Opinion and Editorial

Water wars are not an option for Egypt and Ethiopia

Christiane Waked
Filed on December 3, 2019 | Last updated on December 3, 2019 at 09.27 pm

Egypt's concerns are legitimate as the country depends on the Nile for 85% of its water.

For more than eight years, Egypt and Ethiopia have been at the centre of a diplomatic stalemate over the construction of a mega water project. Ethiopia is building the $4 million Great Renaissance Dam, one of Africa's largest hydropower plants, with an expected capacity of 6,000MW on the Blue Nile. This is worrying Egypt which thinks the project will allow Ethiopia to control the flow of the river's water. The rate at which Ethiopia fills reservoir could affect the flow downstream.

Egypt's concerns are legitimate as the country depends on the Nile for 85% of its water. An African proverb goes like this: "A river which forgets its source, will dry up."

The stone for the Renaissance dam was laid on April 2, 2011. The Ethiopian authorities took advantage of the chaos caused by the Egyptian revolution to speed up dam construction, but the current Egyptian government is following these developments with concern. There is diplomatic tension between Cairo and Addis Ababa. The ball is in now Ethiopia's court to defuse the crisis by lowering the height of the dam.

Both countries should use diplomatic channels to solve their water dispute. The Nile provides water to 100 million people, and both countries should take the path of dialogue.

Cairo announced that it would hold a meeting on the dam with the ministers of irrigation and water resources from Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia on December 23 that aims to elicit views from experts and officials about the project. Positive results are expected from these negotiations and the three sides will meet again on January 15.

A solution should be acceptable to all sides and the governments of the three countries must ensure the crisis does not develop into a full-blown water conflict which could be catastrophic.

Ethiopia must understand that its neighbors also need to provide their people with clean water. Lack of access to this precious resource could lead to internal strife in these countries. People will be forced to migrate. Extremist groups  like Daesh, Al Qaeda and also the Muslim Brotherhood feed on such discontent and could target these vulnerable populations.

With three billion more people on the earth by 2050, water consumption is set rise. Add to that global warming, deforestation, saline soil that is unfit to cultivate crops, changes in precipitation, pollution and the dumping of of waste into fresh water - we are looking at a looming water crisis. These factors are compounded by rising tensions between countries. How Egypt and Ethiopic resolve this water crisis will have a bearing on a parched world that is struggling to rejuvenate and sustain itself. The idea is to share resources and ideas to solve the crisis. War and conflict is not an answer.

- Christiane Waked is a political analyst based in Beirut

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