Tue, Oct 03, 2017 - Page 5 News List

Ethopian dam leaves Egypt fearing for Nile

AP, CAIRO

The only reason Egypt has even existed from ancient times until today is because of the Nile River, which provides a thin, richly fertile stretch of green through the desert.

Now, for the first time, the country fears a potential threat to that lifeline, and it seems to have no idea what to do about it.

Ethiopia is finalizing construction of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam, its first major dam on the Blue Nile, and then will eventually start filling the giant reservoir behind it to power the largest hydroelectric dam in Africa.

Egypt fears that will cut into its water supply, destroying parts of its precious farmland and squeezing its population of 93 million people, who already face water shortages.

Dam construction on international rivers often causes disputes over the downstream impact, but the Nile is different because few nations rely so completely on a single river as much as Egypt does.

The Nile provides more than 90 percent of Egypt’s water supply. Almost the entire population lives cramped in the sliver of the Nile Valley. About 60 percent of Egypt’s Nile water originates in Ethiopia from the Blue Nile, one of two main tributaries.

Egypt hardly gets by with the water it does have. It has one of the lowest per capita shares of water in the world, about 660m3 per person. The strain is worsened by inefficiency and waste. With the population expected to double in 50 years, shortages are predicted to become severe even sooner, by 2025.

Egypt already receives the lion’s share of Nile waters: More than 55 billion of the about 88 billion cubic meters of water that flow down the river each year. It is promised that amount under agreements from 1929 and 1959 that other Nile nations say are unfair and ignore the needs of their own large populations.

Complicating the situation, no one has a clear idea what impact Ethiopia’s dam will actually have. Addis Ababa insists it will not cause significant harm to Egypt or Sudan downstream.

Much depends on the management of the flow and how fast Ethiopia fills its reservoir, which can hold 74 billion cubic meters of water. A faster fill means blocking more water, while doing it slowly would mean less reduction downstream.

Once the fill is completed, the flow would in theory return to normal. Egypt, where agriculture employs a quarter of the work force, is worried that the damage could be long-lasting.

One study by a Cairo University agriculture professor estimated Egypt would lose 51 percent of its farmland if the fill is done in three years. A slower, six-year fill would cost Egypt 17 percent of its cultivated land, the study claimed.

Internal government studies estimate that for every reduction of 1 billion cubic meters of water, 80,937 hectares of farmland would be lost and livelihoods of 1 million people affected, since an average of five people live off each acre (0.4 hectare), a senior Egyptian Ministry of Irrigation official said, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the figures.

Other experts say the impact will be far smaller, even minimal. They say Egypt could suffer no damage at all if it and Ethiopia work together and exchange information, adjusting the rate of filling the reservoir to ensure that Egypt’s own massive reservoir on the Nile, Lake Nasser, stays full enough to meet its needs during the fill.

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