Negotiations between Egypt, Ethiopia, and Sudan on the Renaissance Dam do not seem to be leading toward a resolution of the issue. Resorting to international arbitration should be Egypt’s immediate option
Ahmed El-Sayed Al-Naggar , Monday 21 Dec 2015

Once again the Renaissance Dam occupies the forefront in the water issues and Egypt’s foreign relations after the conclusion of the Egyptian-Sudanese-Ethiopian negotiations in Khartoum without reaching an agreement regarding the Dam’s hanging issues.

The truth is that what astounds me is not the Ethiopian procrastination, prolonging the negotiation period and the obstinacy that extended for four years ignoring previous treaties, agreements and the rules governing the relations between partners in any international river. What astounds me is Egypt’s delay in resorting to the UN and international arbitration. For international rivers which a number of countries have a partnership in are governed with International Law and conventions.

Perhaps the only development in the Ethiopian position is moving from antagonistic statements saying that the Renaissance Dam construction is a sovereignty act and no country has got anything to do with it and what they are doing is what Egypt has done when it constructed the High Dam, into more lenient statements about negotiating with Egypt and Sudan.

However, the lenient statements will be transformed into a kind of long term evasiveness unless accompanied with signing agreements preserving historical rights of the river partner states and putting into consideration those partners’ interests and rights vis-à-vis the dam accomplishment and filling its storage reservoir or lake.

The truth is that talking about any similarity between Renaissance Dam and the High Dam is not characterised with any amount of scientific or legal merit. For when Egypt built the High Dam, it was saving water that was wasted in the Mediterranean Sea because it is the estuary state and there are no other countries located on the river course after it that can be affected with the dam construction.

As for Ethiopia, it is the source state and any act it undertakes concerning the Nile tributaries affects the middle course state and the estuary state i.e. Sudan and Egypt. Thus, it has no right to undertake any act on the Nile tributaries affecting the volume of water flow except after negotiating with subsequent countries on the Nile River course and its tributaries i.e. Egypt and Sudan.

Moreover, Egypt decided to construct the High Dam because it was in a dire need for every additional drop of water to the extent that it used to borrow 4 billion cubic meters from Sudan’s quota until the nineties of the last century. Sudan did not use them because they were surplus to its needs before starting to use it in expanding its agricultural land.

The water status in Egypt and Ethiopia

Egypt’s water needs are currently more than 70 billion cubic meters annually. Egypt has no renewable source for fresh water except its quota in the Nile River amounting to 55.5 billion cubic meters. Egypt is obliged to use the sanitary sewage water after treating and purifying it. This kind of water is of a lesser grade and has side effects on the soil.

Egypt also is obliged to drain large amounts from renewable and non-renewable groundwater repository in a tiring way that may hit parts of it with salinisation quickly. Although it is presumed that this repository is kept as a strategic reservoir. This means that every drop Egypt gets through its quota and historical rights in the River Nile equals a life and the lives of humans, cultivated lands and cattle have already depended on it.

On the other hand, Ethiopia has renewable internal water resources providing it with 122 billion cubic meters where it used 56 billion cubic meters only in 2013, according to a World Bank report entitled the World Development Indicators (2015). Of these waters 75 billion cubic meters flow to Egypt and Sudan through the Sobat, Blue Nile and Atbara Rivers.

What remains for Ethiopia is about 41.4 billion cubic meters of usable water and they are not actually used. More than a third of these waters are the amount of water of the Juba and Shabelle Rivers which flow from Ethiopia to Somalia and their waters are wasted in the Indian Ocean. A small amount of these waters is used.

As for the remaining surplus water, it is found in Ethiopia distributed among a number of medium and small rivers, as well as the enormous reservoir of renewable groundwater which are fed by the dense monsoon rains which fall on Ethiopia in the period from May until October annually reaching its zenith in the summer season.

This clearly means that Ethiopia does not need the Nile water, it can rather increase its amount of water through setting-up a project for saving the wasted Nile waters in the Mashar swamp area neighbouring the Baro River, which is the main tributary of the Sobat River. In those swamps, four billion cubic meters of water are wasted and can be saved.

Accordingly, good intentions presume that Ethiopia should straightforwardly and directly, in a way that cannot be construed as prevarication or delay, sign an agreement not to encroach on an iota of Egypt’s quota of the Nile River. This right is supported by previous agreements with Ethiopia that can be the basis in any international arbitration. There is another point concerning the Renaissance Dam related to the Dam’s reservoir and its filling period.

International treaties guarantee Egypt’s rights on arbitration

As for Egypt’s rights in the Nile River water and specifically in the flowing water from Ethiopian sources, Egypt has treaties that guarantee those rights. Britain, which occupied Egypt in 1882, signed in 15th April 1891 a protocol with Italy, which was occupying Eritrea, in which Italy pledged not to construct any irrigation complexes on the Atbara River.

This river’s two big tributaries Setit River and Bahr Al-Salam River flow from Ethiopia and its water yield is 13 billion cubic meters around which 11.5 billion cubic meters reaches Aswan. It is a seasonal flowing river and is strong in its summer flood and the colour of its waters is dark due to the plentiful sediments in it. Hence, it is called Atbara which means the black. During the drought season, this river is almost a dead river or a dry valley because it has no source that feeds it with water constantly.

Britain has also signed a treaty with Ethiopia in 15th May 1902 in which Menelik II King of Ethiopia pledged not construct or allow the construction of complexes on the Blue Nile, Lake Tana or the Sobat River that may hinder the flow of water to Egypt and Sudan except after agreeing with the governments of Britain and Egypt.

In December 1906, Britain, France and Italy signed an agreement in London concerning Abyssinia (Ethiopia), which its Fourth Article included the agreement of the three states on working together on guaranteeing Great Britain’s and Egypt’s interests in the Nile Basin, especially securing that the Blue Nile waters and its tributaries reach Egypt.

On the 7th May 1929, the British High Commissioner agreed on the memorandum sent to him from Mohamed Mahmoud Pasha, Egypt’s Prime Minister concerning the Nile water. Since this date the Nile River Treaty came into effect; putting in mind that the agreement and signature of the British side on this treaty was on behalf of the British governmental administrations in Sudan, Uganda, Kenya and Tanganyika (Tanganyika and Zanzibar Island merged forming the currently known United Republic of Tanzania).

The most important point in the 1929 Treaty is stating Egypt’s acquired right in the Nile River water i.e. an annual quota is about 48 billion cubic meters. The treaty asserted that Egypt has a share in every increase that may happen in the future in the case of constructing new projects on the Nile or on its equatorial and Ethiopian tributaries.

According to the “succession” rule in International Relations, Egypt inherited those treaties from the occupying country (Britain), after removing its dreadful occupation of Egypt, including the treaties about guaranteeing the flow of Ethiopian tributaries of the Nile River to Egypt and Sudan without any compromise of its water yields. Egypt has added to its quota 7.5 billion cubic meters to be 55.5 billion cubic meters after building of the High Dam and saving the flood water which were wasted in the sea.

According to the agreement which Egypt and Sudan signed in 8th November 1959, Sudan was to get 14.5 billion cubic meters from the High Dam project which Egypt took the brunt of expenses alone, including the reparations given to the Sudanese Nubia. Thus, the Sudanese quota became 18.5 billion cubic meters.

Based on the aforementioned treaties, Egypt’s quota of the Nile River and the Ethiopian tributaries are protected with international agreements that strengthen Egypt’s case whenever it decided to resort to international arbitration and the UN. Moreover, Egypt’s usage of every drop of its quota of the Nile River even being obliged to irrationally drain its groundwater reservoir and being obliged to use treated sewage water of lower quality enhances its case in any international arbitration.

The Blue Nile’s yields in Aswan constitutes around 57% of the total annual yield of the Nile River in Aswan and about 86.5% of Egypt’s net quota (after subtracting the evaporation losses), and about 65% of Egypt’s and Sudan’s net quotas of the Nile yield in Aswan after subtracting evaporation percentage.

As for the point concerning the Renaissance Dam, Egypt understands totally Ethiopia’s need to exploit the waterfalls on the Blue Nile to generate electricity, provided that this will not infringe on Egypt’s rights in the river’s water. For Ethiopia not to infringe requires its agreement to lessen the volume for storage and take bigger time for filling the dam’s reservoir or the Renaissance Dam Lake.

This matter can be arranged technically through measuring the retained amount of water annually as a percentage that does not exceed 10% from the surplus reservoir of the annual usage. This surplus reservoir has accumulated water as a strategic reserve or as a central bank of water in the year in which the Nile River’s yields exceeded the estimated average in Aswan with about 84 billion cubic meters.

Perhaps it would be more suitable if a reservoir’s capacity for storage is 50 billion cubic meters was filled instead of that of the designated 74 billion cubic meters according to the current plan. This gradual filling needs ten years at least in order not to harm Egypt’s vital interests. If the Nile River’s yields were lower than the average this will require to decrease or stop retaining new water in the Renaissance Dam Lake temporarily.

The last minute negotiations

Egyptian negotiations with Ethiopia and Sudan in the end of this month should be the last chance and opportunity for the friendly solution of the Renaissance Dam issue. Afterwards Egypt has to resort immediately to international arbitration and activate all the options that protect Egypt’s interests and its people’s life. Egypt has been always interested in the fair distribution of the Nile River water and paid dearly in order to finance projects saving the Nile water from being wasted in swamps or sea.

If the rest of the Nile Basin countries would do the same, the water yields of the river can be doubled and distributed fairly and be enough for all parties. Egypt relied on the actual historical usage of water and the bond between humans, cultivated lands and livestock with this usage, not just the historical flow of water. In short, it embraces an absolutely just and fair logic in this context.

Some strange and illogical statements have circulated that an Ethiopian official said that Egypt is too weak to enter in a confrontation with Ethiopia over the Renaissance Dam issue. Ethiopia has done well by dismissing those statements attributed to one of its officials because they are inappropriate and could not be farther from the truth.

Egypt and Ethiopia, a reminding comparison

By the way of reminding of geographical and economic facts, Ethiopia is a landlocked country, i.e. has no maritime borders and it is a serious geographical weakness for any country. Djibouti, Eretria, and Somalia control the maritime outlets which connect Ethiopia with the world. Abyssinia is the historical name of Ethiopia and it means the mixture due to the existence of a number of tribes and ethnicities on its lands.

The Ethiopian population census in 2014 was 97 million. According to the World Bank’s report titled World Development Indicators (2015), the Ethiopian Gross National Product was 53.2 billion dollars in comparison with the Egyptian GNP 273.1 billion dollars. The average per capita income in Ethiopia was 550 dollars while the average per capita income in Egypt was 3050 dollars in 2014.

If the Ethiopian GNP calculated according to purchasing power parity it reached 144.4 billion dollars in 2014 in comparison with that of Egypt which was about 919.2 billion dollars in the same year. The average per capita income calculated according to purchasing power parity in Ethiopia was 1490 dollars while it was 10260 dollars in Egypt.

The direct foreign investment flows to Ethiopia was around 1.2 billion dollars in 2014 in comparison with 4.8 billion dollars to Egypt despite the circumstances it is going through. The balance of accumulated foreign direct investment in Ethiopia was about 7.3 billion dollars compared with 87.9 billion dollars in Egypt. The Ethiopian external debt was around 12.6 billion dollars which is equivalent to 26.8% of Ethiopia’s GNP in 2013, while the Egyptian external debt was 44.4 billion dollars which is equivalent to 16.7% of Egypt’s GNP in the same year.

More than three quarters of Ethiopia’s population are below the poverty line, while they constitute 27% in Egypt. Ethiopia is achieving one of the best development rates in the present time where the real growth rate of its Gross Domestic Product was 10.5% annually in average since 2007 until 2014 compared with around 4% annually in average in Egypt in the same period in which Egypt went through the January Revolution and what followed.

Apart from the Ethiopian path… rationalisation and development

Whatever the negotiating or arbitration path with Ethiopia will lead to, Egypt has to start immediately to rationalise water consumption within the country and move to drip and spraying of crops which can be irrigated by those two ways of irrigation, accompanied with restructuring crop composition in order to decrease the cultivated areas with water voracious crops.

]There is also a necessity of laying a comprehensive plan for developing the water yields of the Nile River’s equatorial headwaters in cooperation with Uganda, Tanzania, Kenya, South and North Sudan and starting to execute what is possible to execute, especially in Uganda where the Nile River loses 20 billion cubic meters in the Kyoga Lake and swamps, also in South Sudan where the Nile River loses 17.5 billion cubic meters in the swamps of Bahr Al-Jabal River and about 15 billion cubic meters in the Bahr el Ghazal River Basin.

All these lost waters can be the focus of grand projects for developing the Nile River water yields. These projects are necessary to Egypt as well as other Nile River basin countries because the needs of those countries, including Egypt, are far bigger than their current quotas of the Nile water.

The writer is the Chairman of the Board of Al-Ahram Establishment.