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With Egypt's Hegemonic Impulses, No Amount of Negotiations Will Cut It

July 25 , 2020
By Lemma Teklehaimanot

The Nile River Basin has abundant water resources, which are selfishly exploited by Egypt, a country that prefers to pretend that it is a victim of scarcity. This imagined scarcity has its roots in Egypt’s stubborn view that the Nile is its sole property. It completely disregards the rights of other riparian countries to benefit from the Nile waters. The primary reason for this is Egypt’s insistence on hegemony and not its purported water shortage.

One does not have to look any further than Lake Nasser, impounded by the Aswan High Dam, and covering an area of about 6,500 square kilometres to make this point. The annual mean evaporation rate of the lake is 7.54mm a day, according to Egypt’s Water Resources & Irrigation Ministry, which amounts to 16 billion cubic metres of annual water loss.

Why should other countries be prohibited in the use of their natural resources when Egypt has the luxury of wasting close to a quarter of the storage of the lake behind the GERD just in evaporation every year?

The water that is lost in evaporation can irrigate millions of hectares of land and generate thousands of megawatts of power.

There is also the issue of floods during heavy rain seasons in the Ethiopian plateau. This could have been prevented if there was adequate storage in the upstream countries, especially in Ethiopia, which contributes the bulk of the Nile's water. As a result, a valuable resource is lost, which could have otherwise been used to generate electricity and could have irrigated many hectares.

Some Egyptian researchers acknowledge that adequate storage capacity could help store water during heavy rainfall years to protect the downstream areas from flooding, guaranteeing a more regulated flow throughout the year. The need for more storage to balance shortages during drought and provide flood protection during years of heavy rain is supported by the study, “Climate Change Predicted to Increase Flow Variability,” authored by Elfatih A. B. Eltahir and Mohamed Siam, in the Nature Climate Change journal.

Egypt is in denial of the view that dams are necessary for the survival and development of the Nile Basin and that the GERD is just one of them. To meet the current and future needs of the growing population of the region, water storage anywhere in the region is not a luxury for any country. Sooner or later, water in each of the riparian countries has to be stored and be used in a planned manner for the benefit of all.

Egypt thus has to learn to collaborate with the other riparian countries for its own sake. It has to start considering the necessity of coexisting with these countries to ensure water security in the long term. Even to this day, the nation refuses to recognise these countries as legitimate and serious stakeholders to be reckoned with.

But it is being forced to do that because these countries have needs and a growing and demanding population. They will begin using the water on the tributaries sooner or later, and this has already started with Ethiopia. The status quo is no more workable. Egypt has to respect the rights of the other riparian countries and has to stop rushing to the doors of other countries and institutions outside the region to prevent other riparian countries from exercising their legitimate rights.

Ethiopia is the source of over 80pc of the Nile water and is also well-placed to store the Nile water for its benefit. It is also a country for which the Dam is not a luxury - cultivable land has been swallowed by water and inhabitants have had to be relocated for the construction of the GERD. This is not to mention the billions of dollars that have been, and will continue to be, poured into the project.

In doing so, Egypt and Sudan will benefit immensely. They will be less impacted by sediment deposits and flooding and will receive a more regular flow of water throughout the year, and the effects of drought will be minimised. However, Ethiopia will undertake such a project, because it sees a future of prosperity for itself and the region at large. Ideally, the beneficiary countries should appreciate this vision, cooperate and maybe even share the costs.

It is only absurd that, under these circumstances, Egypt persists in being uncooperative. It is clear that - diplomatically or in terms of sustainable usage of the Nile’s resources - it is in its benefits to strike a mutually beneficial deal.

The problem, as it is in most cases, is politics. Egypt requires the continuation of its hegemonic utilisation of the Nile. It is an ambition that can only be satisfied by denying the needs of others; in the Nile’s case, it is a relatively economically strong country attempting to advance itself regionally to the detriment of poorer states.

Egypt has to get over this feeling and accept the fact that sustainability can only be guaranteed through equitable resource sharing – advice that countries around the world would be wise to follow.

Another problem keeping Egypt from striking a mutually beneficial deal is the fear of change; fear that the upstream countries would prosper and it cannot predict what would occur when they would have greater muscle regionally. It falls into this negative outlook, because it refuses to acknowledge that it would be a beneficiary of prosperity through peaceful coexistence, cooperation and integration of their economies.

To combat its hegemonic impulse and fear of the future, Egypt has to change its outlook and work on a meaningful, future-oriented regional cooperative platform. This comes with the acceptance of the riparian countries as equal partners and the promotion of common agendas.

Building and developing trust should come as the first step in this endeavour. Trust is the cornerstone of healthy relationships, be it between individuals, groups or countries. With trust, we would be talking more about abundance instead of scarcity, collaboration would take centre stage, and optimism would fill the air.

No doubt, legal instruments binding the relationships need to be put in place so that no party would attempt to take advantage of the healthy climate and opportunities that trust brings along with it. But there are few substitutes for goodwill, peaceful dialogue and negotiation, and the principle of fair give and take.

All this will bear results if the leaders are sincere and the citizens are well-informed about issues. The people of the Nile Basin can only be served best if their leaders are sincere and keep them well-informed. Leaders looking for shortcuts and lacking vision would only delay future catastrophes, and they should not be allowed a free ride.

With leaders bold enough to overcome hegemonic impulses and fear of future change and willing to promote trust and respect of each others' rights, the Basin could be more prosperous if resources were shared more equitably.

PUBLISHED ON Jul 25,2020 [ VOL 21 , NO 1056]

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