By Muhammad Abdul Monsef
A televised meeting between ousted President Mohamed Morsi and other political parties regarding Ethiopia’s announcement that they would divert the Nile to build the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) was the cause of a big diplomatic faux pas.
The Minister of Water Resources and Irrigation for the El-Beblawi government, Dr Mohamed Abdul Muttalib, ruled out escalation with Ethiopia as a means solve the dam crisis. In an interview with Al-Borsa he said: “The ministry is considering plans and projects to find alternatives to supply water since Egypt’s water deficit has reached 23 billion cubic metres. This deficit will be compensated through treating agricultural waste water and reusing it for agricultural purposes.”
Abdul Muttalib said: “Egypt is prepared to help administrate the electricity produced by the GERD, connect it to the national electrical grid, and participate in [the] administrating of the dam. Egypt will also provide expertise in health care, education, agricultural development and increase the size of Egyptian investments in Ethiopia in exchange for the implementation of the technical council’s suggestions regarding the dam; specifically, reducing its storage capacity and increasing filling period so as not to affect Egypt’s share of the water.”
Egypt suffers from a water shortage of more than 23 billion cubic metres a year. Egypt receives 55.5 billion cubic metres from the Nile, which represents more than 95% of Egypt’s water resources, and consumes nearly 78.5 billion cubic metres. Egypt will reduce this gap by reusing irrigation water more than once, after mixing the water with irrigation waste water.
According to the minister, the irrigation ministry is currently examining increasing Egypt’s share of the Nile through implementing projects to utilise water losses in upstream states. The Baro-Akobo project on the Blue Nile in Ethiopia could provide 12 billion cubic metres of water to be split between Ethiopia, Egypt, and Sudan and the Jonglei Canal project would provide 7 billion cubic metres to be split between Egypt and North and South Sudan.
The Nile river basin nations receive an annual rain fall of 1,660 billion cubic metres, which, according to the Egyptian Minister of Water Resources and Irrigation, is sufficient for the 370 million people living in the region if resources are properly managed between the nations.
The Minister of Water Resources also formed a technical committee to re-evaluate the necessary investments to execute the West Delta projects to establish an agriculture canal from the Al-Nasser water channel to the lower Bahiri water channel and the railroad. This project would irrigate lands west of the Cairo-Alexandria desert road, 100,000 feddans on both sides of the Wadi El-Natrun-Al-Alamein Road, 70,000 feddans west of Sadat city, and 255,000 feddans on both sides of the Cairo-Alexandria desert road, between 50 and 90 km.
“The agricultural canal project will be built in several phases, the first of which costs EGP 1bn. This will be funded by foreign loans that will be repaid in full, including interest and adjusted for inflation, by the farm owners benefiting from the canal over the next twenty years. The role of the ministry is limited to supporting and helping the private sector with lending agencies,” said the minister. He added that there are 2,216 farms covering 177,000 feddans that have welcomed this plan.
73% of the area that will be served by the planned irrigation canal is held by small farms (less than 50 feddans), 17% is held by medium farms (between 50 and 250 feddans) and 5% by large farms (exceeding 250 feddans). This represents 93,000 feddans, which comprises 53% of the land area targeted under these projects.
The water resources ministry obtained permission from the World Bank to apply for loans equaling $145m in addition to $35m in loans from the French Development Agency to implement the project. However, the World Bank withdrew the loans due to the reluctance of construction companies to bid on the project. Only one company submitted a bid. The project could not be awarded, as this violated Egyptian laws regarding bids and auctions.
Dr Abdul Muttalib said: “The current economic revenue from this region is valued at EGP 3bn every year, EGP 2m of which comes from agricultural exports, in addition to providing 250,000 [full time] jobs and another 250,000 seasonal jobs.”
The land west of the Cairo-Alexandria desert road depends entirely on groundwater irrigation. However, the groundwater table in this region has begun decreasing drastically and many wells have shown signs of salinisation.
In Upper Egypt, the Minister of Water Resources referred to a massive ongoing project to build a new Assiut barrage. The ministry will spend EGP 800m each year until its opening, upon which the installation will produce 32 megawatts of electricity, which represents a yearly return of EGP 100m, in addition to raising the load capacity from 20 tonnes to 70 tonnes.
The consortium that controls Orascom Construction Industries (OCI), the French company Vinci, and the Arab Contractors Company won a $300m contract for the civil works on the new barrage and the 32 megawatt hydro-electric power station in Assiut.
The new Assiut Barrage project will help increase the gross national product and agricultural production of 20% of the national agricultural lands, an area of 1.650 million feddans. It will also provide clean electric energy through a 32 megawatt hydroelectric power station and boost commercial shipping via the construction of a 4-lane, 70 tonne capacity bridge over the new Assiut Barrage connecting the East and West banks of the Nile. The new barrage can help increase economic returns from Egyptian crop yields by EGP 12bn in addition to supplying electricity for industrial production.
Set to open in 2017, the barrage will support Nile river transport, tourism, and commercial and touristic traffic on the Nile through two state of the art navigational locks. So far, 30% of the construction has been completed. Currently, a drainage system is being worked on, 39 pumps are being installed, and 71 of 112 ground wells have been dug.
The Water Resources and Irrigation Ministry hopes to put an end to violations that occur on the Nile. The ministry has opened bids to public and private sector companies for a beautification project along the western bank of the Nile between 11.8 and 12.75 km from Al-Rawda to Warraq Al-Hadar. The project would cover 19.5 feddans and cost EGP 17m. The project is yet to be awarded to a company.
The project includes building sewage lines, public parks, cafeterias and recreation centres. The Giza Governorate will be responsible for the renting and administration of these facilities, which will serve as a model to be repeated along the length of the Nile.
“We in the ministry intend to depend on the ministry’s 2013/2014 budget of EGP 3.5bn to execute the irrigation projects and limit the reliance on foreign loans. A number of stations have been established for mixing irrigation and waste water under the control of the mechanical and electric authority. There are eight such stations throughout the country. Instead of opening the project for bids to other companies, the authority will oversee these installations in exchange for 25% of revenues as incentives to their workers,” said Abdul Muttalib.
The ministry is currently considering feasibility studies from the governorates to determine priority irrigation projects, specifically the construction of pumping stations and drilling ground wells. This will allow the governorates to obtain the necessary loans to implement irrigation projects in their respective areas.
The Water Resources and Irrigation Ministry seeks to dig a number of wells in the New Valley Governorate in the south-west region of the country by 2014 at a cost of EGP 40m, including 8 wells in the Kharga Oasis, costing EGP 7m, to be executed by the Arab Contracting Drilling Company. The ministry also hopes to complete lining the waterways from oases in the Bahari region at a cost of EGP 3m, as well as waterways in the Dakhla Oasis and Farafra, at a cost of EGP 16m by mid-2014. They are currently completing the digging of 10 production wells in the Dakhla Oasis, Farafra, and Sharq Al-Owainat, at a cost of EGP 14m to end June 2014.
The minister considers the security breakdown the country has faced to be the main reason behind the postponement of many irrigation development projects, including a project to cover an area of 191,000 feddans in the western governorates of Kafr Al-Sheikh and Behaira. The project was set to be completed in 2014 at a cost of EGP 1.8bn; however, the security situation has prevented contractors from adhering to previously established timetables.