Water remains sensitive and key for Egypt (and presumably Sudan). I just returned from a trip in Egypt as a tourist. Traveling along the Nile it is quite evident to me how important the riparian land is for local farmers and local economics in Upper Egypt. Outside of the megacity of Cairo, the land turns green and fertile. Although the Nile floods ceased after High Aswan was commissioned in the 70s, soil experts suggest that there is about 30 meters of good soil left on the banks of the river. I am curious to better understand how long such soils last when not being replenished with nutrients and sediment deposited by floodwaters. Can the Egyptian government engineer its way out of the challenge posed by the loss of the fertile input in a natural system that sustained civilizations going back thousands of years? The benefits of damming the Nile are evident - electricity for one, but also a control of flood events and a consistent flow for higher crop yields. Still, Egypt has to import a large percentage of food consumed domestically. In the South, the main crop appears to be sugar cane. The meat consumed by tourists is flown in from Brazil. One local remarked that if Egyptians fed the tourists on local meat, there'd be nothing left for the local population. I imagine that the locals would be priced out as well.
There is a phenomena of locals selling their arable land in and around Cairo/Giza on the canals and river for building rather than keeping it for farming. Apparently locals make more money selling the land off to wealthy city folks for building rather than using the land to produce crops. This practice is happening sometimes illegally and buildings often remain unfinished to avoid paying taxes. Irrigation rights and distribution is decided centrally in Cairo for the country's 80 million or so people living along the river. Outside of the major urban centers, tourism related work and farming appear to be the only widespread income options.
The Western desert water project in Egypt is in an unknown status as Sisi focuses on a new canal project parallel to the Suez. I'd suggest that though we can feel encouraged and even inspired by how well the regional governments are responding to change and challenges of water sharing on the Nile, when it comes to water resources, a closer examination of how water is allocated is necessary. This is an issue of scale and system dynamics. The 11 Nile countries cooperating on releasing economic, agricultural, geographic, and general water resources information (data sharing agreements) will be a next step in Nile water resources management. I hope this follows on the heels of high level diplomatic relations of large scale water resources.
Anyway, enjoy the update on Nile negotiations and please do check out the work of some of the experts quoted in the article. Especially, if you like policy discussions, check out the new book release by Mwangi S. Kimenyi.
The deal, which still needs to be approved by the heads of state of Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan, appears to be an important breakthrough, observers say - although details of the agreement have not yet been made public.
"This is significant in my view," Mwangi Kimenyi, a Brookings Institute fellow who co-authored a book on the need for a new legal regime on sharing Nile water, told Al Jazeera. "Any development in the sharing of Nile water that is based on negotiations between the stakeholders is a positive development."
The deal is important because it appears to mark a move away from Egypt's historical insistence on maintaining colonial-era agreements on water rights.
RELATED: Egypt to 'escalate' Ethiopian dam dispute
Last week's meetings were the latest in a series of diplomatic efforts to resolve a conflict that has at times escalated to threats of war between two countries viewed as anchors of stability at either end of the Nile: Egypt thirsty for water, Ethiopia hungry for economic development.
The foreign ministers and water ministers of Egypt, Ethiopia, and Sudan met in Khartoum last Tuesday for diplomatic and technical discussions over a large dam Ethiopia is constructing over a Nile tributary.
On Friday, Sudanese Foreign Minister Ali Karti told reporters: "A full agreement has been reached between our three countries on the principles of the use of the eastern Nile Basin and the Ethiopian Renaissance Dam."
Failure in construction of the dam will mean a failure for Ethiopia. By building this dam, we will develop this country.
Ethiopians believe the dam will transform their country, where only around one-third of the population has access to electricity, into a major electricity exporter to East Africa - raising living standards, spurring economic growth and leaving behind a history of drought and famine.
Ethiopians have invested heavily in the dam, buying government bonds to help raise the nearly $5bn needed and becoming advocates for its potential benefits.
"Failure in construction of the dam will mean a failure for Ethiopia," said Belachew Chekene Tesfa, an Ethiopian engineer based in the United Kingdom who works in the field of renewable energy.
Tesfa, a founder of Ethiopian International Professional Support for Abay (the Ethiopian name for the Nile), was inspired to form the group to promote the dam. "By building this dam, we will develop this country," he said.
Egypt, meanwhile, is concerned about the downstream effects. Heavily reliant on the Nile, Egyptians have long treated the river as a birthright, and for decades Egypt blocked upstream developments, relying on a "historic" right to Nile water codified in colonial-era treaties.
With a growing population and a water-hungry agricultural economy, Egypt will need an extra 21 billion cubic metres of water per year by 2050, on top of the 55 billion cubic metres it currently receives, Egypt's National Planning Institute believes.
RELATED: Ethiopia discards Egypt threats over Nile dam
Egypt has struggled to adapt to the new power dynamic as a determined Ethiopia has disregarded the colonial agreements - widely seen by upstream states as unfair for not including them - and proceeded with dam construction, irrespective of Egypt's objections.
The "game has changed. Egypt is playing catch-up", independent Nile expert Alan Nicol told Al Jazeera.
Egypt's opposition to the GERD - which, under former President Mohamed Morsi, escalated to threats of war - has softened since former army chief Abdel Fattah el-Sisi was elected president last May. On his first overseas trip as president, Sisi met Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn at the African Union summit in Malabo, Guineau Bissau last June.
Newly readmitted to the AU, Egypt achieved a further breakthrough when Ethiopia agreed to restart talks on the GERD, which had been stalled for months, and to form a bilateral committee on issues of mutual concern.
Further visits by Egyptian officials to Ethiopia followed. At a time when Egypt has been preoccupied with a low-level internal insurgency in Sinai, a stumbling economy and the threat of a failed state on its doorstep as Libya implodes, these visits pointed towards a renewed commitment to a diplomatic solution.
With the Nile's balance of power shifting towards Ethiopia, it has been incumbent on Egypt to overcome the mistrust resulting from decades of obstructive policies towards upstream Nile states.
Cooperation is the only way to prepare effectively for the Nile's future ebb and flow.
VIDEO: Egypt concerns rise over Ethiopian dam
Last week's announcement will allow Egypt to take home a victory, necessary after long claiming the upstream Nile development was an existential threat.
"It's kind of face saving," said Salman Salman, a Sudanese water law expert, who added: "now they realise the need to move beyond face saving to the real issues."
Others say the actual import of the agreement will depend on whether it includes concrete figures for the utilisation of the Nile's water. "I am hoping that the agreement will include actual data on the volumes of water that Ethiopia can use. That would be real evidence of a good arrangement," Kimenyi said.
Salman said he expected the deal to include an agreed period of time during which Ethiopia would fill the GERD's reservoir. Filling it more slowly would reduce the downstream impact on Egypt, he said. He also speculated that the deal could include an agreement for Ethiopia to export electricity to Egypt.
With rising demand for water, a cooperative approach between the Nile riparian states is the only viable long-term solution, Nicol added. "Cooperation is the only way to prepare effectively for the Nile's future ebb and flow."