The Nile River is infamous around the world for supplying the arid-Saharan Egyptian civilization with freshwater for drinking, farming, and transportation for hundreds of years. Egypt’s claim to this valuable river has remained relatively uncontested even into the 20th century. As recent as 1929, an agreement was made between Egypt and Sudan that essentially gave Egypt superior rights to the Nile River and all water related projects, despite the fact that eight other nations also reside along the Nile River Basin. With increasing population and demand for freshwater, this colonial era agreement is now a point of contention as Ethiopia has implemented plans to construct a 6,000 megawatts hydroelectric dam (The Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam [GERD]) along the Blue Nile, a tributary to the Nile River.
Construction on this project has been ongoing for the last two years and diversion of the Blue Nile has begun to take place. The Ethiopian Minister of Water and Energy, Alemayehu Tegenu, has publicly stated that GERD is purely a hydroelectric endeavor, and that no irrigation plans are in place. Ethiopia has claimed that diversion of the Blue Nile will not significantly affect downstream neighbors such as Egypt and Sudan. Despite these announcements, the Egyptian government believes their historical rights to the Nile waters have been compromised. While negotiations have been attempted between Ethiopia and Egypt to diffuse the situation, no successful compromise has been reached. The Ethiopian government has released an official statement: “Egypt will never surrender its right to Nile water and all options (to safeguard it) are being considered.” Similarly, Egyptian officials have been caught on live TV discussing possible military action to disable the dam.
International freshwater resources have always been a sensitive matter of legislation. The peaceful cooperation of nations to distribute freshwater evenly is something that takes intricate planning and assessment to implement. Fair distribution of the Nile’s freshwater is a topic that can no longer be ignored, as is apparent in this recent upset. As stress on freshwater resources is projected to only increase in the future, it is imperative to set precedence in determining rights to freshwater.
Toronto Star: Tuesday, June 4, 2013 by Hamza Hendawi (A13)