UN Watercourse Convention will come into force on 17 August 2014

By Hydropoletikakademi

May 31 2014

On 19 May 2014, Vietnam became the 35th party to the 1997 UN Convention on the Non-navigational Uses of International Watercourses. This means that on 17 August 2014, 90 days after that 35th ratification was deposited, the Convention will come into force.

Long in coming, the Convention’s success was never guaranteed. Adopted by the UN General Assembly in 1997, the Convention appeared set for ratification as 103 of the UN’s Member States voted in favor of it. Only three countries voted against – Burundi, China, and Turkey – while 27 nations abstained and 33 were absent from the vote. That vote, however, masked long-standing disagreements over how transboundary fresh water resources should be allocated and managed. In particular, upper and lower riparians disagreed between the primacy of the Convention’s cornerstone principles of equitable and reasonable use – favored by most upper riparians – and the doctrine of no significant harm – preferred by most lower riparians (for a more detailed analysis of the UNGA vote on the Convention, as well as the disparate interests, see my article).

Lackluster support in the years following the Convention’s inception suggested to some that the treaty was doomed to failure. More recently, though, the rate of ratifications more than doubled (18 in the first 12 years in comparison to 17 over the past five years). While that resurgence may have been due, in part, to the efforts of World Wildlife Fund (which in around 2009, added implementation of the Convention to its advocacy agenda), it also suggests a broadening recognition that nations have an obligation to cooperate over transboundary freshwater resources. Maybe it’s the threat of climate change, or concerns over dwindling domestic water resources. But, the fact that states are willing to bind themselves to the procedural and substantive norms of the Convention is a promising sign.


Map of State Parties to the UN Watercourses Convention

Entry into force of the Convention, though, is not the last word on the matter. In fact, this milestone raises as many new questions as existed leading to its implementation. For example, what does the geographic distribution of member states indicate for the global success of the treaty? Of the 35 ratifications, the vast majority are from either Africa (12) or Europe (16); only two ratifying parties are found in Asia and none come from the American hemisphere; five others are from the non-African Middle East region, albeit a total of eight MENA nations are now a party to the Convention. At the very least, this distribution suggests a certain geographic bias toward (and against) the Convention.

In addition, what will implementation of the Convention mean in practice? How will nations implement its mandates within their borders and in relation to riparian neighbors? Why have nations in the Americas and Asia eschewed ratification? What does the entry into force of the Convention mean for the UNECE Water Convention, which is already in force in much of Europe and on 6 February 2013, opened its membership to the rest of the world? And, what will the Convention’s implementation mean for existing regional and local transboundary freshwater agreements?

In the coming weeks, the IWLP Blog will host a series of essays addressing many of these intriguing questions. We have invited some of the most knowledgeable scholars and practitioners to offer their perspectives on the Convention’s imminent entry into force as well as on its future. As part of this series, we invite you to participate in the conversation by submitting comments at the bottom of each essay and add your own perspectives and opinions to the discussion. As you formulate your thoughts, you might want to review a prior series hosted by the IWLP Blog and prepared by Dr. Alistair Rieu-Clarke and Ms. Flavia Loures (see here and here).

The entry into force of the Convention is a significant landmark development in the international community’s efforts to better and peacefully manage transboundary fresh water resources. Whether this achievement translates into improved and more peaceful cooperation is a future that has yet to be written.


Available at: http://www.hidropolitikakademi.org/en/un-watercourse-convention-will-come-into-force-on-17-august-2014.html



Atlantic Council on Conflict and Opportunity on the Nile

J. Peter Pham | June 19, 2013

Atlantic Council 

Last week, Ethiopia’s parliament unanimously ratified a treaty with five of its neighbors that opens the way for broad regional cooperation on the use of the waters of the Nile River. In response, Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi, whose government was not part of the pact, angrily declared that “all options are open,” implying that force might be used to prevent Ethiopia from completing a dam across the Nile’s main tributary that would be Africa’s largest hydropower project.

The Nile is the longest river in the world, with a length of over 6,650 kilometers from its remotest source in Burundi’s Luvironza River. Most of the water flowing through the great lakes of equatorial Africa to eventually form the White Nile is lost to evaporation in the Sudd, the vast swamp of southern Sudan. Thus by the time it joins the Blue Nile at Khartoum, the White Nile contributes barely 10 percent of the total flow. Together, the shorter Blue Nile, whose remotest source is the Felege Ghion spring held sacred by the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church, and the Nile’s other major tributary, the Atbara River, which likewise originates in the heart of the Ethiopian highlands near Lake Tana, account for nearly 90 percent of the water and over 95 percent of the sediment carried by the Nile proper. The combined drainage basin of these river systems covers one-tenth of the area of the African continent.

While the Nile has provided for the livelihoods of the peoples along its banks from time immemorial, rapidly expanding population (the slightly more than 400 million people who live in the river basin are expected to double in number by 2025) combined with industrialization and urbanization—to say nothing of the effects of climate change on Africa—will place unprecedented demands on the river’s fixed supply of water. This, in turn, has led to increased tensions between the eleven independent countries in the Nile Basin—Burundi, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Egypt, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya, Rwanda, South Sudan, Sudan, Tanzania, and Uganda—which together constitute the largest number of sovereign states in any river basin in the world. Each of these states has a distinct interest in the river’s waters as well as varying capacities to exploit the resource. The Egyptians, for example, rely on the river for more than 97 percent of their freshwater; as the late historian Robert O. Collins noted, “Without the annual flood of the Nile waters cascading down, Egypt would consist of only sand and rock and wind.”

Given this context and the fact that they currently also faced with a collapsed economy and growing restiveness among the populace, it is no surprise that Morsi and other politicians in Cairo would find it expedient to respond to the move by Ethiopia and its neighbors with nationalist rhetoric and threats of violence. At a certain level, bombast may be all they have.

First, insofar as it has a legal case at all, Egypt’s claims rests on rather weak foundations. During the colonial era, a May 1929 exchange of notes between Egyptian Prime Minister Muhammad Mahmoud Pasha and the British High Commissioner in Egypt, Lord Lloyd of Dolobran, stipulated that no projects affecting the Nile flow would be undertaken in Sudan, then under the Anglo-Egyptian “condominium,” or any other territory then under British rule without the agreement of the Egyptian government which asserted its “natural and historical rights” over the river. Following Sudan’s independence, that country signed the Nile Waters Agreement with Egypt in 1959, which allocated 55.5 billion cubic meters (bcm) of water annually to the Egyptians and 18.5 bcm to the Sudanese. The problem is these deals are probably legally null and void—which probably explains why no Egyptian government has ever submitted the Nile issue for even an advisory opinion from the International Court of Justice. After all, a bedrock principle of classical international jurisprudence is nemo dat quod non habet (“you cannot give what you do not have [or own]”). The lack of reference to other riparian countries and their interests leaves open the question of the Nile Agreement’s legal validity to bind any parties other than Egypt and Sudan which, moreover, contribute virtually nothing to the river’s flow. Ethiopia, the source of an overwhelming part of the Nile’s water, was never a party to either of the agreements, although it was an independent state at the time of both—in fact, at the time of the 1929 accord, Ethiopia had been a full member of the League of Nations for some six years, while Egypt, then under a quasi-protectorate, was not accepted into the organization as a full-fledge sovereign member of the international community until 1937. Moreover, Burundi, the Congo, Eritrea, and Rwanda, are likewise not parties to the accords, having been ruled by other colonial regimes—thus the British did not have any pretext by which to sign away the water rights of those territories.

Second, for all the talk in Cairo about not ruling out any options and the cottage industry that has cropped up to speculate about possible attacks against the $4.3 billion Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD), the Morsi regime’s threats are as empty as its treasury: quite simply, the Egyptian military does not have the aerial refueling capability for its aircraft to even make it into Ethiopian airspace, much less to inflict sufficient damage to stop work on the GERD project and then return home. (It is another matter entirely whether the Egyptian regime, unable to achieve its goals any other way, might resort to covert action, such as supporting and even arming dissident groups seeking the overthrow of the Ethiopian state, irrespective of their prospects for success. It is certainly possible to interpret along such lines the visit two weeks ago of a high-level Egyptian military delegation to Mogadishu where its members were reported to have expressed interest in equipping and training the latest Somali regime’s forces for possible action against the unrecognized, but de facto independent Republic of Somaliland—which, coincidentally, is one of landlocked Ethiopia’s vital accesses to the sea.)

Fortunately, despite the tensions, even as it was ratifying the new treaty with its upper riparian neighbors, the Ethiopian government went out of its way to reach out to downstream countries, including representatives from Sudan and Egypt as well as international members in the International Panel of Experts that recently reported on the impact of the GERD. This unprecedented openness on a question of core national interest is a most welcome development, as is the new agreement, reached on Tuesday following the Egyptian foreign minister Mohamed Kamel Amr’s visit to Addis Ababa, for the three countries to conduct further impact studies.

While the environmental, economic, political, and other benefits to be obtained through cooperation by the countries of the Nile is evident, before that comes about, a more satisfactory, permanent legal settlement of the dispute between Egypt, Sudan, and the upstream riparian states is needed. Thus the countries find themselves on the horns of a dilemma. The current water usage is unsustainable, but without a formal accord there can be no rational management, much less reallocation, of a resource whose ownership is so hotly contested. Increasingly, securing their access to water will be a vital component of the national security of the riparian states and, given the geostrategic significance of this subregion at the crossroad between the Middle East and Africa, all the more greater importance to global security in general.

Given the enormous stakes which it has in both Cairo and Addis Ababa, it behooves the United States to see the current conflict defused and the parties resolve their dispute through diplomatic negotiations. Thus far, however, there has been little political appetite in Washington for tackling a problem that does not seem to be immediate, even if the damage that US interests would suffer should two of America’s most important partners in Africa—Egypt and Ethiopia—come to blows is incalculable. This shortsightedness is even more regrettable given the significant opportunities for US diplomacy and American private-sector firms to help the two countries work together to develop the Nile as a whole—to say nothing about how such engagement would not only be the right thing to do by the peoples of the region, but also advantageous to the nation’s own security and global standing.

J. Peter Pham is director of the Atlantic Council’s Africa Center.

Ethiopia urges Nile nations to unite


2013-06-20 20:41

Juba – Ethiopia used a regional meeting Thursday aimed to promote co-operation over the Nile river to urge other nations to ratify a controversial water deal fiercely opposed by Egypt.

Addressing water ministers and officials from the 10-nation Nile Basin Initiative (NBI), Ethiopia’s Minister for Water and Energy Alemayehu Tegenu challenged Egypt’s historical majority control usage of the river water.

“We will not allow a single country to have full control over our shared resources,” Alemayehu said, speaking at the annual NBI conference held in Juba, the capital of its newest member South Sudan.

The countries have been embroiled in a heated row after Ethiopia began diverting the Blue Nile River last month for the construction of the 6 000MW Grand Renaissance Dam, sparking concern in Cairo about the impact on downstream water levels.

Ethiopia’s parliament last week was the first to ratify the NBI’s Co-operative Framework Agreement (CFA), a deal that replaces a colonial-era agreement that granted Egypt and Sudan the majority of water rights.

It allows upstream countries to implement irrigation and hydropower projects without first seeking Egypt’s approval.

“It is therefore my duty to call on all countries of the basin to finalise the process of ratification as soon as possible,” Alemayehu said, adding it was a “very critical time in the history of the Nile basin”.

Egypt and Sudan have not signed the agreement.

Ratfied by six

But in addition to Ethiopia, five other upstream nations have signed – Burundi, Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania and Uganda.

Democratic Republic of Congo and newly independent South Sudan have said they also would like to sign, although the deadline to sign the CFA deal expired in 2011.

The deal would come into effect once ratified by six states, but it is not clear how it would impact those states who choose to remain outside.

Ethiopia is building the €3.2bn Grand Renaissance Dam in order to generate electricity, including for export to neighbouring countries.

Ethiopia insists it will not hamper downstream flows.

It is set to become Africa’s biggest hydroelectric dam, with completion earmarked for 2017, and is being funded entirely from internal resources.

Politics over Nile waters are complex, with its basin including 10 countries and the river travelling some 6 695km from headwaters in Rwanda and Burundi to the Mediterranean, according to the NBI.

Water: Battle of the Nile

For those of you not accessing the Article from FT here it is. But read it cautiously.


By Katrina Manson and Borzou Daragahi

Financial Times (FT) 

June 19, 2013 6:35 pm

Ethiopia’s $4.8bn plan to dam Africa’s longest river has infuriated states downstream
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The master of ceremonies was not holding back. “Now is the time for our renaissance!” he boomed. “[This is] part of the continual dream of reclaiming our greatness.”

Behind him, a coral-brown gash had been cut into the green hillside. Yellow Caterpillar earthmoving trucks rumbled across the construction site while the assembled dignitaries stood under a glaring sun, fanning themselves with brochures promoting the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Damproject.

The Blue Nile streams through the moved earth, rushing towards Sudan 14km farther west, then onwards to Egypt and the Mediterranean. If the Ethiopians have their way, $4.8bn of concrete and engineering works will cover these foundations within the next four years, damming the Nile and generating 6,000 megawatts – much of it for export. Apart from producing electricity, the dam would realise a centuries-old dream of east Africans: mastering the mighty Nile.

But the river – and Ethiopia’s costly effort to dam it – is also at the heart of a regional dispute. The issue has inflamed national rivalries and deepened a diplomatic conflict between Egypt and Ethiopia that reflects a shift in power between a resurgent sub-Saharan Africa and weakened Arab states to the north. It is a struggle over water resources that has elicited threats of proxy wars and missile attacks and raised fears of economic meltdown.

“Until recent times, there were these colonial treaties to guarantee Egypt most of the water,” says Dan Morrison, author of The Black Nile . “Then came decades of war and famine in Upper Nile states. There were no opportunities to develop. Now these countries are at peace and are developing and Egypt has not been prepared over the past few years to acknowledge that they have a seat at the table.”

Ethiopian officials from the prime minister to the lowliest bureaucrat repeat the mantra that the project is “win-win”. But Egyptians vehemently disagree. Several politicians were caught on live television in Cairo this month saying it might be better to bomb the dam or to arm Ethiopian guerrillas to pressure the government in Addis Ababa. Mohamed Morsi, president of Egypt, said in a later television appearance that “all options are open”.

Officials in Egypt, which relies on the Nile for power generation, irrigation, recreation and even its national identity, say repeatedly that Ethiopia may not take “a single drop” of Egypt’s share of the river.

Ethiopia, which has watched for centuries as Egypt has made use of the Nile – 86 per cent of which rises in Ethiopia’s highlands – is convinced the dam can revive an ancient civilisation that has been hollowed out by poverty and famine. Officials say the dam can make Ethiopia the biggest power exporter in Africa and transform it into a middle-income country.

Ethiopia’s is only the loudest and most tangible claim to the Nile’s resources. Ten countries make up its basin, with 238m people reliant on its waters and verdant banks. Only Egypt and Sudan, however, claim exclusive rights to its use and object to anything that might affect the river.

“I think we feel [Egypt’s objection] is insane and . . . they have to see the benefit of [the dam],” says Hailemariam Desalegn, Ethiopia’s prime minister. “They just want to see that they are the only owner of the Nile river, while Ethiopia contributes 86 per cent of the water.”

Egypt’s dominance of the Nile is rooted in the region’s colonial past. In 1929, Cairo and Sudan’s British colonial ruler exchanged two letters that recognised Egypt’s “historical and natural rights” over the Nile.

Three decades later, as Egypt sought to secure water for its own hydroelectric dam at Aswan, it signed a treaty with then-independent Sudan divvying up use of the Nile solely between the two.

“It’s an agreement, an international agreement. International agreements are valid for ever,” a senior Egyptian diplomat told the Financial Times.

. . .

Since it was never party to the agreements, Ethiopia argues it is not breaking any law. Today the eight upstream riparian countries are trying to secure more “equitable” access to the Nile as part of a 14-year negotiation among water ministers with support from the Nile Basin Initiative, backed by the World Bank. When Ethiopia, Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania and Uganda signed the Cooperative Framework Agreement in 2010, it was staunchly opposed by Egypt – which twice delayed proceedings from 2007 – and Sudan. When Burundi added its signature in 2011, it gave the agreement the two-thirds majority it needed to go ahead, but not all parties have ratified the treaty.

Ethiopia has ploughed ahead with its mission against what has been termed “waterlordism”. More than 4,500 contractors are working on the project. Miheret Debebe, chief executive of Ethiopian Electric Power Corporation, says that construction is “nearly 21 per cent complete”.

This month experts from Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan delivered their findings on the likely impact of the dam on the three countries. It was an attempt for private dialogue to supplant public controversy. So far Ethiopia has said it is satisfied with their work but Egypt says Addis Ababa has not provided enough information and that more research on the effects of the dam is needed.

“The water is enough for all of us and we have no intention at all to harm significantly Egypt or Sudan,” says Mr Hailemariam. “We have to co-operate.”

Egyptian officials say they have offered Ethiopia a number of counterproposals to the Grand Renaissance project. Khalid Wassif at the ministry of water resources and irrigation says his government has urged Ethiopia to build three or four smaller dams instead. He says he also proposed the idea of joint management of the project by Addis Ababa, Cairo and Khartoum.

“In general, we are ready for negotiations and discussions and we are not against benefit to Ethiopia on the one condition [that they do] not harm the current water flow,” says Mr Wassif.

This latest development in Nile dynamics might say more about a shift in regional politics than it does about competing claims to a finite environmental resource.

“This is about Egypt being weakened and Ethiopia becoming stronger in comparison,” says Cleo Paskal, a water security expert at Chatham House, the London think-tank.

Politicians close to Mr Morsi, who has faced stiffening opposition to his Islamist government’s policies, have been whipping up fears of losing access to the Nile to unify a fragmented public.

“Morsi is being seen as incompetent and ineffectual, and his enemies are looking to get him,” says Salman Salman, a Sudanese former World Bank adviser who is now a fellow at the International Water Resources Association in Paris. “There is nothing stronger than the Nile. In the past it was Israel. The Nile is the one thing that can bring all Egyptians together.”

Many Egyptians also accuse Ethiopia and other Upper Nile states of exploiting the power vacuum that followed the January 2011 uprising. Ethiopia announced enhanced plans for the dam just weeks after the protests began in Tahrir Square, Cairo.

In Ethiopia, the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam is a national obsession that is emptying the nation’s pockets. The dam is costing the government $800m a year, a 10th of the national budget.

Every civil servant, most earning monthly wages of less than $100, gives a month’s salary to a national bond to fund it. The civil servant donations are part of the national push driven by the memory of Meles Zenawi, the late prime minister who championed the project and expanded it as Egypt fell apart.

“They give you the option for a bond with interest or without interest – in the end it’s not really a choice,” says a business owner. Broadcasts show bus drivers, pensioners and schoolchildren at grand dinners abroad giving up cash for the project. The nationwide campaign has raised about $300m, says Bereket Simon, head of fundraising.

“This is a voluntary act of citizens – people are contributing to the project out of their meagre revenues,” says Mr Bereket. “This has been a dream for every Ethiopian for thousands of years.” But contributions are slowing down.

The $4.8bn cost – combined with a lack of donor support for the project – may slow down the construction. So far it has garnered only 15 per cent of the financing and the International Monetary Fund says Ethiopia should slow spending because it is sucking money out of the rest of the economy.

Slowing down construction could ease regional tensions. And the impact on Lower Nile countries might be minimised if Ethiopia extends the period for water collection in the reservoir from the seven years now planned to between 15 and 20 years, say scientists.

. . .

But even without international financing, Ethiopia might still pull it off. “In the long run this is what will transform the Ethiopian economy,” says Donald Kaberuka, African Development Bank president. The Grand Renaissance dam project “is really a model. They’ve approached power from the viewpoint of energy security but also as an export sector”.

Salini, an Italian contractor, signed a €3.35bn contract in 2011 for the project, touted as the largest dam in Africa. But Mr Miheret of Eepco says it will be one of the cheapest hydropower projects in the world, and will finance itself by generating small amounts of power from 2015. Ethiopia started exporting power to Sudan and Kenya this year, in addition to Djibouti, aiming for $100m in sales of about 170MW this year, up from $35m last year.

In the longer term, competition for a finite regional resource will probably necessitate a painful economic overhaul. Even if Egypt were to maintain its rights to the Nile it may run out of water because of domestic population growth and the use of large amounts for cotton and rice production. It is already recycling water from its allocation while Sudan claims it is not using its full quota.

A solution to the stand-off may lie in a co-operative, negotiated regional approach to water management as advocated by the Nile Basin Initiative. This week, Mohamed Kamel Amr, Egypt’s foreign minister, attempted to cool the rhetoric and spoke of a potential deal during a joint press conference with Tedros Adhanom, his Ethiopian counterpart, in Addis Ababa.

But a piecemeal approach will not resolve the deeper regional imbalances. “This colonial-era paradigm is locking conflict into the system,” Ms Paskal says. “Unless it’s broken out of, it will just get worse and worse.”

. . .

International law: Egyptian response muddies the legal waters

When Egypt finally awoke to the reality that Ethiopia was building a dam on the Nile – billed as the largest in Africa – its politicians cried foul. But they also cited a relatively novel concept that puzzled and alarmed seasoned observers: water security, writes Borzou Daragahi.

“Egypt’s water security cannot be violated at all,” Mohamed Morsi, Egypt’s president, said in a television appearance this month.

Jurists, diplomats and scholars have long wrestled with rights afforded to nations along waterways. They have generally struggled to reconcile two legal concepts: the equitable and reasonable distribution of water with an obligation not to harm other riparian states.

“We, the lawyers, have been struggling over how to work out something in the middle between the two,” says Salman Salman, an international water expert and former World Bank adviser on the Nile.

In the dispute over construction of the Grand Ethiopia Renaissance Dam project, Egyptians point to Upper Nile nations’ obligation to do no harm while Addis Ababa naturally clings to the right of equitable and reasonable distribution.

Ethiopia may be able to take heart from precedent, at least as far as international law is concerned. Mr Salman and other jurists point to a landmark case along the Danube river involving Hungary and Slovakia.

The International Court of Justice ruled in 1997 that both countries had breached their obligations, but that Bratislava’s insistence on its share of the river’s resources, in constructing the Gabcikovo-Nagymaros dam project, trumped Budapest’s worries about the potential harm it could do.

That may explain why Egypt felt the need to argue the concept of water security, which Mr Salman says muddies the waters (so to speak) by bringing in a third legal concept.

But “water security” also carries military and national security connotations, ratcheting up tensions in a region already rife with conflict, warlords and weapons. For, while a nation might be able to share water resources, what government would compromise on its people’s “water security”?

South Sudan set to sign new Nile agreement

New treaty would replace colonial-era law that gave Egypt control of most of the Nile as power dynamics shift in region.

Last Modified: 20 Jun 2013 09:44

South Sudan is set to sign an agreement that would replace a colonial-era law that gave most of the River Nile’s waters to Egypt and Sudan, local media have reported.

The signing of the Cooperative Framework Agreement of the Nile Basin countries, sometimes known as the Entebbe agreement, is likely to be signed and ratified at the Nile Water Summit in Juba on Thursday.

Paul Mayom Akec, South Sudan’s Minister of Irrigation and Water Resources, said earlier in the week that the signing of the agreement was “inevitable”.

“The process of joining the agreement has started at all levels of the state apparatus in South Sudan,” Akec stated in a press conference on Wednesday.

Akec said South Sudan would implement the agreement as soon as parliament ratifies it.

If signed, South Sudan will be the seventh riparian country to sign the agreement on sharing the Nile waters.

Six other countries have already signed the agreement: Ethiopia, Rwanda, Tanzania, Uganda, Kenya and Burundi.

Prosperity and welfare

Akec said South Sudan would benefit from the agreement by using the Nile River water to construct projects that will bring “prosperity and welfare to its citizens”.

Akec’s statement comes after Mohamed Bahaa al-Din, the Egyptian minister of water and irrigation, said that the agreement was not binding on Egypt, unless and until it became a signatory.

Egypt will only sign the agreement once they were able to settle a few points of contention, al-Din said.

On Tuesday, the Egyptian and Ethiopian foreign ministers met in Addis Ababa to discuss their recent row over a hydroelectric dam being constructed by Ethiopia.

The countries have been embroiled in a heated dispute after Ethiopia began diverting the Blue Nile River last month for the construction of the 6,000 megawatt Grand Renaissance Dam.

About 86 percent of Nile water flowing to Egypt originates from the Blue Nile out of Ethiopia, and Cairo has said the construction of the dam is a security concern

In a joined statement, the Ethiopian and Egyptian foreign ministers decided on another round of talks between ministers and experts in a few weeks to further discuss the dam’s effect, if any, on Egypt’s Nile water sharing.

The 1929 Nile Water agreement gave Egypt 66 percent control over the general management and usage of the Nile waters.

Egypt’s subsequent deal with Sudan in 1959 divided the Nile waters between the two countries with Egypt entitled to 55.5bn cubic metres of a total of 74bn after evaporation.

This, however, is being opposed by the Nile Basin Initiative (NBI) member countries and, according to the controversial treaty, Ethiopia will be able to build developmental projects along the Nile without prior consent from Egypt.

Established in 1999, the NBI serves as a forum through which member state seeks to develop the River Nile in a cooperative manner, share substantial socio-economic benefits and promote regional peace and security.


The Nile belongs to Ethiopia too

THe following is an article by Maaza Mengiste on the Guardian. Her way of narrating the symbolic value of Abbay-the Nile and its attachment to the identities of riparian states-mainly Egypt and Ethiopia is a wonderful take. I like the way she write. But i have to say that here phrase  “The project will divert the flow of the river and give Ethiopia greater access.” is not informed by the purpose of the dam and its uses. The GERD is a hydroelectric dam and it will only be used for that purpose. Besides this no water will be diverted anywhere as Maaza speculates.


Maaza Mengiste 

The Guardian, Wednesday 19 June 2013 19.45 BS

The increasing tensions with Egypt over the proposed dam reveal how fundamental the river is to both nations’ identity

Tensions between Egypt and Ethiopia have grown at an alarming rate since Addis Ababa announced its plans to construct the Grand Renaissance dam across part of the Nile. The project will divert the flow of the river and give Ethiopia greater access.

Egypt claims the dam could lower the river’s level in a country that is mainly desert, and reduce cultivated farmland. President Mohamed Morsihas called the river “God’s gift to Egypt”, and the country’s politicians claim the reduced water flow could prove catastrophic. An Ethiopian government spokesman, Getachew Reda, says none of Egypt’s worries are scientifically based, and that “some of them border on … fortune-telling”.

As the debate continues, I am reminded of an encounter between my mother and an Egyptian man one afternoon in New York. My mother was visiting from Addis Ababa and we decided to go to a pizzeria. One customer, an Egyptian, recognised us as Ethiopians. After brief introductions, he made a passing comment about the age-old conflict between our countries over the Nile. My mother calmly stated there was no conflict: the Nile was ours. The man was not amused. What followed degenerated into verbal sparring that ricocheted between “historic right”, ancient civilisations and colonial-era treaties. Finally, my mother, frustrated, claimed full ownership of the river – and he did the same. It wouldn’t have ended if the pizza hadn’t arrived.

The Nile, at 6,700km, is the longest river in the world. It begins in Ethiopia and ends in Egypt. It moves counter to what one might expect, flowing upwards on the map. This, as much as anything, reflects the river’s mythological dimensions. It defies logic, its identity is as much a product of poetry as politics. Homer, in The Odyssey, called the body of water “Aegyptus, the heaven-fed river“. The name alone gave Egypt symbolic rights, and bestowed religious qualities upon the water. Despite the fact that 85% of the Nile originates in Ethiopia, we still associate the river with Cleopatra and King Tut, with pyramids and the sphinx, with sophisticated belief systems and advanced scientific knowledge. The Nile is a metaphor for Egypt. It is a geographic location as much as it is shorthand for one of the most innovative moments in world history. In popular imagination, it is as far removed from poverty as one can get. It is the opposite of devastation and privation.

Perhaps what my mother and the Egyptian man were arguing for was an exclusive cultural identity that was synonymous with the Nile’s rich past. Perhaps he didn’t realise he was fighting for something he already had, or maybe he was trying to defend what he knew wasn’t entirely his. Despite being the source for much of the Nile’s water, Ethiopia uses very little of it. By asserting Ethiopia’s ownership of the river in such a sweeping and unequivocal manner, maybe my mother was trying her best to redefine what the country had become to westerners: the barren land of begging children and dying cattle. This was not the life she had known – nor had it been mine. Maybe she wasn’t decrying a historic wrong as much as trying to co-opt it. Both of them were too mired in pride and nationalism to find a way towards common ground.

Tourists like to speak of Ethiopia as a country of contrasts, as a place where time has stood still. They point to quaint hillside villages and farmers ploughing with oxen, they wave at children in ragged clothes, and photograph women bent beneath bundles of firewood. Somehow this represents a kind of existence free of the hassles of modernity. It feels old, in the way of our oldest stories, and somehow more authentic. But tucked behind those sentimentalised visions of an unfettered life are harsh realities. For as much progress as Ethiopia has made economically in recent years, an overwhelming majority of the population, particularly in the rural areas, still has no access to electricity.

Ethiopia is vulnerable to drought and climate change. It has unpredictable distribution of water. The country’s “timelessness” has something to do with the lack of access to basic necessities. There is nothing romantic about this. The dam would generate electricity. It could produce surplus energy for export to neighbouring countries. And controlling water flow in the Nile could bring improved irrigation and water distribution.

Last week Morsi promised to “defend each drop of Nile water with our blood”. The language emerging from the two nations evokes epic poetry; the clash of gods in the guise of men.

On a recent trip to Ethiopia, I travelled to Bahir Dar, a picturesque city close to the Blue Nile. I was eager to see this great river, to come as close to its point of origin as I could. As I crossed a bridge, a companion pointed eagerly to a group of young boys playing in a trickling stream of water. “There,” he said, almost shouting. “That’s our Nile!”

I looked out of the window, surprised. Not by the boys, but by the ordinariness of it all. There was nothing grand or mythic in this snapshot of daily life, but it contained everything that was most important about the debate. Regardless of our poetic allusions and historic references, when we talk about the Nile, we are talking about water: a fundamental right for all people, regardless of geography.

Egypt and Ethiopia agree to bridge dam divide

Aljazeera on the discussions between FMs of Ethiopia and Egypt

Foreign ministers try to quell tensions over Ethiopia’s plans to divert Blue Nile in controversial dam project

Last Modified: 18 Jun 2013 11:39

amr and teddrosEthiopia and Egypt have agreed to hold further talks on the impact of a huge Ethiopian dam project to quell tensions between the two countries over water-sharing.

“We agreed that we will start immediately on consultations at both the technical level… and the political level,” Egyptian Foreign Minister Mohamed Kamel Amr told reporters after meetings in Addis Ababa with his Ethiopian counterpart Tedros Adhanom on Tuesday.

The countries have been embroiled in a heated row after Ethiopia began diverting the Blue Nile River last month for the construction of the 6,000 megawatt Grand Renaissance Dam.

Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi had warned earlier that “all options are open” over construction of the dam because of concerns about the impact on downstream water levels.

But Amr and Tedros said relations between the two countries remain “brotherly” and that they will continue engaging on the impact of the dam.

Amr said previous statements had been made “in the heat of the moment”.

‘Swim together’

“Both ministers stressed the need to continue the dialogue and communication with each other,” they said in a joint statement.

We have two options, either to swim or sink together. I think Ethiopia chooses, and so does Egypt, to swim together.

Tedros Adhanom, Ethiopia FM

“We have two options, either to swim or sink together. I think Ethiopia chooses, and so does Egypt, to swim together,” Tedros said.

An international panel has issued a report outlining the dam’s impact on water levels.

The report has not been made public, but Ethiopia has said the report confirms that the impact on water levels are minimal.

Both nations agreed to “ask for further studies to ascertain the effects of the dam, not only the safety of the dam, the environmental effects, but also the effects of the dam on the downstream countries,” Amr said, adding that consultations involve Sudan as well as Ethiopia and Egypt.

Some 86 percent of Nile water flowing to Egypt originates from the Blue Nile out of Ethiopia, and Cairo has said the construction of the dam is a security concern.

Ethiopia’s parliament ratified a controversial treaty last week ensuring its access to Nile water resources, replacing a colonial-era agreement that granted Egypt and Sudan the majority of water rights.

Biggest hydroelectric dam

The new deal allows upstream countries to implement irrigation and hydropower projects without first seeking Egypt’s approval.

Ethiopia is building the $4.2bn Grand Renaissance Dam in order to generate electricity for export to neighbouring countries, including Kenya and Djibouti.

The Blue Nile joins the White Nile in the Sudanese capital Khartoum to form the Nile, which then flows through Egypt.

Politics over Nile waters are complex, with its basin including 11 countries with the river travelling some 6,695 km from headwaters in Rwanda and Burundi to the Mediterranean, according to the regional Nile Basin Initiative (NBI).

Ministers from the 10-nation NBI are due to meet Thursday in the South Sudanese capital Juba for annual talks “on the status of the Nile cooperation and how to move it forward”, according to a statement from the organisation.