Egypt drowns in Nile ‘water war’
Abdel Latif El-Menawy
THREE years ago I warned of the water crisis and the Ethiopian Renaissance Dam via a series of articles. I traveled to Ethiopia and Eritrea and met with late Ethiopian premier Meles Zenawi and Eritrean president Isaias Afewerki in an attempt to provide the public with the opportunity to learn what is going on. I did so out of my belief that journalism can be a factor that helps to achieve solutions if it is conducted properly and within the boundaries of national goals, especially on foreign fronts. Back then, my concern was the crisis threatening Egypt: a war over the Nile’s water.
I went to Ethiopia, Eritrea, Sudan and South Sudan in an attempt to get a clearer picture and understanding of the situation. Our problem is that we always have a prejudgment of people and certain issues, and such an attitude sometimes leads us to the wrong conclusions. My aim was to understand what is currently going on regarding the Nile water war, to understand the reason for the Ethiopian stance and to understand where we currently stand regarding this matter.
Back then, the suggested solution was that Egypt would not allow the building of any dams that affect its share of water. International law actually stands on Egypt’s side regarding this point. At the same time, however, as studies were conducted to establish dams on the Nile from upstream countries, Egypt showed its willingness to contribute and cooperate in building them as long as no harm was done to Egyptian national security interests. I believe this is the right path toward resolving this crisis: cooperating, studying and negotiating at the same time.
The nine countries that share the Nile with Egypt are considered unstable countries which are incapable of launching giant projects on the river or incapable of agricultural land reclamation. These countries also suffer from local crises. Some of them suffer from civil wars, tribal struggles and economic problems.
Huge projects also require international funding which cannot be provided without feasible studies approved by all the countries that benefit from the river, which indicates that there is no imminent danger that threatens the Nile’s flow to Egypt in the foreseeable future.
In the past, Egypt made several political moves. The most important of them was Egypt’s concern over its strong ties with the Nile countries particularly Ethiopia which is connected through the river to Egypt and Sudan. Another move was Egypt’s concern that developing the resources of the water cannot be carried out without the effective participation of all three countries since most of the Nile Basin countries enjoy more than one source of water. Egypt’s share of rainfall, however, does not exceed 20 millimeters while in some of the Nile Basin countries, it can reach 20,000 millimeters. This means that Egypt suffers from a water deficit of more than 30 percent, and it overcomes this deficit by recycling water. On this basis, we must realize that any expense, burden or effort carried out in the area of the Nile Basin countries is not a waste of resources but a form of direct colonization in the future. And, therefore, cooperating and strengthening ties with these countries is an important issue.
This is why the former presidential initiative to establish a commission for the Nile Basin countries was important regardless of the signing of the Nile Basin Initiative now among Nile Basin countries. Another important move was the policy of not escalating the rhetoric when addressing this issue yet emphasizing that Egypt’s historical rights to the Nile water are nonnegotiable.
But at the same time, we must not be carried away with enthusiasm or with the desire to achieve fake heroic acts and end up escalating the rhetoric to the extent of making threats and sounding the drums of a war when there are no reasons for such drums. The issue must be resolved by maintaining patience, resuming negotiations and emphasizing that the concept of cooperation is the basis for compensation for what has been lost and the basis for maintaining our rights.
Although it has been three years since all of this took place, the group currently ruling Egypt has drowned in its failure, greed and fake renaissance and has drowned us with it.
According to media reports, the Brotherhood has not yet awakened from its slumber and is still studying the final report of the commission on the Ethiopian Renaissance Dam. The report will be submitted before the end of May in order to be put before the presidents of Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia. The report indicates that Ethiopian studies on the dam “are incomplete.” This is the same conclusion drawn by the commission’s last progress report. A practical study has also confirmed that the expected results from establishing the dam will be “disastrous” and will lead to the displacement of millions of Egyptian families.
Amid all this, what is really strange and what really raises a lot of questions is that Egypt’s prime minister who is supposed to be aware of the repercussions of the upcoming water crisis since he served as the head of two ministers’ offices for five years and then later served as minister of irrigation has in fact added salt to the wounds and further drowned us in the Nile crisis.
— Abdel Latif El-Menawy is an author, columnist and multimedia journalist who has covered conflicts around the world. Follow him on Twitter @ALMenawy.