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The Nile water dispute is not a zero-sum game

17 9 3

Negotiations over Ethiopia’s $5 billion Grand Renaissance Dam on the River Nile have reached a critical stage. The project, the construction of which began in 2011, has developed into a major bone of contention between Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia. The dam has its headwaters from Ethiopia and accounts for about 85 per cent of the Nile’s water; it is expected to provide much-needed electricity for Ethiopia’s 100 million-plus people.

Egypt fears that filling the reservoir behind the dam too quickly could have a significant effect on the flow downstream and could deprive its citizens of life-giving water. Sudan is concerned that any malfunction within the dam, which stands about 40 km east of its border with Ethiopia, could result in massive floods that would damage Sudanese farmland significantly and destroy towns along the way.

Both Egypt and Sudan have sought a legally binding agreement that regulates the filling process and drought mitigation mechanisms, and ensures a viable process for overseeing Ethiopia’s compliance with its terms. Ethiopia wants to avoid a fixed commitment for a water quota that extends beyond the reservoir’s filling period and demands a flexible agreement that includes provision for periodic reviews. This lack of commitment remains by far the biggest obstacle for a comprehensive deal.

Colonial era River Nile water arrangements remain at the centre of the discord. In 1929, Egypt and Great Britain concluded an agreement that allocated 57 per cent of the great river’s water to Egypt and five per cent to Sudan. In 1959, following Sudan’s independence, Cairo and Khartoum struck a deal that provided 66 per cent to Egypt and 22 per cent to Sudan, while the other 12 per cent was expected to be lost through evaporation. The arrangement provided Cairo with a veto over any dams in upstream countries. The trouble is that Ethiopia has never been consulted about this and argues that these bilateral deals are not binding on the government in Addis........

© Middle East Monitor