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The Nile Conundrum: Harnessing our vast Water & Agricultural Potential
Transcript of The Nile Conundrum: Harnessing our vast Water & Agricultural Potential
Harnessing our vast water & agricultural potential
The Resource Base
Ethiopia has 12 River Basins with estimated surface water resources potential of 123 billion cubic meters (bm3) (Abbay, Baro-Akobo, Tekeze and Omo Ghibe contribute 80% -90%)
Ethiopia has 11 freshwater and 9 saline lakes, four crater lakes and over 12 major swamps and wetlands with a surface area of about 7,500km2
Ground Water Resources estimated to 26 bm3?
Total potential of Irrigable land 5.3 million hectares
Hydropower Potential > 45, 000 MW
Ethiopia is the Water Tower of North East Africa
“The only matter that could take Egypt to war again is water.”
Anwar Sadat, 1979.
“The next war in our region will be over water, not politics”
Fierce competition for fresh water may well become a source of conflict and wars in the future., but the water problems of our world need not be only a cause of tension; they can also be a catalyst for cooperation. … If we work together, a secure and sustainable water future can be ours
–Kofi Annan, 2001-2002
“Just in the case of all other natural resources on its territories, Ethiopia has the right and obligations to exploit the water resources of the Empire…for the benefit of the present and future generations of its citizens…in anticipation of the growth in population and expanding needs. The Imperial Ethiopian Government…reasserts and reserves now and for the future, the right to take all such measures in respect of its water resources,…namely those waters providing so nearly the entirety of the volume of the Nile”
HM Emperor Haile Sellasse I
Costantinos Berhutesfa Costantinos, PhD
Board chair, LEM Ethiopia, EITCO and AAI Capital
Comparative Public Policy, School of Graduate
Studies, College of Business & Economics
Seminar on the
Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam
Ras Mekonnen Hall, Addis Ababa University, Addis Ababa, May 14, 2014
The Nile is shared by 10 poor riparian States. The “treaty for the full utilization of the Nile”, concluded between (colonial Britain & Britain in 1929 and) colonial Britain, Egypt and the Sudan in 1959, divides the entire flow of the Nile between Sudan & Egyprs. Other riparian countries, notably Ethiopia - a country that contributes 86% of the annual discharge of the Nile, to date use only less than 1% of it.
Egypt and Sudan need to learn the lessons from past agreements and to analyze how and why they were unfair, only then they will be able to cooperate with other riparian states and seek a win-win settlement to the present dispute. Analysis of the various clauses of the agreements, together with the consequences of decades of their implementation shows that they are unreasonable, humiliating, exploitative, unfair, represent a threat to water security, delayed economic development, and represent an element of political instability. The belief that the agreements are unreasonable is a common factor among all riparian states, with basin wide opinion against the concept of water monopoly by the two countries.
This became a prominent feature of Egypt’s Nile policy after the construction of the Aswan High Dam by the Soviet Union. The late President Anwar Sadat realigned his country with the West, made peace with Israel and announced that the only thing that could bring Egypt into war again would be if any country threatened Egypt’s control of the Nile waters.
Once more Ethiopia, a nation known as the water tower of North-East Africa is the epicenter of famines must develop its surface water resources, estimated at an average of 122.19 billion cubic metres of water annually discharged from its river basins with an estimated 3.5 million hectares of irrigable land. Hence, the long-term objective is to establish once and for all a nation that can ensure its citizenry livelihood security.
The present Nile basin conflict reflects radical change in the way the Nile waters are managed and shared by riparian countries. Behind these changes reside new mentalities, attitudes and conditions, which indicate that the change is permanent, and that old days of inequitable distribution are gone forever.
Costantinos BT Costantinos, PhD
Professor of Public Policy, School of Graduate Studies, College of Business & Economics
Most alarming to many in the region is that the project will ultimately bring Nile water to Israel. In 1981, Subhi Kahhlen, an Egyptian journalist, summarized two of the main objections to sending water from the Nile to Israel.
The Nile is an international waterway and Egypt cannot dispose of its waters unilaterally without the agreement of its riparian partners who "
view it as violation of international law
Secondly, the more important obstacle would be the Egyptian people, who see Egypt selling water to an enemy of the Arabs .
In 1984, a famine began to strike Ethiopia with apocalyptic force. Westerners watched in horror as the images of death filled their TV screens: the rows of fly-haunted corpses, the skeletal orphans crouched in pain, the villagers desperately scrambling for bags of grain dropped from the sky.
The Nile Basin Initiative
Ethiopia could not develop its water resources to feed its needy population, mainly because of policies of international financial institutions (IFIs), augured on British colonial dictat, which have made it difficult for upper riparian countries to secure finance without the consent of Egypt.
For more than five decades Egypt’s political leaders have claimed ‘historic rights’ to control of the Nile waters, punctuated by threats of war against any upstream country that might attempt to build dams or water infrastructure on the river.
The Nile Conundrum:
Ethiopia, Egypt & Sudan:
The Nile Basin Conundrum:
The need for cool heads to prevail on a 'non-existent' or 'perceived' threat to Egypt
Forum for Foreign Policy Studies,
Ethiopian Youth Organizations, Professional Associations and Civil Society Groups
Public discourse on the Nile
One of the most costly and politically and economically dubious of these efforts is a huge land reclamation project in the North Sinai desert called the North Sinai Agricultural Development Project.
Once more, the mighty Nile is shared by 10 poor riparian States. The “treaty for the full utilization of the Nile”, concluded between (colonial Britain & Britain in 1929 and) colonial Britain, Egypt and the Sudan in 1959, divides the entire flow of the Nile between Sudan & Egyprs. Other riparian countries, notably Ethiopia - a country that contributes 86% of the annual discharge of the Nile, to date use only less than 1% of it.
Poverty necessitate the development of the Nile Water resources by all riparian States
Plans to build the world’s second highest dam, GG III, have been a source of frustration for Ethiopia, As IFIs refused to loan funds for the dam, it is almost 90% complete with resources generated from other sources . It is claimed that Lake Turkana, has already lost several meters of its water in the last five years and teh dam would be an added menace, a claim never supported by clear research evidence.
Formed in 1999, the initiative brings together Nile Basin countries to develop the river in a cooperative manner, share substantial socioeconomic benefits, and promote regional peace and security. The Co-operative Framework was vehemently rejected by Egypt and Sudan on the basis of their claimed legal and historical rights over the full amount of water, as stated in the 1929/59 agreements.
Getting to the bottom of the ‘Historical Water Rights’ Impasse & an agenda for a win-win Diplomacy.
Why does Ethiopia want to
harness its Nile, Gibe, Baro... River Basins?
The Nile status quo was such that Ethiopia, whose name has almost become synonymous with drought and famine, is condemned, while two downstream States have almost utilized the entire water flow. Moreover, Sudan and Egypt keep on introducing new mega-irrigation projects even further.
The biggest threat to the Nile is continued under-development in the tropics i.e., lack of electricity and lack of industrialization.
On account of these two, peasants cut the bio-mass for fuel and invade the forests to expand primitive agriculture and invade the wetlands to grow rice. This interferes with the transpiration that is crucial for rain formation as 40 % of our rain comes from our lakes and wetlands.
Ironically, the Egyptians wanted to drain the wetlands in South Sudan through the Jonglei canal that was one of the causes for the people of South Sudan to wage war against Khartoum, which was collaborating with Egypt’s misguided and dangerous policies of that time -
Is Egypt Capable of a Military Action against Ethiopia?
Distance is a major obstacle for the Egyptian military option. Ethiopia is beyond the combat radius of all Egyptian aircraft staging from Egypt. Access to Sudanese and Eritrean airfields would place some of Egypt’s air force within range, but Sudan and Eritrea will face direct military retaliation from Ethiopia.
An option is the insertion of special operations forces into Sudan to either harass the construction of the dam or attempt to sabotage the structure under the guise of militants, which would likely only delay the project, not arrest construction. Even then, this would face the Ethiopian defense forces. Moreover, a small team of ground forces, no matter how elite, would likely be physically unable to carry enough ordnance to critically damage or destroy the dam.
If Egypt is to knock out a standing dam, it must use retarded and delayed-action bombs. The difficulty is that the bomb (or even better, bombs) needs to be deployed at the very base of the dam, where the concussive effect and pressure wave would be sufficient to breach the dam.
Egypt doesn't have military options and ability to project the full force of its military. Any option Cairo chooses to exercise will come with severe international consequences for and the drastic blow of the Ethiopian combat trained forces to Sudan and Eritrea, the possible stages for attacking the dam.
Moreover the crises that have engulfed Egypt has brought the military back to power struggle, essentially rigging its politics in a quagmire
The Tana-Beles Project, on the Nile was started in 1988, but could not be completed as Egypt blocked an expected loan from the African Development Bank that was needed to complete the project. Now this has been completed generating 640 megawatts using other sources of funding
Notwithstanding colonial rationale for the monopoly of the Nile waters, attempts must be made to identify the impediments and the need for strategic partnership and alliances. It can be done. Yes it can be done. A skilled and committed leadership of all riparian states can mitigate conditions that are hostile to achieving such synergy between states and equitable growth and prosperity among their peoples.
Then and only then will Egypt be the Gift of the Nile and the Mighty Nile becomes the Gift of Ethiopia.
Alice Landau, Analyzing International Economic Negotiations: Towards a Synthesis of Approaches, 5 INT’L NEGOTIATION 1, 11 (2000).
Environmental Protection Agency, State Of The Environment Report In Ethiopia, (2003, Addis Abeba)
Fasil Amdetsion , From Tahrir to the Banks of the Nile Religion Law and Politics of the Nile basin, (Yale University, 2010)
Ken Ohashi (2009) Sustaining Growth Ethiopessimism (World Bank, Fortune:Addis Ababa)
Mark Svendsen, International Food Policy Research Institute, Integrated Management Of Water In River Basins (2001), http://www.ifpri.org/2020/focus/focus09/focus09_13.asp , accessed June 14, 2013
Museveni - Africa Won't Let Egyptians Bully Ethiopia, http://allafrica.com
Seifulaziz Milas Egypt/Ethiopia: There will be no water war in the Nile Basin because no one can afford it, June 10, 2013, http://africanarguments.org/2013/06/10/egyptethiopia-there-will-be-no-water-war-in-the-nile-basin-because-no-one-can-afford-it-by-seifulaziz-milas/#comment-21752, accessed June 14, 2013
Serrill, MS, TIME -CNN (1987) Famine: Hunger stalks Ethiopia once again -- and aid groups fear the worst
Stratfor, How Egypt Might Try To Stop Ethiopia's Dam Project, http://www.forbes.com/sites/stratfor/2013/06/13/how-egypt-might-try-to-stop-ethiopias-dam-project/ accessed June 14, 2013
Tennessee Valley Authority, From the New Deal to a New Century: A Short History of TVA, http://www.tva.gov/abouttva/history.htm (last visited Feb. 23, 2009)
The Nile Basin Initiative: Water Resources Planning and Management, available at http://wrpm.nilebasin.org/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=20&Itemid=46, accessed June 14, 2013
The White House, (2004) Ending Famine in Horn of Africa: Ending the Cycle of Famine in the Horn of Africa, Raising Agricultural Productivity, and Promoting Rural Development in Food Insecure Countries, G8 Resolution, US Government, Washington DC.
Uwe Hoering, Ethiopia’s Water Dilemma, INT’L RIVERS, June 1, 2006, available at, accessed June 14, 2013 from http://internationalrivers.org/en/africa/ethiopia/ethiopias-water-dilemma
Tangible benefits would be delivered to upper and lower riparian states because the cooler Ethiopian highlands are less susceptible to the evaporation which occurs in the more arid Egyptian climate. It is estimated that the Lake Nasser Reservoir loses up to ten billion cubic meters of water a year to evaporation, a figure that would be cut by half if the reservoir were to have been built in the Ethiopian highlands.
Economic and Political
Silas, 2013, Amdetsion, 2010
Savings would be even more dramatic if dam building took place in conjunction with intensified water conservation methods including recycling waste water, shifts in cropping patterns and efficient use irrigation projects.
New dams in upper riparian states will not only maximize available water but may also stem potential conflict if such dams become the cornerstone of a regional commercial and interdependent power supply system.
Mitigating tensions over the Nile is also unlikely unless adequate attention is paid to economic issues. Government officials and policymakers will have to focus on value-creating solutions and be willing to support these solutions within their respective constituencies.
Moreover, States involved in negotiating equitable allocations of the Nile’s waters will have to do so in the context of emerging jurisprudence that recogniz sovereignty
over natural resources.
Thinking in such holistic terms will require a change of heart and a more multilateral approach to development of the Nile. If conciliatory gestures are not met half way, however, states will have to work more decidedly to reverse the current regime sanctioning inequitable allocations
With Sudan's and Egypt's growing population and planned use of the Nile Waters beyond African continental boundaries, all the riparian states should think of transforming their economies into industrial hubs and create employment opportunities away from subsistence farming to their peasantry.
There will be no water war in the Nile Basin, because no one can afford it. For Egypt, Ethiopia & Sudan, rural futures may be limited by constraints of land and water and demography. All need to focus on rapid industrialization and urban job creation to sustain it. To make this possible, they need to collectively develop the Nile energy resources and cooperate to use them as effectively as possible.
Getting to the bottom of the ‘
Historical Rights’ Impasse & Crafting a win-win Diplomacy & Regional GERD Investment Cooperation
Foreign Direct Investment (FDI)
Strategy for the Grand Renaissance Dam (GERD)
The FDRE must have an FDI plan or the GERD
Beneficiary states such as Egypt & Sudan should invest in the GERD;
Corporate entities that plan to invest in the three countries must be allowed to buy shares in the GERD;
Egyptian & Sudanese corprate entities shoudl buy shares in the GERD