Battle for the Nile: Why Ethiopia’s GERD reservoir filling may be just the start of Egypt’s worries

Battle for the Nile: Why Ethiopia’s GERD reservoir filling may be just the start of Egypt’s worries
On Monday, as the summer rains began to swell the Blue Nile, Addis Ababa notified Egypt it had resumed filling the vast dam reservoir. (AFP)
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Updated 08 July 2021

Battle for the Nile: Why Ethiopia’s GERD reservoir filling may be just the start of Egypt’s worries

Battle for the Nile: Why Ethiopia’s GERD reservoir filling may be just the start of Egypt’s worries
  • UN urges Ethiopia, Sudan and Egypt to recommit to avoid unilateral action on operation of dam
  • There is not enough water to meet the rapidly growing needs of 11 Nile Basin nations

LONDON: Amid calls for renewed talks and a last-minute UN intervention, a stark truth is becoming apparent as Ethiopia begins filling the reservoir of its controversial Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD).

There is simply not enough water to meet the rapidly growing needs of all 11 nations dependent on the Nile basin.

The GERD is proof that the Nile Basin Initiative (NBI), a collaboration of the Nile basin nations set up in 1999 to manage fair access to the waters of the great river, has failed.

On Monday, as the summer rains began to swell the Blue Nile, Addis Ababa notified Egypt it had resumed filling the vast dam reservoir.




This week the 10-year strategy of the NBI appeared not to be worth the paper it was printed on. (AFP)

Half of Ethiopia’s population of 120 million has no electricity, and the government is desperate to begin generating power for domestic use and profitable export.

Egypt, which fears the dam will deprive it of crucial amounts of water, has said the unilateral move is a threat to regional stability.

For centuries master of the Nile, Egypt is now faced with the reality that in the 21st century it no longer has exclusive rights to what is an international, transboundary resource.


Read our full interactive Deep Dive on the GERD Dam and its impact on Egypt here


On Thursday, at the request of Egypt and its neighbor Sudan, the UN Security Council will debate the escalating crisis, but has warned there is little it can do.




As the populations of the basin’s 11 member states grow, notes the NBI, so “demand for energy in the Nile basin is expected to triple by 2035.” (AFP)

This week the 10-year strategy of the NBI, devised in 2017 to ensure “cooperation and joint action between the riparian countries, seeking win-win gains,” appeared not to be worth the paper it was printed on.

The initiative’s admirable aim of seeing the Nile waters used in an “equitable way to ensure prosperity, security and peace for all its peoples” is today exposed as an ultimately fanciful ambition.

The reality now facing the 11 nations of the Nile basin — and none more urgently than Egypt — is that there is only so much water to go around and, every minute, more and more people to consume it.

The riddle of the Nile, it seems, cannot be solved without the creation of winners and losers. The volume of water that each year flows down the Blue and White Niles is finite. It varies from season to season, but the average volume available to the 11 nations of the Nile basin is, ultimately, limited.

What is not limited, however, are the populations of those countries, and their development ambitions.


Read our full interactive Deep Dive on the GERD Dam and its impact on Egypt here





The GERD is proof that the Nile Basin Initiative has failed. (AFP)

Currently some 260 million people, about 54 percent of the total population of the 11 countries through which the Nile runs, live in the basin. Egypt has by far the largest number of citizens dependent on its waters — 86 million, about 94 percent of its entire population.

Egypt is already experiencing what the UN defines as “water scarcity” — when supplies drop below 1,000 cubic meters of water per person per year. Egyptians currently have about 570 cubic meters, predicted to fall below 500 by 2025, even without taking into account the effect of the GERD.

And according to UN forecasts, by 2050 Egypt’s population will have grown more than 50 percent, to about 150 million.

Upstream, meanwhile, by 2050 Ethiopia’s population will also have increased, from about 120 million people to over 200 million, and a similar pattern of growth is predicted for all the Nile basin countries.

In its 10-year strategy, the NBI put it like this: “If countries develop as planned, we will need 1.5 Niles by 2050.”

The strategy offered what appeared to be a simple solution.

“Together,” pledged the NBI, “we will better monitor, manage and develop the Nile, use existing water sources more efficiently and explore new ones.” This way, it added, “we will have enough water for us all.”


Read our full interactive Deep Dive on the GERD Dam and its impact on Egypt here


Of course, there are savings that Egypt can make, ranging from preventing water loss through leaks and evaporation to giving up growing water-intensive crops, such as rice, transferring the water cost to other nations by importing them.

In an interview in June, Mohamed Ghanem, spokesman for Egypt’s water ministry, highlighted steps the government was already taking, including fixing leaky canals and drains, and modernizing irrigation systems.




The squabble over the dam could soon be overshadowed by an even darker cloud gathering over the headwaters of the Nile. (AFP)

However, all such initiatives require vast investment in time and money, to say nothing of politically dangerous job losses among the farming community.

Besides, even if, as researchers at Zagazig University have predicted, “adopting all or a combination of the suggested strategies could reduce or eliminate the impact of GERD on Egypt,” the dam could soon be the least of Egypt’s worries.

The clue to what is coming can be found in one of the NBI’s strategy goals. “Unlocking and optimising hydropower potential,” highlights a reality, symbolized by the GERD crisis, that will see nations pitted against each other in the scramble for their share of the Nile’s limited bounty.

As the populations of the basin’s 11 member states grow, notes the NBI, so “demand for energy in the Nile basin is expected to triple by 2035.”

The solution? “Together, we will build the right dams in the right places, connect our power grids and trade the harnessed energy — so that we all benefit from the Nile to light up our cities and energise our economies.”


Read our full interactive Deep Dive on the GERD Dam and its impact on Egypt here


Ethiopia and its downstream neighbors Egypt and Sudan are all members of the NBI. Yet despite the organization’s pledge to support collaboration between its members, the planning, building and now operation of the GERD has been the opposite of an exercise in cooperation.




There is simply not enough water to meet the rapidly growing needs of all 11 nations dependent on the Nile basin. (AFP)

As serious as it is, however, the squabble over the dam could soon be overshadowed by an even darker cloud gathering over the headwaters of the Nile. Last month South Sudan announced that it, too, had ambitions to build a hydroelectric dam — on the White Nile upstream of Sudan and Egypt.

About 80 percent of Egypt’s water comes from the Blue Nile and its tributaries, but reducing the flow of the remaining 20 percent would obviously create additional problems for the country.

And that could just be the start.

Even as it begins to fill the GERD reservoir, Ethiopia is working on plans for at least three more dams and, once the GERD starts successfully generating power and export income, Addis Ababa should have little difficulty persuading international investors to back new hydroelectric ventures.


Read our full interactive Deep Dive on the GERD Dam and its impact on Egypt here


Ethiopia’s success with GERD is also likely to generate interest in the construction of other dams throughout the Nile basin.

“Most countries in the Nile basin are undergoing rapid economic growth as indicated in the recent growing GDP (gross domestic product) trends, which, in turn, has increased demand for water, energy and food,” said the NBI.




Egypt is now faced with the reality that in the 21st century it no longer has exclusive rights to what is an international, transboundary resource. (AFP)

The Nile basin “offers huge potential for hydroelectric power generation, but largely remains untapped, with existing facilities representing about 26 percent of potential capacity.”

There seems little doubt that the other countries of the Nile basin will want to place their economies and societies on a similar footing to those of Egypt.

The row over the GERD is just the beginning of a far deeper crisis which, if not tackled now, could escalate dangerously.

The African Union, the Arab League and the NBI have all failed to break the deadlock over the dam. This week the UN Security Council will almost certainly go down the same path.

For the security of the entire region, what is needed now is a pre-emptive international diplomatic intervention on a scale to match the potential disaster looming over the Nile basin like the summer storm clouds now gathering over the Ethiopian Highlands.

Twitter: @JonathanGornall

 

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48 Houthi militants killed near Yemen’s Marib: Arab coalition

48 Houthi militants killed near Yemen’s Marib: Arab coalition
Updated 2 min 32 sec ago

48 Houthi militants killed near Yemen’s Marib: Arab coalition

48 Houthi militants killed near Yemen’s Marib: Arab coalition
  • Arab coalition says airstrikes hit 14 Houthi targets, also destroying six military vehicles

RIYADH: The Arab coalition in Yemen said on Tuesday it carried out 14 attacks targeting Houthi militia members in two districts near the strategic city of Marib in the last 24 hours.
The coalition said 48 Houthis have been killed and six military vehicles were destroyed in the military operations in Al-Jawba and Al-Kassara.
“We will continue to provide support to the Yemeni National Army to protect civilians from Houthi violations,” the coalition said in a statement.
This is the ninth consecutive day that the coalition has announced strikes around Marib, reporting a total of more than 1,200 Houthi fatalities.
The previously announced bombings were in Abedia about 100 kilometers (60 miles) from Marib — the internationally recognized government’s last bastion in oil-rich northern Yemen.
The strikes reported Tuesday were closer to Marib.
Al-Jawba lies about 50 kilometers from the city and Al-Kassara is about 30 kilometers northwest.
According to a government military official on Tuesday, fighting between the two sides “continues on a number of fronts but there are no major advances or changes on the ground in recent hours.”
The Houthis began a major push to seize Marib in February and have renewed their offensive since September after a lull.
(With AFP)


Blinken says Yemen conflict is top US foreign policy priority

Blinken says Yemen conflict is top US foreign policy priority
Updated 21 min 21 sec ago

Blinken says Yemen conflict is top US foreign policy priority

Blinken says Yemen conflict is top US foreign policy priority
  • The US secretary of state congratulates UN envoy to Yemen on his new role during call

LONDON: US Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Tuesday reiterated that resolving the conflict in Yemen remains a top US foreign policy priority.
His comments came during a phone call with the newly-appointed UN envoy for Yemen Hans Grundberg.
Blinken congratulated Grundberg, who was appointed in August to replace Martin Griffiths, on his new role, the State Department said in a statement.
During the call, they “discussed efforts to engage all parties without preconditions and secure a cease-fire, address urgent humanitarian priorities, restart the political process in Yemen, and ensure accountability for human rights violations and abuses.”
Blinken also welcomed collaboration on the common goal of reaching an “inclusive, durable solution” to end the conflict in Yemen and bringing relief to Yemenis, the statement added.
On Monday, Grundberg ended a visit to Oman, where he met with Omani officials, Houthi representatives, and representatives of the international community about reaching a comprehensive political solution to the conflict in Yemen.


Silicon Valley’s Osh Agabi lifts the lid on Koniku’s disease-detection tech

Silicon Valley’s Osh Agabi lifts the lid on Koniku’s disease-detection tech
Updated 6 sec ago

Silicon Valley’s Osh Agabi lifts the lid on Koniku’s disease-detection tech

Silicon Valley’s Osh Agabi lifts the lid on Koniku’s disease-detection tech
  • Koniku Kore uses biotech based on mice neurons to detect diseases, chemicals and even explosives
  • Founded in 2017, Koniku aims to revolutionize health security through robotics and synthetic neurobiology

DUBAI: Artificial intelligence and machine-learning technologies are expected to completely transform the way people live, work and do business. But one area where exciting developments are already becoming a reality is in health.

Osh Agabi, originally from Nigeria, has received funding from tech giants in Silicon Valley to develop his “clinical cyborg” — an innovation that aims to detect more than 4,000 smells simultaneously, resulting potentially in the diagnosis of a variety of diseases.

Agabi has drawn the attention of American venture capitalists impressed by his study of human cells grown on a computer chip.

“One thing that has always been a primary driver for me is, how does the human body essentially function?” he told Arab News.

“How is it possible that we are capable of so much? A human being is essentially a machine but a very advanced one.”

Of course, even the most sophisticated machinery can malfunction from time to time, which means the medical tools needed to diagnose and address these issues must evolve and advance.

With this in mind, Agabi launched his own company in 2017, named Koniku — which translates as “immortal” in Nigeria’s Yoruba dialect — specializing in robotics and synthetic neurobiology.

Among its recent creations is the Koniku Kore, which the company says is capable of detecting and interpreting 4,096 different smells at the same time.

“At any given time, you are exhaling literally thousands of different smells, and these different smells are giving us an indication as to the state of your health,” Agabi said.

“If you have a disease, there’s a smell signature associated with it. So, we now have a platform that could potentially be scaled worldwide to offer comprehensive clinical-grade data in everybody’s bathroom, collecting breath in real time and making every individual the CEO of their health.”

Scientists have long recognized the ability of dogs to sniff out human emotions such as fear and sadness and even detect certain cancers and other illnesses.
 

Scientists have long recognized the ability of dogs to sniff out emotions and illnesses. (Shutterstock)

Agabi and his team have isolated similar brain cells in mice, genetically modified them to carry proteins that allow them to smell the contents of the air and inserted them into a Koniku chip.

The chip is then placed inside the Koniku Kore, which collects air through a mechanical pump and passes it on to the cells. The cells then detect the smell and give off signals that are interpreted by the device’s onboard computer. Weighing just 700 grams, the device is ideal for home use, says the company.

“Our target, before this decade ends, is to have our technology in 10 million homes to analyze disease in real time,” Agabi said.

Some scientists caution that fusing natural proteins with silicon circuits is a daunting task, citing the fragility of cells and the complexity of their interactions with chemical substances.

A CNN web report of 2020 on Koniku quoted Timothy Swager, a chemistry professor at MIT, as saying that to pull off what the company claims would require “some technical miracle.”

Agabi, who completed a master’s degree in bioengineering at the Imperial College London and later a Ph.D. in computational neuroscience and bioengineering at ETH Zurich, intends to present his invention to potential investors at the upcoming Future Investment Initiative in Riyadh.

“It’s the thing that gets me up every morning and I’m excited about it,” he said.

Agabi is likely to find an enthusiastic crowd of potential investors. He won a startup competition organized by the Misk Global Forum in Saudi Arabia two years ago, so there are sure to be many in the Kingdom’s developing health-tech sector awaiting his return visit.

“It’s something I feel very privileged to do as a person coming from my background, born and bred in Lagos but mostly educated in Europe and now in the US scaling this technology to a global audience,” he said.

Given the healthcare challenges posed by the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic and the growing commercial interest in home and wearable health tech, Agabi believes there is a ready market for his creation.
 

Osh Agabi wants to bring that power to humans. (Supplied)

The device is currently undergoing clinical trials with Treximo and the University of Southern Nevada. Given its potential application as a rapid COVID-19 detection test, Koniku hopes to secure emergency use authorization for its product in the near future. From there, the sky is the limit for a whole new range of bio- and neuro-tech.

“Synthetic neurobiology and biotechnology will be big,” Agabi said. “When we have biotechnology or synthetic biology merged with data, machine learning and AI, what is possible is unprecedented. It will be the next big thing.”

Koniku’s customers to date include Airbus, which uses the technology to detect explosive compounds, and Thermo Fisher Scientific, the world’s largest manufacturer of scientific equipment, to sense fentanyl, methamphetamine and other drugs.

Major oil companies in Saudi Arabia are also in discussions with Koniku to use the technology to detect benzene, toluene, ethylene and xylene.

“During the refining process of oil and other such chemical compounds, there are compounds that are given off that might be carcinogenic for human beings, that decrease people’s quality of life, make the place smell bad, and so on,” said Agabi.

“This is what we have with Exxon Mobil, for instance, and for methane emissions and for all the compounds that are byproducts from the oil and gas industry that decrease the quality of life in the area we’re working on.”

Koniku has also explored several possibilities for the application of its innovations in oil exploration. “Think about our technology as a ‘smell cyborg,’ similar to a camera on your phone, for security, for filming or vision,” Agabi said.

“You can use this ‘smell cyborg’ for many more applications across the whole spectrum. But our strongest application and what our vision aims to bring to this world is diagnosing disease on a global scale.”
 

Given the healthcare challenges posed by the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic and the growing commercial interest in home and wearable health tech, Agabi believes there is a ready market for his creation. (AFP)

For Agabi, the pandemic has made it abundantly clear that the world needs a global system for disease surveillance, where abnormal breath signatures, propagation and growth rates can be detected. In doing so, sickness, death and economic damage could be avoided.

“It is an unfortunate crisis that has cost a lot of life and sorrow,” he said.

“But one of the things we can take from this is the need for a global disease surveillance system through which we can assess the health of people in different cities or states.”

In an increasingly interconnected world, Agabi says every individual has the potential to be a bioweapon until proven otherwise. The only way to make that transparency possible is to develop a technology stack that is able to scan people’s health on a global scale.

“That is what Koniku puts itself forward as,” Agabi said. “That’s what we seek partnerships on. But that is our larger vision, which, with the right partners and resources, we can realize. That’s why I’m very excited to return to the region and form strong partnerships to build this up.”

Twitter: @CalineMalek


Palestinians clash with Israeli police in Jerusalem

Palestinians clash with Israeli police in Jerusalem
Updated 49 min 59 sec ago

Palestinians clash with Israeli police in Jerusalem

Palestinians clash with Israeli police in Jerusalem
  • Israeli police said Palestinians hurled rocks at police and public buses near the Damascus Gate leading into the Old City
  • Palestinians say Israeli police moved to restrict the annual gathering in and around Damascus Gate in what they saw as a provocation

JERUSALEM: Palestinians clashed with Israeli police at a popular gathering place just outside Jerusalem’s Old City as thousands celebrated a Muslim holiday.
It was a repeat of violence earlier this year that eventually led to the 11-day Gaza war in May.
Israeli police said Palestinians hurled rocks at police and public buses near the Damascus Gate leading into the Old City. They said 22 suspects were arrested.
Earlier, thousands of Palestinians had marched along the Old City walls and paused at the gate, where a scout band played the Palestinian national anthem. They continued to the Al-Aqsa mosque, where tens of thousands prayed in honor of the Prophet Muhammad’s birthday.
Palestinians say Israeli police moved to restrict the annual gathering in and around Damascus Gate in what they saw as a provocation.
An Associated Press photographer said a few dozen youths began shouting at police and throwing water bottles, after which police fired stun grenades. The Palestinian Red Crescent emergency service said it treated 17 people who were wounded, including 10 who were taken to a hospital.
Palestinians clashed with Israeli police on a nightly basis during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan in April and May over a decision to place police barricades at Damascus Gate, a popular holiday gathering spot for Palestinians families.
The clashes continued even after the barricades were removed and eventually spread to the nearby Al-Aqsa mosque compound, a flashpoint site sacred to Muslims and Jews. The violence, along with efforts by settlers to evict dozens of Palestinian families from their homes, eventually ignited the fourth war between Israel and the militant Hamas group ruling Gaza.
The Old City is in east Jerusalem, which Israel captured in the 1967 war and annexed in a move not recognized internationally. Israel considers the entire city its capital, while the Palestinians want east Jerusalem to be the capital of their future state.
The Al-Aqsa mosque compound is the third holiest site in Islam and the holiest for Jews, who refer to it as the Temple Mount because it was the location of the Jewish temples in antiquity.
Over the last two weeks, sporadic fights have broken out at Damascus Gate between Palestinians and Israelis, and between Palestinians and the police.


Beirut blast memorial wall covered in portraits of victims

Beirut blast memorial wall covered in portraits of victims
American artist Brady Black was inspired to portray the victims of the deadly explosion from Aug. 4, 2020, after he witnessed their beloved families mourn their tragic deaths. (Supplied)
Updated 19 October 2021

Beirut blast memorial wall covered in portraits of victims

Beirut blast memorial wall covered in portraits of victims
  • American artist Brady Black draws more than 200 portraits to memorialize every victim killed in the Aug. 4, 2020 explosion
  • Black collaborated with an art institute in Beirut: ‘All I can do is hope it is helping them in some way’

DUBAI: The victims of the Beirut Port blast will always be “seen and remembered” thanks to a memorial wall of more than 200 portraits drawn by an American artist.

Beirut-based visual journalist and artist Brady Black was inspired to portray the victims of the deadly explosion from Aug. 4, 2020, after he witnessed their beloved families and relatives mourn their tragic deaths. 

Since the world’s third most powerful non-nuclear explosion took place, the victims’ families and relatives have been protesting outside the Beirut Port holding up photos of their beloved ones to demand justice. 

Based in Lebanon since he arrived with his wife in 2015, Black approached an art institute called ‘Art of Change’ in Beirut to collaborate on a creative project and commemorate the victims.

Black spent nearly four months drawing black and white portraits of the 220 victims. Each portrait is around 10 square feet and portrays an image of each victim. 

“All I can do is hope that it’s received in the way it was intended to be and it is helping them in some way,” he told Arab News.

So far, Black said the feedback has been positive and encouraging: “I have heard a lot of the families expressing great appreciation for the work.”

The blast at the government-owned Port of Beirut claimed the lives of 220 people, injured more than 6,500, and left 300,000 homeless. The explosion resulted from a fire in a warehouse containing ammonium nitrate and caused damage worth an estimated $3 billion.

On the 4th day of every month since the explosion, the victims’ families gather to protest and hold up pictures of the loved ones they lost. Black witnessed several of these gatherings, which inspired him to do the project. 

“It looked to me like they were saying ‘See them … remember them.’ So I decided to basically do what they were doing, which was holding their loved ones’ pictures up for others to see,” Black said. “But I’m doing it in a permanent and very visible way.”

Art of Change played a vital role in the project, Black said.

“The actual installation took only a few hours with 40 volunteers who all came together to put the whole thing up,” he said. “We needed a few more days for the final touches.”

Art of Change is an art institute and creative hub that collaborates with artists and was co-founded by Jason Camp and Imane Assaf in Beirut.

“The 220 victims’ portraits were set up on a memorial wall to commemorate them in Al Saifi area, which is a few meters away from the blast spot,” Assaf, the hub’s director, told Arab News.

“On Aug. 4, to mark the one-year anniversary of the explosion, families came to check the memorial wall and they placed flowers. It was so emotional and powerful.”

She said they have collaborated with Black on similar projects involving the poor and needy as photos were posted in areas like Hamra, Manara, and others.

For this particular project, Black said he appreciated the feedback but was not emotionally prepared to speak with victims’ families. 

“It felt really encouraging being able to be a small part of helping their voices be heard,” he said.