Nile dam deal ‘on the horizon’ after mini-summit

African leaders on Tuesday held a virtual meeting on a decade-long dispute between Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan over a mega-dam on the Nile River, the South African presidency said. (AFP)
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Updated 22 July 2020

Nile dam deal ‘on the horizon’ after mini-summit

  • Egypt looks to alternative water sources despite ‘mutual understanding’ with Ethiopia

CAIRO: The rainy season contributed to the initial filling of the Renaissance Dam reservoir, Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed has said.

His comments came during Tuesday’s mini-African summit between the leaders of Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia, which was sponsored by South Africa. The leader said that precipitation and surface runoff of river water led to the filling of the first stage of the reservoir.

Following the meeting in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa, a statement said an agreement between the three countries is on the horizon.

Ahmed’s office said Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan had reached a “great mutual understanding that paves the way for a huge agreement on the dam project.” The statement added that leaders of the three countries agreed to further technical discussions on filling the dam until a comprehensive agreement is reached.

Bassam Radi, Egypt’s presidential spokesperson, said that the main focus will be developing a binding legal agreement on the rules for filling and operating the Renaissance Dam, provided that the parties later work on reaching an agreement on the use of Nile water.

Radi added that Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi stressed Cairo’s desire to make progress on issues of disagreement.

Egypt recently decided to prevent the cultivation of crops requiring lots of water, including corn and certain types of rice. The country also pushed for faster construction of seawater desalination stations.

Spokesman for the Egyptian Water Resources and Irrigation Ministry, Mohamed El-Sebaie, said Egypt wants to maximize water efficiency in light of the dam project.

“The Nile River represents 97 percent of water resources. Because of water challenges and the Ethiopian Renaissance Dam, the Egyptian state is implementing projects to maximize the utilization of water resources through treatment of agricultural wastewater and providing spare parts for domestic use. These measures will provide between 40 to 45 percent of the water used by people in their homes,” he said.

He said Mohamed Abdel-Ati, the water minister, met Assem El-Gazzar, Egypt’s housing minister, to review a detailed plan for the expansion of desalination plants within the framework of the National Water Strategy of 2037.

The spokesman added that the strategy aims to meet water needs through greater efficiency and the expansion of desalination stations, especially in coastal regions.

A member of the Egyptian Negotiating Committee on the Renaissance Dam, Alaa El-Zawahiri, said Egypt is unlikely to face a water crisis as a result of filling the dam, but added that problems could occur during prolonged drought.

He cited the situation between 1979 and 1989 when a drought lowered water levels in the Blue Nile and the High Dam.

El-Zawahiri said the potential for drought concerns Cairo, and Egypt will impose new rules on Ethiopia to extract enough water to meet demand. He added that negotiations are taking place to ensure that no water problem occurs in Egypt for 120 years.

Mohamed Hegazi, the Egyptian former assistant minister of foreign affairs, said: “All the parties are leaning towards continuing the negotiations, which means that there is hope in reaching an agreement.”

He added: “No party can assume it can single-handedly impose its rules and decisions without the agreement of the rest of the partners.”

Hegazi said that Egypt is not against the first stage of filling in principle but is opposed to the filling of the dam without reaching subsequent agreements.

“If that happens, there are international diplomatic tools that can be deployed, especially the UN Security Council, since it is the institution concerned with security and peace in this type of conflict,” he said.

He added that during the talks Egypt asked Ethiopia to promote development goals for both countries.

Data leak reveals true scale of Iran’s COVID-19 crisis

Updated 30 sec ago

Data leak reveals true scale of Iran’s COVID-19 crisis

  • Iranian outbreak, already the worst in the Middle East, is far more serious than initially reported.
  • Tehran’s cover up of the true virus toll is consistent with their reaction to previous embarrassing incidents.

LONDON: A data leak from within Iran has revealed that the number of deaths caused by COVID-19 is nearly three times higher than the figures reported by the government.

The data, which was passed to the BBC Persian service, shows almost 42,000 people died with COVID-19 symptoms up to July 20, nearly triple the 14,405 reported by its health ministry.

The number of infections is also far higher than that admitted by the government: 451,024 as opposed to the 278,827 disclosed by Tehran.

Undercounting cases is common across the world due to limited testing capacity, but the BBC’s information reveals that Iranian authorities reported significantly lower daily numbers, despite having a record of all deaths — suggesting the figures were deliberately suppressed.

The data leak also shows that the first recorded case of the virus in Iran was on Jan. 22 — a month before the government acknowledged any cases.

Already the center of the Middle East’s virus outbreak, Tehran’s cover-up of early cases and its failure to swiftly act on the outbreak likely accelerated the spread of the virus across the region.

The BBC received the data from an anonymous source, who told them they shared the data to “shed light on the truth” and to end “political games” over the epidemic.

The data supplied includes details of daily admissions to hospitals across Iran, including names, age, gender, symptoms, date and length of periods spent in hospital, and underlying conditions patients might have.

The overall trend of cases and deaths in the leaked data is similar to official reports, but different in size.

Dr Nouroldin Pirmoazzen, a former Iranian MP who was an official at the health ministry and is now living in the US, told the BBC that the government was “anxious and fearful of the truth” when COVID-19 hit Iran.

He said: “The government was afraid that the poor and the unemployed would take to the streets.”

The Iranian health ministry maintains that the country’s reports to the World Health Organization on the number of COVID-19 cases and deaths are “transparent” and “far from any deviations.”

The cover-up of the true scale of their COVID-19 crisis is not unusual behaviour from the regime. A number of incidents have brought a similar response in 2020 alone.

In January, Iran shot down a Ukrainian jet near Tehran, killing all passengers on board. The regime hid its actions for three days, only acknowledging wrongdoing as public pressure mounted through protests.

Then Iranian nuclear and military facilities were the target of a series of sabotages, explosions, and cyberattacks, but Tehran has attempted to conceal what happened at virtually every step of the way.