Egypt fears decline in Nile water levels this year, say experts

A picture taken on September 9, 2017 shows a view of the Nile river in the southern Egyptian city of Luxor. (AFP)
Updated 29 July 2019

Egypt fears decline in Nile water levels this year, say experts

  • A report issued by the ministry said that the High Dam was prepared to receive the rise in water levels that marks the start of the 2019-2020 water year, which begins in August

CAIRO: The Egyptian Irrigation Ministry announced the decline in the Nile water by about 5 billion cubic meters from last year, according to an official statement.
The government declared a state of maximum emergency in all governorates during the coming period to ensure the country’s water needs, especially drinking water, to meet the demand for household uses and periodic monitoring of agricultural land irrigation.
According to the Ministry of Irrigation, the flood season runs from Aug. 1 until mid-November, and all the agencies of the ministry took major measures, from the High Dam Unit to the irrigation sector.
Abdullatif Khalid, head of the irrigation sector in the ministry, confirmed that the current level of water in the Nile River is 55.5 billion cubic meters. He said that this quantity is low because drinking water is consuming 11 billion cubic meters, as against 7 billion last year. Industrial usage consumes 8 billion cubic meters and the rest is distributed to agriculture.
“Egypt will certainly be affected by this decline, so we call for rationalization and austerity in water consumption,” he said, pointing out that population growth and climate change are factors that increase the demand for more water.
A report issued by the ministry said that the High Dam was prepared to receive the rise in water levels that marks the start of the 2019-2020 water year, which begins in August.

The necessary maintenance works were carried out for its installations, emergency floods and gates.
The water levels start to rise as flood waters arrive from Ethiopia via the blue Nile, passing through Khartoum before arriving at Lake Nasser in Aswan Governorate. The water comes partly from rains on the Ethiopian hills, and partly from the opening of dams by the Khartoum authorities (Al-Roussiris, Sennar-Merwi, Upper Atbara, Sitit-Khashm Al-Qurba) in preparation for the start of the new floodwater storage, which begins in August every year. The season ends in October-November.
Dr. Iman Al-Sayyid, head of the irrigation ministry, said that the ministry has monitoring devices for the indicators of the rainy season in the Nile basin, pointing out that the rate of rainfall is expected to be lower than previous years.
She added that the low rainfall rates on the Nile Basin countries — specifically Ethiopia — is behind the decline in water levels of the Nile, confirming that the low rate of rainfall is a natural phenomenon for Egypt, Sudan and the rest of the Nile Basin countries.
She said that the ministry has an early-warning system to monitor the water situation on a continuous basis, and has a strategy to deal with emergencies.


Hagia Sophia verdict seen as Erdogan’s attempt to ‘mask economic failure’

Updated 31 min 29 sec ago

Hagia Sophia verdict seen as Erdogan’s attempt to ‘mask economic failure’

  • President signs decree to reopen heritage site — Roman Empire’s first cathedral — as mosque

ANKARA: Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan signed a decree on Friday to reopen Hagia Sophia, the UNESCO world heritage site that was the Roman Empire’s first Christian cathedral, constructed in the sixth century CE, as a mosque.

UNESCO had previously urged Turkish authorities “to engage in dialogue before taking any decision that might impact the universal value of the site.”

The long-predicted move has been widely interpreted as an attempt to rally conservative nationalist voters around the ruling party and its nationalist coalition partner ahead of snap elections that many have forecast will happen next year. Several commentators, however, doubt the efficacy of the move given that — under the current economic conditions — the majority of the Turkish people are focused on more urgent matters.

Around 55 percent of respondents to a poll conducted by Turkey’s Metropoll in June said the main reason for announcing the reconversion of Hagia Sophia into a mosque would be to distract from debates on Turkey’s economic crisis and to boost the government’s hand ahead of a snap election.

Soner Cagaptay of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy said the move is another step in Erdogan’s attempt to impose his “brand of conservative Islam,” in direct opposition to the founder of the Turkish Republic Mustafa Kemal Ataturk’s secular revolution.

“Just as Ataturk ‘un-mosqued’ Hagia Sophia 86 years ago, and gave it museum status to underline his secularist revolution, Erdogan is remaking it a mosque to underline his religious revolution,” Cagaptay said.

The reconversion of Hagia Sophia into a mosque, regardless of domestic and international criticism, overlaps with Erdogan’s desire to be the “new sultan” of the country, he continued.

“Erdogan is already patronizing the construction of two mosques in Istanbul. He wants to leave a political and religious imprint behind, and Hagia Sophia completes his ‘trilogy’ of mosques,” he said.

But, Cagaptay noted, there is a tactical aspect to the announcement as well.

“As a nativist-populist leader, Erdogan hopes to rally his base by underlining their ‘victim’ narrative — saying, ’How dare these secularists deny us, pious Muslims, the liberty to pray at Hagia Sophia?’” he said.

BACKGROUND

  • The long-predicted move has been widely interpreted as an attempt to rally conservative- nationalist voters around the ruling party ahead of snap polls.

Cagaptay, along with other experts, believes any boost Erdogan may enjoy following the announcement will likely be undermined by Turkey’s ongoing economic challenges, including high inflation and unemployment rates.

Last year, Hagia Sophia drew 3.7 million tourists to its famed dome, rust-colored walls and ornamental minarets. But many believe Erdogan’s latest move will hurt the country’s popularity as a tourist destination.

“Turkey’s global brand as a Muslim-majority society that is open to its Christian past is going to be irreversibly damaged,” Cagaptay said.

“One of the effects of the conversion of Hagia Sophia from a museum into a mosque will be a spike in Islamophobia in the West and elsewhere. Which, of course, Erdogan will then use to his advantage,” Dimitar Bechev of the Atlantic Council tweeted.