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article imageNile River in the middle of looming water crisis

By Karen Graham     Apr 23, 2014 in Environment
In Africa, water is critical to the survival of over one-third of the population. At least 300 million people lack any access to water, and over 313 million people lack proper sanitation. This is one reason the waters of the Nile River are at stake.
The waters of the Nile River basin as a resource to the countries surrounding its banks has seldom been questioned. The Nile is the world's longest river and runs through 10 African countries, Of the four tributaries of the Nile River, three of them originate in Ethiopia, the Blue Nile, Sobat and Atbara.
Beginning of the Blue Nile River by its outlet from Lake Tana (Amhara Region  Ethiopia). Photo taken...
Beginning of the Blue Nile River by its outlet from Lake Tana (Amhara Region, Ethiopia). Photo taken: Feb. 1, 2009.
Ondřej Žváček
The economic and political ramifications surrounding the use of the water, as well as a particular country's ownership, or water rights, has become of vital importance to all the countries in the Nile River basin. Historically, Egypt has always claimed ownership to the life-giving waters of the Nile, and even today, Egypt and Sudan are almost entirely dependent on the river.
Egypt has used its natural rights to the Nile in negotiating with other countries upriver from them over the years. Along with this perceived right is the notion that any reduction in the Nile's water flow becomes a national security issue. The conflict that could arise over Egypt's water rights to the Nile is serious enough that the country has declared it would go to war if necessary.
The possible conflict that could arise over the use of the Nile River's water is now becoming a reality. Ethiopia, the most populous land-locked country in the world, and the second most populous country on the Africa continent is growing up. While suffering through a number of famines in the 1980s, the resilient nation has recovered economically and is now the largest economy based on GDP in East and Central Africa.
In this Landsat photo  the White Nile is on the left  and the narrower Blue Nile is on the right. Th...
In this Landsat photo, the White Nile is on the left, and the narrower Blue Nile is on the right. The two rivers join a few miles further north at the city of Khartoum, Sudan, home to one million of Sudan's 33 million people. The farming patterns in the middle of the picture resemble French long farms, whose long, rectangular shapes allow each individual plot access to water from irrigation canals along the narrow side.
USGS
Ethiopia, in an effort to add to its self-sufficiency as a growing economic power in Africa, is building a hydroelectric dam on one of the Nile River's tributaries. The Renaissance Dam in Guba Woreda, in the Benishangul Gumuz region, will generate enough electricity to power a city the size of New York. The dam is now one quarter built, and Ethiopia says it will start producing its first 750 megawatts of electricity by the end of this year.
The Ethiopian government has placed the country in a precarious position over the building of the dam. To retain complete control of the dam's construction and utilization of electricity produced, and most importantly, to keep Egypt from having any veto power over the project, Ethiopia is paying for the dam itself. To date, Ethiopia has paid 27 billion birr ($1.5 billion) out of a total projected cost of $4.0 billion for the dam. A lake 153 miles long will be created.
Egypt is not at all happy with the lack of interest in Cairo's offers of assistance, but is holding a trump card. A final report prepared by the International Panel of Experts (IPE) that outlines their assessments on the effects and repercussions on the building of the Renaissance Dam has been delivered to the governments of Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia. Egypt has decided to keep the report confidential, even though it is somewhat critical of the dam.
An Egyptian diplomat familiar with the dam negotiations spoke with Al-Monitor, saying, “The Egyptian government has rejected publicizing the report because they were planning to use it as a pressure card in the negotiations with Addis Ababa, to reduce and modify the specifications of the dam’s construction and to reduce the expected negative impacts on Egypt. The report serves the Egyptian position even though the negotiations are stalled.”
Of particular concern by the panel of experts is the lack of any in-depth environmental and social impact studies on the countries down-river from the dam project. Despite the fact that the study was approved by both Egyptian and Ethiopian experts, Ethiopia is going forward with building of the dam without waiting for any further studies being done. The problem Egypt has with this is Ethiopia's lack of providing any guarantees that Egypt's water-security won't be at risk.
The boat was transporting what could be is sugar cane to the other side of the river while people in...
The boat was transporting what could be is sugar cane to the other side of the river while people in the background are cutting more. Nile River, Egypt. Photo taken: Sept. 29, 2004.
Dennis Jarvis from Halifax, Canada
The fight is not over yet. Egypt has little recourse, other than appealing to the United Nations, but with Sudan now warming to the idea of getting cheap electricity and irrigation water from Ethiopia, Cairo has lost a partner in the argument. This crisis is still an evolving story for all parties concerned.
More about Nile river, Egypt, Ethiopian dam, hydroelectric power, Economic growth
 
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