CAIRO: Egypt’s minister of water resources and irrigation accused Ethiopia of intransigence over the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) on Saturday.
Mohamed Abdel-Aty was representing his ministry while addressing a conference organized by the German government.
He said Egypt is one of the driest countries in the world and suffers from water scarcity; Egypt’s water resources are estimated at 60 billion cubic meters annually, most of which comes from the waters of the River Nile, in addition to very limited amounts of rainwater, estimated at 1 billion cubic meters, and deep, non-renewable groundwater in the deserts.
The project on the River Nile has been a source of diplomatic tension between Cairo and Addis Ababa since its construction began in Ethiopia in 2011. The Ethiopian government sees the hydroelectricity project as crucial for the economy and a vital source of energy. But Egypt and Sudan, which are downstream, fear the $4 billion GERD will greatly reduce their access to water.
Ethiopia began the second phase of filling the reservoir behind the GERD in early May.
Abdel-Aty added that total water needs in Egypt amount to about 114 billion cubic meters annually, and the gap is compensated by reusing agricultural drainage water and surface groundwater.
He said Egypt and other countries were witnessing increasing climatic changes, pointing to the resulting threats to sustainable development and the human right to water.
“In addition to the risks that the most fertile lands are facing as a result of the expected rise in sea levels, the intrusion of saline water, which affects the quality of groundwater, will lead to the displacement of millions of Egyptians residing in the north of the delta,” he said.
In his speech, Abdel-Aty stressed Egypt’s desire for negotiations to reach an agreement that met the aspirations of all parties over the GERD.
He added that Egypt would not accept unilateral action to fill and operate the dam; Cairo, he continued, did not object to a dam in Ethiopia and supports its development, but wanted a fair settlement for both itself and Sudan.
Abdel-Aty said any shortage of water resources would cause severe damage, as the lack of 1 billion cubic meters of water could cost200,000 families their main source of livelihood in agriculture.
“This means that 1 million citizens will be affected,” he said.
The agricultural sector in Egypt employs at least 40 million people, and any shortage of water resources will have huge repercussions on a large percentage of the Egyptian population, the minister said.
This could lead to societal instability, and possibly a wave of emigration to Europe and other countries, or a rise in young, disillusioned people turning to extremist groups.