Egypt to ‘Escalate’ Ethiopian Dam Dispute

Khartoum will “hold Egypt fully responsible if structural failure of the dam results in Sudan’s flooding.
Khartoum warns it will hold Egypt fully responsible if structural failure of the dam results in Sudan’s flooding. In terms of structural safety, Sudan is the most endangered by any catastrophe at the GERD

By Aljazeera,

IN the three years since construction began on the 1.8km Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam across the Blue Nile River, Egypt and Ethiopia have been engaged in a war of words over its potential impacts.

Ethiopia believes the massive dam will herald an era of prosperity, spurring growth and attracting foreign currency with the export of power to neighbouring countries. But Egypt has raised concerns about the downstream effects, as the Blue Nile supplies the Nile with about 85 percent of its water. 

Both sides say they seek a negotiated solution, but they remain at loggerheads, with negotiations stalled. Ethiopia insists the dispute must be resolved through negotiations between the two parties, with Mahamoud Dirir, the ambassador to Egypt, noting in a statement last month that “there are only two… countries in the entire world which are well-placed to mediate between Egypt and Ethiopia.”

Egypt, meanwhile, is quietly lobbying the international community for support against what it says is a ‘violation of international law’, diplomatic sources confirmed to Al Jazeera.

“Egypt plans to take actions to escalate the situation against Ethiopia,” said a western diplomat in Cairo, who spoke on condition of anonymity. “But the exact implications of these actions [are] still unclear.”

Egypt’s main concern is water security, as the country faces a future of increasing scarcity. Nearly all of Egypt’s water comes from the Nile, and its population of 83 million is growing at nearly two percent annually.

Already, water shortages cause problems. The most common response is the reuse of wastewater in agriculture, often untreated. The 2005 UNDP Human Development Report for Egypt stated that “poor water quality affects both health and land productivity with damage costs estimated to have reached LE 5.35 billion [$7.7m] or 1.8 percent of GDP.”

Doaa Ezzat Zaki al-Agha, a water management specialist conducting research in the Nile delta, said five members of her family died from liver disease, which she believes resulted from poor drinking water. “They have no other choices, only the Nile water,” she said.

Mohamed Abdel Wahab, a farmer from a small village of 300 families near the delta city of Alexandria, an area that regularly experiences water shortages, believes the government should be “more strict with Egypt’s sovereign right to water” – and his view reflects that of many Egyptians. Any threat to the country’s water supply is treated as an existential threat. Accordingly, Egypt has long opposed upstream development projects on the Nile. In the past this prevented Ethiopia from receiving money from international organisations like the World Bank, which has a “no objection” rule for projects it funds. Now, Ethiopia is funding the $4.8bn project itself.

Tensions peaked in May 2013 when Ethiopia began diverting the Blue Nile. Former Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi told a national conference: “We will defend each drop of Nile water with our blood if necessary.”

Today, statements from the Egyptian Foreign Ministry are more conciliatory, with spokesperson Badr Abdelatty saying he hoped the situation could be resolved through “cooperation”. A recent statement by Abdelatty on the State Information Service website, however, adds: “The Ethiopian dam is an issue that can bear no compromises.”

The last negotiations in Addis Ababa in February stalled over whether international experts should be included in a technical committee being formed to implement the recommendations of a May 2013 report on the dam. Written by an international panel of experts (IPOE), the report proposed more extensive assessment of the dam’s potential transboundary environmental and social impacts. “We must have an international member on the committee and the Ethiopians refused this,” said Khaled Wasif, a spokesperson for the Egyptian Ministry of Irrigation and Water Resources.

As construction of the dam progresses – it is already 30 percent complete – Ethiopia has less incentive to negotiate and Egypt has less leverage. With negotiations at an impasse, Egypt is petitioning other countries for support, sources say. By referring to supposed breaches of international law, Egypt hopes to pressure donor communities who have investments in or influence on Ethiopia, according to the western diplomat in Cairo.

Foreign Minister Nabil Fahmy has toured Africa and Europe in recent months and Nile water has been on the agenda. During a trip to Italy at the start of February, Fahmy asked the Italian company contracted to build the dam to halt construction. A Foreign Ministry letter to the Salini Construttori company, obtained by Al Jazeera, states: “The government of Egypt calls upon the EU Commission, and the esteemed European governments, to give due consideration to the accountability of business enterprise of European nationality for their conduct in supporting Ethiopia’s projects affecting the Nile river downstream states.”

It continues: “Egypt also calls upon the government of Italy, to invite Salini construttori to suspend construction works at the GERDP [Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam Project] until the recommendations of the IPOE Report are implemented.”

The Egyptian Foreign Ministry, the EU delegation in Cairo and the Italian embassy in Cairo declined to comment on the note. A spokesman for the Italian embassy said: “On this aspect we don’t feel like replying on their behalf [of the Egyptian foreign ministry]. If they don’t want to talk about it, it is fine for us as well.”

According to the diplomat in Cairo, Egypt has also lobbied the US, China, Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Japan, as well as international organisations such as the World Bank. Spokespeople for all of these governments and organisations declined to comment, with the exception of the Japanese embassy in Cairo, which denied being approached by Egypt on the issue.

Until recently, Egypt has relied on a “historic right” and colonial-era treaties to defend its water share.

“This position is absolutely untenable,” said Owen McIntyre, a professor of international water law at University College Cork, noting the colonial-era agreements “completely ignore upper riparian states”.

Today, Egypt’s position has evolved, with the government quoting “widely respected” principles of international law. “International watercourses are governed by a set of agreed legal rules and principles,” Abdelatty said. “Among these widely respected rules and principles is that of the equitable and reasonable utilisation of the river, the ‘no harm’ rule, and the prior notification rule.”

However, Egypt’s interpretation differs from that of its neighbour and much of the international community, McIntyre said, noting the principle is generally formulated in terms of “significant harm”.

The May 2013 IPOE report concluded that despite more studies being needed, long-term effects of the dam were unlikely to harm Egypt. In the short term, however, less water will reach Egypt as the reservoir fills.

While Ethiopia says it is open to negotiating the period over which it fills the reservoir, Egypt insists it will be harmed regardless. A country’s dependence on water is the primary factor by which harm is evaluated, McIntyre said, and Egypt insists it is a water-scarce country. “The problem is that when you look at Egypt’s use of Nile water, it is actually rather wasteful,” McIntyre said.

The harm principle is just one factor to be considered alongside the obligation on states to cooperate in the reasonable and equitable utilisation of transboundary watercourses, he added.

Egypt’s history of cooperation is not strong. The Nile Basin Initiative, a partnership of Nile riparian states formed in 1999 and supported by the World Bank, aimed to create a cooperative framework agreement for the management of Nile water. But Egypt refused to sign any agreement that did not guarantee its current share of Nile water.

In addition, Egypt previously objected to the very principles it now advocates. It did not support the UN Watercourses Convention 1997, which codified the principles of transboundary water management. “Egypt cannot get help through international water law as Egypt herself did not acknowledge these principles historically,” said Muhammad Mizanur Rahaman, a professor of international water law at Asia Pacific University in Bangladesh.

By acting unilaterally, “Ethiopia is now, ironically, following the same path as Egypt did before” when it constructed the Aswan High Dam in the 1960s, Rahaman noted. “Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan should all agree on the principles which they agree on before trying to take refuge or shelter from the principles of international water law.”

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  • Q&A: The argument over the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam
    As of 2 April 2014
    By David Rogers

    Who’s in the right, legally speaking?

    The Egyptian claim to the Nile’s water is based on two treaties: the 1929 Nile Waters Agreement, and a treaty between Egypt and the Sudan dating from 1959. After allowing for evaporation, these agreements grant almost all the Nile’s water to Egypt, and give the Egyptian government a power of veto over any construction projects by upstream countries that might affect the flow of the Nile.

    The other seven states in the Nile basin, which extends as far south as Uganda, argue that the 1929 treaty was written by the British in favour of Egypt, and that the British also signed it for them, before they were independent states. However, Ethiopia, which was an independent country when the agreement was made, was not consulted, and so refuses to be bound by it.

    If has been speculated that the legal uncertainty over the status of the 1929 treaty has prevented Egypt from trying to assert its legal rights at the International Court of Justice. Another option is to take their case to the UN Security Council, on the grounds that the dam is a threat to regional peace.

    Why don’t the countries sit down and talk it over?

    They have. The Nile Basin Initiative brought together Egypt, Ethiopia, the Sudan, Rwanda, Tanzania, Uganda, Kenya, Burundi and the Congo.

    Egypt’s argument is that it is more dependent on the Nile than any other country, and whereas Ethiopia has many rivers it could use for hydro power and irrigation, Egypt only has the one. The others argue that Egypt can’t insist on the keeping the whole of the Nile to itself.

    Last year, six of the interested countries, including Ethiopia, signed the Nile River Co-operative Framework Agreement, which set out the terms on which future negotiations over water allocation would be conducted. However, the Egyptians and the Sudanese have insisted that any final treaty must take account of their “historically acquired rights” under the 1929 treaty.

    The main sticking point has been article on water security (Article 14b). This says member countries would work together to “not significantly affect the water security of any other Nile Basin State”. Egypt and Sudan want the article to read “not to adversely affect the water security and current uses and rights of any other Nile Basin States”. In other words, keeping things the way they are now.
    The agreement is still open for signature, but Egypt has indicated that it will not sign.

    How will the dam affect the flow of the Nile?

    The short answer is we don’t know. John Mbaku, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution who has analysed the problems surrounding the dam, says the Ethiopians and the Egyptians have not been willing to show the international community their scientific data, their meteorological assumptions or their mathematical models.

    It has been estimated that it may take 25 years to fill the dam’s reservoir, but the Ethiopians have claimed that it may done more quickly than that—which may mean that more water will be diverted from Egypt. What we do know is that 86% of the water flowing in the lower Nile comes from Ethiopia.

    What about climate change?

    This is another unknown. Climate change could have a significant impact on the rate at which the dam’s reservoir fills up. If there is a repeat of the drought of the 1980s, it could greatly extend the time needed to fill the reservoir. In any case, there is bound to be a reduction in flow caused by evaporation from the reservoir.

    What are the chances of a peaceful solution?

    Mbaku says that it is still possible to come up with an equitable solution if the “stumbling block” of the 1929 and 1959 treaties are dispensed with. He said: “If the Egyptians can let go of those two treaties and unbend a little, they may still be able to negotiate an agreement that allows them to access the water for development without preventing the upstream countries from doing the same thing.”

  • .
    Sudan Blames Egypt for blocking Ethiopia Dam loans

    Egypt is threatening Sudan’s safety by blocking international loans for Ethiopia’s hydro-dam, said Sudan’s top official of Eastern Blue Nile State Hussein Ahmad. According to the Sudanese mp, cash-strapped Ethiopia will end up shortcutting the hydrodam construction to avoid rising costs which could lead to long-term structural issues for the dam and flooding.

    The Blue Nile State is located at the Sudanese border directly by the western Ethiopian region where the GERD hydrodam is currently under construction. In a scenario where the dam collapses, analysts say Sudan’s Blue Nile State could be devastated with flooding.

    The Sudanese official said “Egyptian racism toward Africa” played huge part in Egypt’s blocking of international financial aid to Ethiopia. He said Cairo cares more about control than safety since Egypt originally wanted to finance the Ethiopian dam itself. According to the SIS, Egyptian Foreign Minister Nabil Fahmy “offered to finance the construction of the Ethiopian Renaissance dam.”

    The Sudanese official added that Khartoum will “hold Egypt fully responsible if structural failure of the dam results in Sudan’s flooding.”

    He said Egypt should diversify its economy instead of total dependence on the Nile river shared by ten countries. ”No country opposed the construction of Egypt’s Aswan Dam even though that dam hurt the livelihood of indigeneous Nubian people and destroyed ancient artifacts,” he claimed.

    In February this year, Sudanese foreign Minister Ali Karti has also criticised Egypt for opposing the Ethiopian Dam. The Minister accused Egyptian media of fabricating information about the hydrodam and he said the dam’s benefits outweigh any potential issues. The Europe-based Stockholm International Water Institute (SIWI) also recommended Cairo to pay Ethiopia as the dam is expected to save Egypt millions in expenses for sediment control and water loss due to evaporation.

  • gudguad

    Why wants the Egyptian government stop this project?Isn't it Ethiopias inalienable right to garner and harvest its resources like any other nation?And by the way ethiopians are not so cruel that they are going complete divert the Nile Water from Egypt.What,if we turn the table.Ethiopians and the Egyptians know eachother since the pharaonic time and since then the both of them have good understanding of the nature.

    • Gudguad, you said "And by the way ethiopians are not so cruel that they are going complete divert the Nile Water from Egypt." I respectfully disagree with you. the Ethiopians in General and the Weyanes in particular are the most cruel people on Earth. I can not understand why We Eritreans try to sympathies with Ethiopians/Weyanes when the same cruel people tried and still trying to extinguished the Eritrean people from the face of its land(Eritrean Land)? It is not who is right or who is wrong it is about once survival. And there is no one like the Ethiopians/Weyanes who is treating our Eritreans survivals.
      Regarding Sudanese politicians unpredictable(Tegelabati Mergezt) behaviors to ward the region in general and the Nile issue in particular, it is pathetic of them and We know that Egypt can overthrow by overnight the Sudanese Government if the want too. Few years a go thanks to the Egyptian air force, the Sudanese government saved its behind when the Darfur rebels marched all the way from the Chad/ Libyans border to Khartoum/Omdurman. Trust me if the Egyptians decide to go after the Weyans tug Sudan, is in no position to hider the Egyptians arm. They will march right through Sudan all the way to weyane Land.

      • Jacob

        They will march all the way to weyane land and then? No one of them will go back home alive. Only their dead bodies would be sent back. That is what history tells us when it comes to ethio-egyptian polemics history. They will for sure find collaborators just as they did before( the likes of the banda and criminal killer woldemichael solomon of hamassien) but the out come will not be different. This shameful hamassien woldemichael had burnt down to ash at least 20 eritrean villageslike Tseazega, adi nefas, weki duba, adi tekelezan e.t.c, he had betrayed his people by siding with foreigners(egyptians and others) but still was forgiven by emperor yohannes. But when he started killing Ras after Ras after ras of of hamassienites, he was finally arrested and died in prison. MussieGebreab, I am trying to remind you some epic moments of some of your favourite epic traitors.

        • Jacob, Atze Yohannes, Ras Alula and the Weyane they may mastered the art of betrayal (Tilmet) but they will never save themselves from total defeat.
          Jacob, you are not blessed with history let me remind you the Head of your Atze Yohannes is still in the Museum In Sudan Khartoum. and your Weyane Head will be in the Museum of Cairo very so. just watch.

      • terry c

        "the Ethiopians in General and the Weyanes in particular are the most cruel people on Earth."

        yea and most Jews are greed, & most Muslims are terrorist, but we all know that's not true. anyway there's are a lot worse governments in the world like Burma, North Korea, Congo etc
        [youtube Vv8llEj0CXw youtube]

      • gudguad

        The Habesha people in Eritrea are more related to the Habesha people of Ethiopia the same as the Hdareb people of Eritrea to the Hdareb people of Sudan.what is this mysterious hate spewing against both Habeshas people in Eritrea and Ethiopia?

        • Your Weyane Habesha, Is threating the existence of Eritreans including the one you called Habesha and Hdareb Eritreans. you get it Wolf-Weyane.

        • Halhal

          You and your Woyane ethnocentric Woyane regime feel threatened now after raping murdering and pillaging the entire horn of Africa? Yep, you should. Nasty Woyane beggar

      • didi

        First of all it is a matter that concerns more African States not only Egypt and Ethiopia, the majority of African countries have signed a deal the only none signatory is Egypt. The issue is about Ethiopia and the future of its people, not who governs, the rulers will change after the elections (except in Eritrea that the "word" election does not exist), in conclusion; cruel, who wants to erase the history, culture, regional geography, even the Real Eritrean People and replace everything with the personal story of one individual is the Government in Asmara, Then guy try to grow, don't tease yourself, the Egyptians have no need of your advocacy and if you want to fight Woyane you know very well what you need rather than a keyboard

  • Binieam Mj Tyson

    At least the Egyptians have the sense to exhaust dialogue first before rushing to war, unlike the the lunatic Isayas. That being said Egypt has made its agenda quite clear, it doesn't oppose the dam it just wants to have control over its construction, it even offered to finance a share of the dam which Ethiopia rejected.
    Further more Ethiopia has the support of all the Nile basin countries apart from Eritrea. Isayas supports Egypts historical rights to the Nile.

    • Halhal

      Mojo Woyane Tyson
      What the heck are you talking about? Only and retarded Woyane beggar can post such a nonsense and think he / she has a point.

      When your stupid Woyane militia invade sovereign Eritrea territory and kill Eritreans, and your retarded dead Woyane PM doesn't deal with it as requested, then the Eritrean Government has the right to address it the way it sees it fit. Eritreans know it is in your nature and the nature of your ethnocentric Woyane regime to cook-up crap and blabber about "lunatic" this and "lunatic that rushing to a war" and try to sell it as facts. Because you keep regurgitating trash, it doesn't turn it into facts. You nasty Woyane beggar.

  • B.Adal

    Solomon, Solomon, …
    We have a Tigrigna saying for "guys" like you:
    " Nay Sh'ro ToQtoQ'Siya Enjera Kab Megogo Sgab Zwer'd Eyu"
    Ask Mengistu and (too late) Meles how many times they said Death to Shaebia?
    Go back to sleep and your hallucination.

  • ida

    The question is, how is Eritrea affected by all of this? It is good for us if woyane is chocked by Egypt. It is also good for us if we can buy electricity from Ethiopia. Thank our lucky stars.

  • Halhal

    I have read various people, mostly Woyane and Woyane stooges, posting comments implying that Eritrea is missing on an opportunity to buy power from Ethiopia. Building a peaceful and trusting and lasting relationship with Ethiopian is in the interest of both people. Eritreans know this fact and they have been and weill be working towards this goal. However, at this time Ethiopia as well us our region is burglarized by the mercenary Woyane regime. Buying power or dealing with a bunch of armed mercenary thieves is not in the interest of Eritrea or one for that matter. It only makes us a party to Woyane's illegal looting. Eritrean should make a peaceful and lasting deal with a government which represents the Ethiopian people and not an ethnocentric clique.

  • ethiopian plateu has annual rain falls of 1200 billions of cubic meters.

    why on earth any so-called friend go after the 56 billions of egypts share that barely make 90 millions of human being survive, while he already has the 95% of the water ??

    this's definitly anything but good intentions against egypt