Egypt ups ante over Ethiopia’s Nile dam

Egypt ups ante over Ethiopia’s Nile dam

Egypt ups ante over Ethiopia’s Nile dam

Countries that share the Nile River have argued over the use of its waters for decades. Egypt will demand Ethiopia stop construction of a Nile river dam. AFP photo

Egypt will demand Ethiopia stop constructing a dam on one of the main tributaries of the Nile, and has warned that “all options are open,” ramping up a confrontation over the project that Egypt fears will affect its main source of water.

Ethiopia set off alarm bells in Cairo last week when it began diverting the Blue Nile 500 meters from its natural course to construct a $4.2 billion hydroelectric project known as Grand Renaissance Dam.

Ethiopia has laid out plans to invest more than $12 billion in harnessing the rivers that run through its rugged highlands to become Africa’s leading power exporter. The high stakes involved were underlined when senior Egyptian politicians were caught on camera advising President Mohamed Morsi to take hostile action to stop the project, and one went as far as suggesting that Cairo destroy the dam.

Egypt, which has been involved in years of troubled diplomacy with Ethiopia and other upstream countries, said Ethiopia must now halt work on the dam. Presidential adviser Pakinam El Sharkawy said Egypt would demand that the upstream country end its construction of the dam.

The presidency has said the dam is a “national security” issue for Egypt. “Demanding of Ethiopia to stop construction of the dam it intends to build on the Blue Nile will be our first step,” she said. “The national committee that will be formed to deal with this issue will determine the steps that Egypt has to take.” Approaching the issue even more firmly than Sharkawy, Ayman Ali, one of Morsi’s advisers said “it is Egypt’s right to defend its interests.” “There must be guarantees that the Ethiopian dam will not harm Egypt, otherwise all options are open,” he said.

HDN ‘Destroy dam’

Younis Makhyoun, leader of the Salafi al-Nour party, was filmed saying Egypt should back rebels in Ethiopia or, as a last resort, destroy the dam. The centerpiece of the plan is the Grand Renaissance Dam being built in the Benishangul-Gumuz region bordering Sudan. Now 21 percent complete, it will eventually have a 6,000 megawatt capacity, equivalent to six nuclear power plants.

Secretary General of the Egyptian Engineers’ Union Ali Abdurrahim, meanwhile, called on Cairo to think over the utilization from the opportunities that the dam will create. “In the event of the dam being built, Egypt won’t lose its share from the Nile due to sharing. The Nile’s water is protected by international law.”

Egypt believes more studies are needed on the dam’s impact on its water supply, which is almost dependent on the Nile.

Countries that share the river have argued over the use of its waters for decades - and analysts have warned that the disputes could boil over into war. Egypt believes its “historic rights” to the Nile are guaranteed by two treaties from 1929 and 1959, which allow it 87 percent of the Nile’s flow and give it veto power over upstream projects. But a new deal was signed in 2010 by other Nile Basin countries, including Ethiopia, allowing them to work on projects without Cairo’s prior agreement.