EGYPT: Minister rejects Nile sharing deal as experts warn of water shortage
After the recent failure of Nile River nations to agree on water sharing, Egypt has announced it will take whatever steps are necessary to protect its historical rights to billions of gallons of water it needs each year to survive.
"Nile water is a matter of national security to Egypt. We won't under any circumstances allow our water rights to be jeopardized," Mohamed Nasreddin Allam, Minister of Water Resources and Irrigation, told Parliament this week.
The minister's comments came after the Nile Basin Initiative convention in Sharm El Sheik failed to secure a new deal on regulating water shares between six Nile source nations and Sudan and Egypt. Nile source countries include Ethiopia, Democratic Republic of Congo, Burundi, Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania and Uganda. The great river flows through them, making up the Blue Nile and White Nile that come together in Khartoum, Sudan, before flowing into Egypt.
The Sharm El Sheik talks were blocked by Egypt's insistence on maintaining its 'historic' rights of Nile waters, which according to colonial agreements signed in 1929 and 1959, secure it more than half of the Nile's flow (55.5 billion cubic meters of water).
Basin countries opposed that share and Egypt's desire to veto agriculture or irrigating projects in their nations. The collapse of the meeting compelled Nile source countries to agree on signing a new deal on May14, excluding Egypt and Sudan.
"If the Nile basin countries unilaterally signed the agreement it would be considered the announcement of the Nile Basin Initiative's death," Allam added.
Meanwhile, experts said that Egypt could face a severe water shortage if the conflict is not resolved: "What Egypt has of water reserves in Lake Nasser is only enough to cover consumption over the next three years," says expert Mamdouh Hamza. "Egypt isn’t a rainy country and doesn’t contain many groundwater resources."
Hamza, whose office previously consulted the government on projects like extending Cairo's subway network and preserving the Nile Delta from rising sea levels, added that Nile basin countries' 'rejecting position' towards Egypt's demands could be supported by other foreign and Western powers.
Former deputy to Egypt's foreign minister, Abdullah Al Ashaal, said that "what happened in Sharm El Sheik is a grave development to the situation, stressing that the whole area could now be on the verge of a water war."
In an attempt to salvage negotiations with Nile basin countries, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak has sent foreign minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit for private talks with leaders of some Nile Basin countries.
--Amro Hassan in Cairo
Photo: Part of the Nile overlooking the village of Nagaa Hammadi, South of Egypt. Credit: Agence-France Presse