Egypt holds on to water rights amid ‘critical situation’

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Thu, 21 Jun 2018 - 07:15 GMT

World Water Ministers pose for a photo in the Tajikistan-held High-level International Conference on International Decade for Action “Water For Sustainable Development,” 2018-2020 - Press photo

World Water Ministers pose for a photo in the Tajikistan-held High-level International Conference on International Decade for Action “Water For Sustainable Development,” 2018-2020 - Press photo

CAIRO - 21 June 2018: Egypt will not give up its rights and current utilization of Nile water, amid water scarcity and climate change impacts, which could displace more than five million people from the Delta, said Egyptian Minister of Water Resources and Irrigation on Wednesday.

“Egypt, with this complicated situation, will not accept to give up its historic rights and current utilization of the Nile water. Nobody on the earth would accept to have their people die of thirst and starvation,” Abdel Ati said in Tajikistan-held high-level International Conference on International Decade for Action “Water For Sustainable Development,” 2018-2020.

Abdel Ati’s speech reflects Egyptian authorities’ international efforts to guarantee water for more than 94 million people and the next generations’ amid the ongoing threats of climate change and “possible risks” imposed by building dams on upstream countries of the Nile.

Egypt has diplomatically and politically entered into a battle with some Nile basin countries over its share of the Nile water. The disagreement has started since 2010, when five Nile basin countries (Ethiopia, Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, and Rwanda) signed the Entebbe Agreement, per which the two 1929 and 1959 deals conducted during British colonization could be relinquished. The two deals had allocated 80 billion cubic meters of Nile water to Egypt (55.5 billion), and for Sudan (18.5 billion); they also granted Egypt the right of veto against any projects that could be established on Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania and Sudan that may cause harm to its share.

Moreover, Egypt’s concern over its share was escalated after Ethiopia started building the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam on the Blue Nile. The tributary feeds 80 percent of the Nile’s water to downstream states.

“Confidence [and good will] is the main pillar of cooperation and that was translated by the signing of the Declaration of Principles among Egypt, Sudan, and Ethiopia on the Renaissance Dam; this declaration is a sign of trust from Egypt. It is time for the basin countries to offer confidence and understanding,” Abdel Ati said.


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Ethiopia's Grand Renaissance Dam seen under construction - Reuters


In 2015, Egypt, Sudan, and Ethiopia signed the Declaration of the Renaissance Dam Principles Charter that tackles the management of the dam with written guarantees, and states that the dam’s reservoir cannot be filled without the approval of Egypt and Sudan. In December 2017, Egypt demanded the intervention of the World Bank in the matter, a move that was rejected by Ethiopia. Unconfirmed reports said that Ethiopia seeks to start filling the GERD’s reservoir during the upcoming Nile flood season in July.

However, a breakthrough was recently witnessed in the ongoing series of discussions among three countries.

“The importance of restoring the comprehensiveness of the Nile Basin Initiative boils down to abiding by the principle of consensus and establish a mechanism for a prior notification of projects to be established on the Nile to ensure the common benefit for all and to avoid inflicting harm on any party,” Abdel Ati continued.

The cooperation among the Nile Basin Countries under the umbrella of the Nile Basin Initiative (NBI) is very successful since its formation in 1990 and was signed by some countries since 2010, Abel Ati added. In the framework of Egypt’s Development Vision of 2030, Egypt has put a national plan to deal with water resources in the period from 2017 to 2037, which comes in light of the NBI Strategy 2017-2027.

The minister added that his country is leading a pioneering project with other basin countries to establish a shipping line between the Mediterranean Sea and Lake Victoria, he added, saying that “Egypt is looking forward to receiving more cooperation to maximize the utilization of water resources to enhance development in the African Continent.”

On June 1, Egypt submitted to the member states of the New Partnership for Africa's Development (NEPAD) its preliminary report on a project that would create a maritime navigation line from Lake Victoria to the Mediterranean Sea through the Nile (A.K.A VICMED), according to a statement from the Egyptian Ministry of Water Resources and Irrigation.

The following interactive map shows the shipping line between Lake Victoria and the Mediterranean Sea- created by Egypt Today/Samar Samir


“A special panel of Alexandria-Lake Victoria project will be held on the sidelines of the Cairo Water Week due to convene in October under the auspices of President Abdel Fatah al-Sisi,” the statement read. The feasibility study includes the establishment of a regional training center to prepare human cadres from member states to ensure the sustainability of the project.

It is scheduled that Egypt will host the first Cairo Water Week, which will be launched under the auspices of President Abdel Fatah al-Sisi in October.

“The environmental situation of the other Basin countries should not be neglected. There should a chance to reach a solution,” Abdel Ati said, noting that the annual rate of rainfall in the Nile basin countries reaches 7,375 billion cubic meters; 1,661 billion cubic meters of this amount falls into the Nile basin, representing only 5 percent.


“Critical situation”
Egypt’s water situation is very critical and rare as most of its land is desert, Adel Ati said during the Tajikistan conference, adding that the current water situation imposes restrictions on the economic development of a country that relies on 97 percent of renewable water resources in accordance with the FAO data.

It is expected that the water share per capita would drop to 500 cubic meters annually by 2025 amid the rapid deterioration of water and underground water quality, he said. Egypt’s water share per capita declined by 60 percent since 1970, reaching 663 cubic meters, in accordance with the 2014 report issued by the state-owned Central Agency for Public Mobilization and Statistics (CAPMAS).

Egypt suffers from a water deficit of 21 billion cubic meters annually and imports a total of 34 billion cubic meters of water annually in food products to achieve food security, he said. Annual consumption reached 110 billion cubic meters, Abdel Ati said in a previous statement in December 2016.

However, the country is successfully dealing with the current situation to address water scarcity by implementing several programs to improve the efficiency of irrigation water and to use water recycling mechanisms, he said.

“The government is trying to fill this gap via adopting solutions and mitigation strategies such as using treated wastewater, underground water on the Nile banks and the Delta,” Abdel Ati said during the conference.

The main goals of the plan boils down to four pillars: water rationalization, developing and upgrading new resources, improving water quality, promoting public awareness, and issuing biding laws, Abdel Ati said


Five million people could be displaced
Water scarcity is not the only challenge facing the Egyptian people; climate change causes a severe threat as well. The minister stated that climate change impacts could force five million people to be displaced from the Delta if the solutions and mitigation strategies are not heeded.

“Egypt is a typical example of a developing country vulnerable to climate change and faces many economic, social and environmental threats,” he said. Egypt faces a rise in sea level, leakage of salt water into underground aquifers, and possible flooding in the Delta.

Egypt's Delta- photo was taken from google earth
Egypt's Delta- photo was taken from google earth


In the period between 1910 and 2010, Egypt’s sea level rose by a total of 11.3 centimeters, increasing by an average of 0.113 centimeters annually. In the past seven years, however, increases have slowed down, rising by 0.3 to 0.5 centimeters in most areas, with an average of 0.04 to 0.07 centimeters annually, compared to the former rate of 0.113, according to the head of the Egyptian Meteorology Authority (EMA) Abdel-Aal.

Egypt is signatory to the 2016 Paris Climate Agreement aiming to keep global warming “well below” two degrees Celsius and has been working on strategies against climate change threats for several years.

Agriculturally, climate change also will impact the production of two strategic crops for Egyptians (wheat and corn) by 15 percent and 19 percent respectively by 2050, Abdel Ati said. This possible decline will deepen Egypt’s food insufficiency in wheat as the country is the largest wheat importer in the world, with 11 billion tons annually needed for subsidized bread.

Abdel Ati said 15 percent of arable lands will be salted due to rare rains in Nile Basin countries as a result of climate change.

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