Water ministry rejects new Nile agreement

Luiz Sanchez
4 Min Read
The Cairo governorate is looking forward to surveying the available lands of the Cairo Nile corniche in the first quarter of 2015 to be offered in public auction in order to pump new investments (DNE / FILE PHOTO / Laurence Underhill)

The Minister of Water Resources and Irrigation Mohamed Baha’a El-Din said on Saturday that Egypt will not be signing the Entebbe agreement with other Nile-Basin countries as the agreement in its current form is not suitable for downstream countries such as Egypt.

According to the State Information Services, the minister told the official Chinese news agency Xinhua that the Entebbe agreement is useless without Egypt and Sudan’s signatures.

China is investing in water development projects across several Nile Basin countries. Baha’a El-Din told China that any water project they fund must not have a negative effect on Egypt.

Historically Egypt has always had the largest share of the Nile water. In 1929 Egypt was ensured the lion’s share of the water by Britain and in 1959 Egypt and Sudan signed an agreement which guaranteed 55.5 billion cubic meters of water to Egypt annually, of the estimated 84 billion cubic metres.

The irrigation ministry spokesperson Khaled Wasif said that Egypt actually needs another 7bn cubic metres to cover a water shortage. The Entebbe agreement, Wasif said, does not touch the issue of water but nevertheless there are three contentious issues which the nations have not been able to resolve .

The first issue surrounds how decisions are made. The upstream nations want decisions to be taken by a majority vote, whereas Egypt is demanding consensus.

Wasif said: “Second, we need everyone to respect previous agreements. We have had our share of the water for thousands of years and we need to respect previous agreements made by Italy, Belgium, England and other countries that occupied Egypt and the Nile Basin countries.”

The third issue raised by Egypt surrounds the construction of water installations along the Nile: “We need to be informed before other nations install any water structure.” Wasif added that Egypt did not have to approve the construction, but it would need to be kept informed in order to determine what effect the construction could have on the water quota.

When the colonial agreement which guaranteed a majority of the water for Egypt was made, Egypt’s population far surpassed that of its upstream neighbours. Now however, countries such as Ethiopia and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) rival Egypt’s population, with an estimated 91m and 71m people respectively, although the DRC relies mostly on the Congo River.

Ethiopia, which supplies most of the Nile with its water, is technically not guaranteed any water from the colonial agreements. In an effort to deal with the unequal water distribution, the Nile Water Basin agreement was set up in 1999 by nine of the countries that share the Nile, including Egypt and Sudan. To further combat the monopoly on the water guaranteed by colonial treaties, a new agreement was drawn out in 2010, which Egypt and Sudan have not recognised.

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Luiz is a Brazilian journalist in Cairo @luizdaVeiga