Wednesday,20 February, 2019
Current issue | Issue 1388, (5 - 11 April 2018)
Wednesday,20 February, 2019
Issue 1388, (5 - 11 April 2018)

Ahram Weekly

Water security

Niveen Wahish listens as Minister of Irrigation and Water Resources Mohamed Abdel-Atti lists the water management challenges facing Egypt


Water security
Water security

The ministers of irrigation and foreign affairs of Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia are due to meet in Sudan today to discuss the resumption of talks over the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD). The two days of meetings, which began yesterday, also include the three countries’ intelligence chiefs.

Egypt is looking forward to develop its cooperation with the three states in various fields, Foreign Ministry spokesman, Ahmed Abu Zeid, told reporters ahead of the meetings. “Egypt emphasises the importance of abiding by the 2015 Declaration of Principles especially the conclusion of the studies that are supposed to assess the impacts of the dam,” Abu Zeid said.

The meetings follow the swearing in on Monday of Abiy Ahmed, Ethiopia’s new prime minister. Talks had been temporarily interrupted by the resignation of Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn in February.

Before his resignation Desalegn had repeatedly insisted Egypt and Sudan would not be negatively affected by GERD, the dam Ethiopia is building on the Blue Nile, one of Egypt’s major sources of fresh water. His reassurances failed to assuage Cairo’s concerns.

On the sidelines of the African Union summit in Addis Ababa in January President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi, Sudanese President Omar Al-Bashir and Desalegn agreed to resume talks which had reached a deadlock in November 2017 when Sudan and Ethiopia refused to ratify environmental impact studies on GERD.

Uncoordinated development in upstream countries constitutes one of the biggest threats to Egypt, Minister of Irrigation and Water Resources Mohamed Abdel-Atti told members of the American Chamber of Commerce in Cairo (AmCham) on Monday. Presenting Egypt’s strategy for managing water resources Abdel-Atti said Egypt’s needs are 114 billion cubic metres, of which only around 60 billion are currently available.

So how does Egypt compensate for the deficit?

One of the solutions is the import of agricultural products that could otherwise be cultivated locally. Egypt is the world’s biggest wheat importer. To cultivate the wheat that is imported would take 34 billion cubic metres of water, said Abdel-Atti.

Abdel-Atti stressed that with a dependence ratio on water from outside Egypt’s borders of 97 per cent the water management system is vulnerable to any uncoordinated development in upstream countries. “Uncoordinated development is a threat to our existence,” he warned.

He highlighted that conflicts in Africa over water have already led to thousands of people being displaced and warned a two per cent reduction in Egypt’s water share would see 200,000 families lose their breadwinner, pushing a million of the country’s most vulnerable deeper into poverty, leaving them prey to extremist ideas or else tempted by illegal migration.

Among the most contentious elements of GERD is the timeframe for filling the dam’s reservoir. Ethiopia wants a three-year timetable while Egypt insists it must be longer if it is not to affect water flow.

According to Abdel-Atti, it is not just filling but refilling, necessary in times of drought, that is important, meaning “there is an urgent need to agree on a long-term mechanism.”

If there is enough political will solutions can be found, the minister said, adding that Egypt is willing to support development efforts in Nile Basin countries.

Abdel-Atti stressed the widespread belief that Egypt’s water use is inefficient is mistaken. International reports show Egypt recycles 90 per cent of water, placing it second in international league tables. Though on farms and at the municipal level water use may be as efficient as it could be once that water goes into the drains it is reused again and again.

Population growth and climate change also pose problems for water management, said Abdel-Atti. With a population forecast to reach 170 million in 2037 there is a need to find new water sources. Major investments are already being made in desalination projects and Abdel-Atti revealed the cabinet is discussing a package of incentives to encourage more investments.

The government is also working on harvesting rain water, with 200 reservoirs already constructed in areas such as the Red Sea.

According to Abdel-Atti, the national water resource plan 2037, supported by the EU, has identified LE900 billion worth of investments to be directed towards desalination, sewage treatment and irrigation infrastructure projects.

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