Thursday,26 April, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1344, (11 - 17 May 2017)
Thursday,26 April, 2018
Issue 1344, (11 - 17 May 2017)

Ahram Weekly

Working on water

There is a concerted effort to continue negotiations with Nile Basin countries to guarantee the proper management of the waters of the River Nile, reports Doaa El-Bey

Shoukri (centre) during his meeting with Museveni (right) in  Uganda
Shoukri (centre) during his meeting with Museveni (right) in Uganda

Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukri and Minister of Irrigation and Water Resources Mohamed Abdel-Ati held talks this week on the ongoing negotiations with Nile Basin countries.

“The only way to achieve genuine development and full use of the Nile’s resources is via coordination and cooperation among all Nile Basin states,” said Mohamed Hegazi, the former assistant to Egypt’s foreign minister.

The officials tackled the outcome of Shoukri’s visit to Uganda, his meeting with President Yoweri Museveni and efforts exerted to hold a summit of Nile Basin states that aim to bridge differences between member states, Foreign Ministry Spokesman Ahmed Abu Zeid said.

“There is a continuous need to coordinate between the technical and diplomatic sides to manage the Nile water issue. The meeting was held within that framework. The top two officials also discussed the latest developments on the technical track and the work of the consultancy firms that aim to prepare studies on the effect of the Renaissance Dam on Egypt and Sudan,” Abu Zeid added. 

Nile water was also the main issue discussed last week during Shoukri’s meeting with President Museveni.

Shoukri’s visit to Uganda was part of continuous coordination between the two countries and in light of the fact the Uganda is the present chair of the Nile Council of Ministers (Nile-Com), explained Hegazi.

“Shoukri discussed with Museveni the possible holding of a summit for Nile Basin countries in order to patch up differences and guarantee the full return of Egypt to the Nile Basin Initiative [NBI],” he added.

Shoukri also delivered a letter to Museveni from his Egyptian counterpart Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi dealing with water security issues and the NBI.

Earlier this year, during a three-day state visit by Hailemariam Desalegn, the Ethiopian prime minister, Museveni suggested that a summit of NBI heads of state will be considered to address the River Nile issue.

Shoukri said the disagreement between Egypt and other nations on the River Nile was either due to misinformation or not enough discussion.

Within these efforts came Abdel-Ati’s attendance of the extraordinary Nile-Com meeting in Entebbe, Uganda, in March. The purpose of the meeting was to facilitate the resumption of Egypt’s full participation in NBI activities that had been frozen since 2010. Nile-COM is the supreme policy organ of the NBI.

Egypt froze its operations in the NBI after six out of 10 upstream states signed the Cooperative Framework Agreement (CFA) to seek more water from the River Nile — a move that Cairo strongly objected to.

During the Entebbe meeting, Egypt presented a report on its concerns regarding Nile water, after which the ministers responded. Egypt took note of the responses and asked for more time to study, consult and report back to Nile-COM on their formal position. “This was agreed upon by all ministers,” a statement issued after the meeting said.

However, Sam Cheptoris, the Nile-Com chairman and Uganda’s minister of water and environment, told journalists after the meeting that all the countries have equal rights over the water under the CFA.

“We have rejected demands by the Egyptian government to take full control of the Nile’s water. The other countries also have a say on how the water is used, as they have growing populations that need to use the water as much as the Egyptians,” said Cheptoris.

It is obvious that more meetings are needed to facilitate Egypt’s full participation in NBI activities.

The meeting was attended by Uganda, Egypt, Ethiopia, Burundi, South Sudan, Sudan, Rwanda, Kenya and Tanzania. DR Congo did not participate. This week also saw another meeting between Shoukri and his Eritrean counterpart Othman Saleh.

Shoukri emphasised during the meeting that Egypt was keen to enhance bilateral relations and cooperation with Eritrea in various fields.

Egypt is staying in constant consultation with African states in light of its willingness to improve its relations with the African Horn and the Nile Basin countries, Hegazi said.

“It is very important to coordinate with Eritrea in important matters like the security of the Red Sea, the situation in South Sudan and terrorism among, other issues,” he added.

Eritrea has observer status in the NBI. The NBI has one observer and 10 permanent members — Burundi, Democratic Republic of Congo, Egypt, Ethiopia, Kenya, Rwanda, Sudan, South Sudan, Tanzania and Uganda.

Egypt’s concerns about managing the Nile water were raised after Ethiopia started constructing the Grand Renaissance Dam in 2011. Cairo estimates it will drastically reduce the amount of water that flows downstream to Sudan and Egypt.

Ethiopia has repeatedly said that the dam aims to generate electricity and that it will not affect Egypt’s water quota. However, there are no studies to prove that it will not have any social or environmental impact on Egypt and Sudan. Various tripartite technical meetings comprising Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia have been held to reach agreement on the dam. The meetings aim to kick-start studies on the impact of the dam on the River Nile Basin countries that are to be carried out by the French consulting firms Artelia and BRL. In a meeting in September last year the three countries signed contracts with the French firms to go ahead with the studies which are supposed to take from five to 12 months. An initial report was handed to the three states last month. The firms are to conduct two studies, one on the effects of the dam on water flows to Egypt and Sudan, and the other on the larger environmental, economic and social impact of the dam.

In December 2015, Egyptian, Sudanese and Ethiopian foreign and irrigation ministers signed the Khartoum Agreement which stipulates that work on filling the reservoir behind the dam can only begin after all the technical studies are complete. It also allows field visits to the construction site by Egyptian and Sudanese experts. In a confidence-building measure taken in March 2015, Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan signed a Declaration of Principles that included a 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. Partial operation is likely to start by the middle of the year. Egypt depends on the Nile for 95 per cent of its water needs, with most of this water coming 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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