Egypt farmers fear water supply threat from Ethiopia dam
Egypt farmers fear water supply threat from Ethiopia dam
“We don’t want this dam,” says Saeed Al-Simari, standing on his modest land in Egypt’s fertile Nile Delta region.
“We want to plant our land, we need water. It’s hard enough with the water we have, imagine when we don’t have anymore,” said Simari.
“We are very worried about our crops,” he told AFP.
Ethiopia is pressing ahead with construction of a $4.2 billion (3.2 billion euro) Grand Renaissance Dam, set to become Africa’s biggest hydroelectric dam when completed.
The announcement of the project caused a national outcry in Egypt, with politicians, media and farmers warning that the dam could pose a national security threat.
Water experts in Egypt say there is already a water deficit in the country due to the exploding population.
“The average person uses 620 to 640 cubic meters (21,000 to 22,600 cubic feet) per year. With the water poverty level defined at 1,000 cubic meters, we are already below the water poverty level,” says Alaa Al-Zawahry, a dam expert and member of a government commission tasked with studying the downstream impact of Ethiopia’s dam.
Egypt, which fears the project may diminish its water supply, says its “historic rights” to the Nile are guaranteed by two treaties from 1929 and 1959 that allow it 87 percent of the Nile’s flow and give it veto power over upstream projects.
But a new deal was signed in 2010 by other Nile Basin countries, including Ethiopia, allowing them to work on river projects without Cairo’s prior agreement.
In May, Ethiopia began diverting the Blue Nile a short distance from its natural course for the construction of the dam, but has assured its neighbors downstream that water levels would not be affected.
But Egyptians fear a doomsday scenario in which water shortages would lead to crop failures and electricity cuts.
A study by international experts on the dam’s impact on the river has been submitted to Egypt and Sudan, which also relies on Nile resources and supports Ethiopia’s hydro-electric project.
Egypt has dismissed the study’s findings, which minimise the dam’s impact, and has called for further assessments.
The first phase of the Grand Renaissance Dam is expected to be complete in 2016 and will generate 700 megawatts of electricity. When the entire project is complete it will have a capacity of 6,000 megawatts.
The filling of the dam is expected to take around five years and this according to experts will be the most taxing phase for Egypt.
Egypt’s Aswan Dam — which controls annual floods and provides water for irrigation — has a strategic reserve of 70 billion cubic meters, which will drop by 15 billion each year of the filling phase of the Renaissance Dam, says Zawahry.
After five years, “there will be an electricity shortage and the strategic reserve will be used up,” he told AFP.
Ethiopia, for whom the dam promises a much-needed source of energy, has pledged to maintain dialogue with Egypt to resolve any problem.
Zawahry says constant coordination between both countries is crucial.
“There will always be a conflict between Ethiopia wanting to produce more electricity and Egypt receiving the water it needs,” he said.
But it is difficult to accurately predict the exact impact of the Renaissance Dam.
“It’s all a question of probability,” said Zawahry, with many variables playing a part.
“On the Nile, from Ethiopia to Aswan, there are several dams but they are small and their effects are small. But if there will now be a 74 billion cubic meter dam, the management of both dams has to be very well coordinated,” he said.
The water ministers of Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia are to hold talks soon to discuss the progress of the dam, Egyptian officials have said.
“We have heard many encouraging statements from the Ethiopian side saying that the dam will not affect Egypt. The mood is positive,” said Khaled Wassef, spokesman for the ministry of water resources and irrigation in Egypt.
“We need the full information on issues like how long exactly will it take to fill the dam, the way it will be managed,” Wassef told AFP.
But on the fields, the farmers are less optimistic.
They say water shortages will force them to use underground wells rather than Nile water, which is richer in nutrients thanks to the silt deposits.
UN Syria envoy to step down next month
- “I will myself be moving on as of the last week of November,” Staffan de Mister said
- He said he was leaving for “purely personal reasons”
UNITED NATIONS: The United Nations envoy for Syria announced on Wednesday he will step down at the end of November after more than four years in the key post, setting back UN efforts to end the seven-year war in Syria
“I will myself be moving on as of the last week of November,” Staffan de Mistura told the UN Security Council during a meeting on the crisis in Syria.
The Italian-Swedish diplomat, who became the UN’s third Syria envoy in July 2014, said he was leaving for “purely personal reasons” and had discussed his plans to leave with UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres.
“I am not laying down the charge until the last hour of the last day of my mandate,” he said.
De Mistura will be traveling to Damascus next week to push for the creation of a committee to agree on a post-war constitution for Syria.
Syria is resisting the UN-led effort to set up the constitutional committee that will be comprised of government officials, opposition members and representatives of civil society.
De Mistura was appointed UN envoy for Syria in July 2014 after veteran Algerian diplomat Lakhdar Brahimi resigned following the failure of peace talks in Geneva.
Brahimi spent two years in the position, stepping in after former UN chief Kofi Annan quit just six months into the role.
More than 360,000 people have died in the war in Syria, which began in March 2011 as an uprising against President Bashar Assad but has since morphed into a complex war with myriad armed groups, some of which have foreign backing.