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Egypt “dammed”?

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The dam built to divert the Blue Nile in Guba, Ethiopia in May.PHOTO: AFP
The dam built to divert the Blue Nile in Guba, Ethiopia in May.PHOTO: AFP

In Africa flows the mighty river Nile,

From Kenya to Egypt, mile after mile,

But Ethiopia’s dam,

Has Egypt in a jam,

Wait and see whose soils will remain fertile.

A river is a crucial resource for the countries it flows in. It provides water for soils, irrigation and electricity. Usually when a river crosses several countries, it is the countries lying upstream that get most of its resources. By the time it reaches the downstream countries, most of its resources are used up. This is the case with rivers like Tigris and Euphrates.

River Nile, however, is an exception. The British, while they had occupied Egypt, wanted to guarantee water supply for irrigation in this downstream country and so they signed a treaty in 1929 which reserved 80 per cent of Nile water for Egypt and Sudan (which was then a single country). The treaty was renewed in 1959 and till today, Egypt and Sudan have had almost total control over Nile. But the upstream countries soon began to get tired of having to ask Egypt for permission before they plan any project on Nile. As a result, in 2010, five countries—Ethiopia, Uganda, Tanzania, Kenya and Rwanda—signed a new Nile basin agreement which made it much easier for them to implement projects.

However, Egypt and Sudan highly disapproved this move. They feared that these projects will diminish their water supply, and wanted to retain control of the river they depended so completely on. In fact, almost all of Egypt’s 80 million people live close to the Nile.

So when Ethiopia announced plans to build a massive dam to provide hydroelectricity to many African countries, Egypt felt threatened. More so when last month, the flow of a Nile tributary was diverted as part of the construction process. Despite many countries—most recently, South Sudan—assuring them that this dam would benefit all of Africa, Egypt still feels ownership over Nile water. Its politicians are even suggesting sabotage and military action to stop the project. Most agree that these are just empty scare tactics, but until Egypt and Ethiopia come to some kind of agreement over Nile, moods will remain tense.

nandita.j@thehindu.co.in

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