Egypt's precious Nile water is wanted by outsiders, Reem Leila reports
An international water expert is claiming there are intensified efforts by an unnamed neighbouring country to funnel off the waters of the River Nile after approaching scarcity in its water resources. Such an assertion, says Ahmed Diab, a global expert on water, is likened to attempts by the US to revive the idea of transferring the storage of water from its current location in Lake Nasser to any of Africa's Great Lakes in the central African continent, where the water will then pool into a giant reservoir to be sold to whichever country wants it. The use of pipelines in transporting the water would be similar to that of the movement ofpetroleum.
The availability of fresh water is a serious concern in many parts of the world. Due to the shortage of available fresh water, nearly 40 per cent of the world's population, mainly in the developing countries, is already facing serious water shortages. And more and more nations are gradually joining the list. "Accordingly, nations might be on the verge of a water war by the end of this century," Diab said. This is in addition to the encouragement of the long-serving scheme of trying to divert the course of the River Nile in Ethiopia. Diab maintained that the US Bureau of Land Reclamation was currently working on the scheme.
According to an official source at the Ministry of Water Resources and Irrigation (MWRI) who spoke to Al-Ahram Weekly on condition of anonymity, these plans were close to being implemented but that was before the High Dam was built. The plan was for the Nile waters to be stored in Tana Lake in Ethiopia but now, according to the source, because of the High Dam there are merits to water storage. After the building of the High Dam, Egypt has been receiving continuous, observable and constant amounts of water. "According to these three elements Egypt has a historical right to save the water of the Nile in Lake Nasser and none of the continent's countries or any other country has the authority to violate this right. Accordingly nothing will change and Egypt's Lake Nasser is and will be the continent's storage area," the source confirmed.
Diab believes that water resources in Egypt are becoming scarce. Surface-water resources originating from the Nile are now fully exploited, while groundwater sources are being brought into full production. Egypt is facing increasing water needs demanded by a rapidly growing population, by increased urbanisation, by higher standards of living and by an agricultural policy which emphasises expanded production in order to feed the growing population. The population is currently increasing by more than 1.5 million people a year. "With a population of 80 million, Egypt is in dire need of revising its water resource plans in order not to suffer any water shortage in the future," Diab said. According to Diab, by the end of 2008 Egypt will be consuming 11 billion cubic metres of water a year which means nearly 815 cubic metres per person annually. In contrast, individuals in other surrounding countries use up only 300 cubic metres. "Egypt's actual requirements should be only three billion cubic metres per year. The remaining amount is being wasted and shed either in the Mediterranean or in small water canals," Diab added. This requires good management of water and coordination with the countries of the River Nile Basin as well as the establishment of joint water projects, "such as clearing waterways of grass in return for increasing Egypt's annual share of water and increasing it from 55.5 billion cubic metres to 85 billion metres per year," Diab suggested.
The Egyptian government has long recognised upstream development of the Nile waters as a potential national security threat and has stated its readiness to go to war to preserve its access to fresh water. As the Basin's governments come to understand the dynamics of the population-water relationship, however, advance planning and diplomacy may win out over saber rattling and armed conflict. Recently, representatives of the 10 nations of the Nile watershed met to review past agreements and consider possible future ones related to their use of this shared natural resource.
The main objective of water planning in Egypt has been to harness the highly fluctuating Nile flows, making them available for domestic and productive purposes. The means of fulfilling this objective have been to establish over-season storage, over-year storage, and flood control. These goals were basically achieved in the 1960s following the inauguration of the Aswan High Dam.
According to a water report issued by MWRI the growing interest in the region's water issues is encouraging, but the challenge of reconciling competing claims on the Nile will continue to be complicated by political and economic concerns. The scope for water conservation and international cooperation is large, but the competition is unlikely to find permanent resolution until the region's population approaches stabilisation. the report stated that Lake Nasser can hold up to 162 billion cubic metres of water while the Toshka depression can absorb a further 90 to 120 billion cubic metres. At the peak of the flood season, Lake Nasser was receiving up to 750 million cubic metres of water a day. The total volume of water behind the dam currently stands at 153.91 billion cubic metres. "Increasing Egypt's share of the Nile water and reducing the watershed are on top of Egypt's agenda, to be discussed in the summit of African ministers of water resources within the next few weeks," the report stated
The world's population is currently increasing nearly 80 million people per year, resulting in an increasing demand for fresh water of about 64 billion cubic metres a year. With this phenomenal population growth, there is, in addition to the water requirements for domestic use, an increasing demand for energy generation, agricultural intensification and industrial production. As a result of the growth in the human population, the per capita water supply on the Earth was reduced to an average of 8,500 cubic metres in the early 90s, which is equivalent to 8,500,000 litres per year. According to hydrologists, if the annual per capita fresh water availability of a country goes below 500 cubic metres (500,000 litres), the country enters the category of "absolute water scarcity".