Sunday,17 December, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1308, (18 -24 August 2016)
Sunday,17 December, 2017
Issue 1308, (18 -24 August 2016)

Ahram Weekly

Impact of Sudan floods on Egypt limited

It is arguable what impact if any the recent flooding in Sudan will have on the Renaissance Dam and, consequently, Egypt, reports Doaa El-Bey

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Al-Ahram Weekly

"Floods in Sudan can be heavenly compensation from God Almighty for the negative impact of the Renaissance Dam," said Abu Ahmed, a micro-bus driver.

Although that sentiment was circulated among Egyptians either on the street or in social networking, that is not the case, as former minister of irrigation Mohamed Nasreddin Allam explained. Sudan’s floods have a devastating but internal effect just like the Sinai floods in Egypt. The water is limited, thus its impact is also limited.

In addition, Allam elaborated, filling the reservoir of the Renaissance Dam has not yet started. It is likely to start next year, “and then we will start to see the clear impact of the Renaissance Dam”.

Flooding left thousands of houses destroyed, several villages submerged and 100 people killed across Sudan, according to an aid group in the country. The flooding was triggered by torrential rainfall two weeks ago.

The impact of the flooding on Egypt opened the door to an important issue at a time when Egypt is already facing a water shortage that is likely to increase after the operation of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam. It also shed light on the failure to reach a breakthrough on the possible impact of the dam on Egypt. 

This week has seen controversy between the Ministry of Water Resources and Irrigation and the media. The ministry does not welcome reports on higher than usual flooding for that could impede its efforts to rationlise water usage.

The ministry declared a state of emergency from May to August of this year because of drought, reportedly the worst to hit the Nile Basin in the past 100 years.

It relied on the drought to ensure the success of its new campaign to rationalise water usage. It asked citizens and farmers to reduce their water consumption as much as possible.

It is currently preparing a new irrigation and wastewater bill that will be submitted to parliament. The bill is likely to put stricter penalties on water waste either in cultivation or daily household use and arrange for supplying coastal governorates with desalinated water.

However, media reports last month and this month about high flooding in Ethiopia and in Sudan put further obstacles in the way of the ministry’s campaign.

As a result the ministry denied the presence of any data indicating that water flooding is higher than the average and demanded that media outlets stop circulating news on the floods that are not issued by the ministry.

In the meantime, there were media reports early this month that Ethiopia had started storing water behind the Renaissance Dam. The Ministry of Irrigation denied that there was any water being stored behind the dam. It stated that Ethiopian flood water – expected at this time of the year – had increased the width of the Blue Nile bed, which through the eye of a satellite can be falsely seen as water storage in front of the dam.

Negotiations between Cairo and Addis Ababa on the impact of the dam have failed to reach a settlement. News about a possible breakthrough was repeatedly circulated during the last few months. However, a date has not been set until now for signing a contract with the two French consultancy firms BRL and Artelia which are supposed to hold these studies. 

Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan were expected to hold a six-way meeting of foreign and irrigation ministers last month to sign the contract with the two firms.

The three states are also supposed to discuss the operating process of the dam and the time needed to fill the reservoir.

Egypt needs to negotiate with Ethiopia on increasing the number of years it will need to fill the dam, which is set to be from five to seven years. That period will reduce Egypt's share of water from 12 to 25 per cent while adding more years will minimise the percentage. Egypt is seeking an increase of 10 to 12 years.

The two French firms sent their offers to the three countries in January in order to review them ahead of the tripartite meeting scheduled to be held the following month. Print Email

The firms are supposed to conduct two studies, one on the effects of the dam on the water flow to Egypt and Sudan and the other on the environmental, economic and social impact of the dam. The studies are expected to take nine to 12 months to be concluded.

Signing the contract with the two consultancy firms was planned according to the road map drawn up by the Khartoum Agreement. It was signed in December last year following several rounds of arduous negotiations conducted by the ministers and water resources officials from the three countries.

The political track which is supposed to go hand in hand with the technical track does not appear to be moving smoothly.

Last month, Egypt participated in the African Union (AU) Summit in the Rwandan capital Kigali and in the Nile Basin Initiative (NBI) meeting.

Ways to boost the technical track were brought to Kigali. On the sidelines of the summit, Egypt’s President Abdel-Fatah Al-Sisi met Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn to discuss the issue as well as ways to boost bilateral relations between Cairo and Addis Ababa and to enhance peace and security in Africa.

Egypt’s participation in the NBI meeting is another step towards improving its ties with Nile Basin states.

The NBI is a regional inter-governmental partnership that seeks to develop the River Nile in a cooperative manner, in which the countries concerned share the objective of achieving sustainable socio-economic development and fair use of Nile Basin water resources.

Egypt has not attended previous Nile Basin initiative meetings ever since the signing of the Entebbe Agreement. It has said the agreement deprives both Egypt and Sudan of the water quota that is given to them according to previous agreements.

Egypt is sticking to its stand not to sign the agreement which encouraged Ethiopia to start building the Renaissance Dam.

The dam has long been a cause of friction between Cairo and Addis Ababa. Egypt has repeatedly expressed concerns to Ethiopia over the dam’s effect on its supply of Nile water. Ethiopia insists the dam’s main purpose is to generate electricity and that it will not affect Egypt’s share of Nile water.

In December last year the Egyptian, Sudanese and Ethiopian foreign and irrigation ministers signed the Khartoum Agreement which stipulates that work on filling the reservoir behind the dam can begin only after all technical studies are complete. It also allows field visits to the construction site by Egyptian and Sudanese experts.
In a confidence-building measure in March 2015, Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan signed a declaration of principles on the dam that included the provision that none of the signatories would harm the interests of the others.
The dam is intended to be Africa’s largest hydroelectric power plant with a storage capacity of 74 billion cubic metres of water. Partial operation is likely to start by the middle of this year.
Egypt depends on the Nile for 95 per cent of its water needs. Most of this water comes from the Blue Nile.
Under a treaty agreed in 1959, Egypt receives 55.5 billion cubic metres of Nile water while Sudan receives 18 billion cubic metres.

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