’s Grand Millennium dam if built will cause a water shortage in Egypt.
Citing a study he participated in, he says the dam would result in cuts in electricity, a reduction in agricultural lands and water shortages across major cities in Egypt. The forecast relates to the revelation by Ethiopian officials that the depth of the dam would be enlarged to 150 metres from 90 m, alongside plans to boost electricity production and use water pooling behind the dam to irrigate more than 500,000 hectares of new agricultural lands.
Ethiopian officials have vehemently disagreed with Allam’s assessment, claiming that the dam project is a win-win project for all countries concerned. More than any of the other countries along the Nile basin, Egypt and Sudan are dependent on the water from the river because of their lack of secondary water resources and little rainfall. Egypt receives 55 billion cubic metres and Sudan receives 18.5 billion cubic metres a year, under a series of agreements that date back to a 1929 treaty drawn up by Britain when it held power over much of north Africa.
Those agreements have long irked upstream countries, which they describe as a colonial-era injustice because of treaties’ favourable distribution of water to Egypt and Sudan, as well as giving them the right to veto projects that would be deemed harmful to their national interests.
The Nile Basin Initiative was established in 1999 to create an equitable agreement among the countries. However, there have been divisions from the start, due to Egypt’s and Sudan’s unwillingness to negotiate their share of the water and insistence on retaining veto rights. Ethiopia, Uganda, Tanzania, Rwanda and Kenya signed their own deal, known as the Entebbe agreement, which said projects could be built as long as they don’t significantly affect the water flow. Egypt, which sees the wording as a precursor to cuts of its share, called the agreement a national security threat.
A new panel, with representatives from Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia, as well as international water experts, is now tasked with assessing the impacts of the dam. They are expected to begin their work in mid-May.
Egypt’s main diplomatic tool, analysts say, will be to lobby the World Bank and other donors not to provide financing to projects that hurt its share of the water. Ethiopia has started issuing bonds to raise money, but it would be unable to finance the US$4.8 billion dam without help.