19 February 2014

Renaissance Dam: Diplomatic Problems with Egypt/Ethiopia Relations - some believe Egypt working to halt construction

Is Egypt Working to Stop Ethiopia Building Renaissance Dam?

I hesitate to repost speculation, rather than facts about diplomatic relations between Ethiopia and Egypt, but I was alerted to an article talking about Egyptian and Ethiopian diplomatic failures, though the quoted officials indicate that talks will continue. I personally think it is too soon to assume that Egypt is going to try to halt progress of Renaissance Dam. The dam is so popular in Ethiopia, that this would be a strange strategic move on behalf of Egypt - Ethiopia has a formidable military and spirit behind this project. But, this article on Al-Monitor suggests that an anonymous source has leaked information pertaining to Egypt's attempt to stop Ethiopia's development plans.

Egypt is said to be seeking international support for the halt of the dam. Part of this is coming from the statement in the article that Ethiopia has not guaranteed Egypt will experience no impact. As far as I understand international treaties, and I am not a lawyer, Ethiopia is in its legal right to develop this dam. And as far as I understand the hydrology - Lake Nasser, evaporation rates ignored, contains 2 years worth of Nile water storage.

Here is the elephant in the room. There are water issues within Egypt that are not addressed. Water is political in Egypt. If you are a small scale farmer, your water rights may be passed up for some commercial concession. What about all that cotton? Egypt is planning to channel water out of Lake Nasser to farming efforts in the desert. It is not the problem of the small scale farmer in Egypt that will suffer because of Renaissance dam. This is already a domestic political problem. It is Egyptian GDP on all the products made commercially from the Nile River waters. Threaten the national economy, threaten the political stability. Egypt's political stability? Tenuous at best. The water use and distribution of the river is not discussed enough. People keep pointing to the problem - 80 million dependent Egyptians - don't touch the water! Don't change the system. But also, don't look at the man behind the curtain here - what is the system we are really talking about?

It reminds me of the population control arguments in carrying capacity discussions. Some people say that population is the problem with limited resources, some people say it is the distribution of these limited resources to a select type of population, namely, the USA - consumption capital of the world.

The Nile River is a poster child for sediment transport changes to delta areas - the Nile went to virtually zero sediment transport once Aswan was commissioned. This means that no material is regenerating space in the delta - and combined with sea-level rise - this is eating up habitat and land, allowing for salt intrusion, subsidence, and other physical changes to the system. There are about 50 million Egyptians living in between Cairo and Alexandria. Sediment loss is a huge problem for these people for the reasons listed. Nevermind the loss of flood recession agriculture, loss of nutrients carried within the sediment.

So much involved in this discussion that never gets addressed. Instead we are all focused on this macro-scale political diplomacy and if Egypt and Ethiopia will go to war. To avoid war, there are many avenues, not currently being explored, for discussion. Communication is the only sane way to move forward. I hope the countries continue to communicate on these issues, and expand the discussion to include different scales of challenges - the local subsistence farmers, the cities that depend on the water for municipal supply, the commercial farms important for national economies...