Here’s a quick update from today’s events. Another day of unexpected insights, great conversations, and total exhaustion. Wouldn’t have it any other way! The themes highlighted below happened to come up several times throughout the day, which made me think that they were worth sharing…
1. Be provocative – Today during one of the sessions, Ned Breslin activated the audience by challenging the idea that data collection was the ‘answer to the problem’, by saying that we needed to do something with the data puke. This totally caught me off guard, and I think sort of grabbed the audience and shook them a little. I felt bad for the speaker following Ned, since the speaker had to go right back to talking about data… woops! Ned’s comments though set the tone for the rest of the session by really asking people to move beyond patting each other on the back and trying to apply the ideals of open data sourcing with action. Later in the day, the same idea of provocation came up with the “inward investment in agriculture” session, which sought to take a critical eye to the framing of land grabbing as 100% negative. The panel, comprised of African leaders, international NGO reps, European government workers, and international financiers, was in general pro-land deals, insofar as the deals are just, sustainable, and enfranchising. This is not a perspective that is heard lately in the media, and I liked the discourse. Great, new thinking.
2. Everybody knows the value of water…. ? – During the ‘open data’ session this morning, one of the panelists mentioned that everybody knows the value of water, and I balked. This is not the case at all – everybody may need water, and everybody may think they value water, but very few pay a price that reflects its scarcity or criticality for our survival. I challenged the speaker on this point – but time elapsed before we could really discuss things. The same theme emerged later during the ‘inward investment’ session, when I suggested that the discussion of land grabs must be accompanied by the inclusion of water rights, particularly water as a property right (from the David Zetland school of thought). This spun the conversation up in a dynamic way…. right when the panel was ending! Not enough time to really get into water pricing and the granting of water property rights as a vehicle for sustainable water access, but such is life 🙂
3. Leverage your network, and if you don’t have one, create one – The past few days I’ve realized the power of Twitter. This sounds silly, but the fact that I have had the opportunity to connect with multiple people (including representatives from the US State Dept., World Bank, and the directors of Water for People, and Circle of Blue) simply because I do something that is freely accessible (that is – tweeting) is pretty phenomenal. I’ve invested a lot of time in blogging, twitter, and other internet-based ‘networks’, but the fact that I’m known as the ‘twitter-guy’ at World Water Week gives me pause. The key reason that I’m known for this is because I decided to do it. Someone else could decide to madly tweet throughout the sessions also (which would be great to have the company!), and they might suddenly be encountering the people and organizations that are shaking things up in the water world.
Tomorrow I hope to keep up the provocation, networking, and engagement – despite my inevitable zombie walk as a result of tonight’s late hour 🙂
What is The QANAT? A weekly digest of water security highlights. If you have suggestions for next week’s QANAT let me know! The QANAT is named after an ancient water supply system.
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Image from Wikipedia
China Changes Plans for Trans-Boundary Brahmaputra River. Ooska News (June 26, 2012)
The Chinese government announced on June 23 that it plans to increase tourism and create a national park in Tibet near the Brahmaputra River, rather than pursue construction of a massive and controversial dam.
- Pat’s thoughts: The positive tone between China and India is very welcome – and perhaps an additional sign of regional hydro-cohesion. The concept of China diverting any significant tributaries of the Brahmaputra would be potentially devastating for India and Bangladesh – and likely protested aggressively – so this is a very positive development.
PA says in talks with Israel over water shortages. Ma’an News Agency (June 28, 2012)
The head of the Palestinian water authority said Wednesday that discussions with the Israeli side were ongoing to increase quantities of drinking water without raising prices. Israel seeks to increase the price of one cubic liter of water from 2.60 shekels to 3.70 shekels, which will cost the Palestinian treasury around 700 million shekels, Shadad al-Ateli said.
- Pat’s thoughts: I must be missing something, because this price is crazy. 3.7 shekels is equal to 94 US cents. That is nearly 1 dollar per liter of water! Is the article wrong? Is my exchange calculation off? Can this other article have just all quoted the same wrong source? If not, this is an insane price for water provision (especially if the numbers in this 2009 article are even close to the mark… Israeli’s were paying approximately 8 shekels per cubic meter, or $2 USD per cubic meter. At the quoted rate above, Palestinians would pay 3700 shekels per cubic meter…). I’ve now convinced myself that something must be wrong, but what?
Government officials, athletes call on public to further strengthen support for Grand Dam construction. News Dire – Ethiopian News Source (June 1, 2012)
Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Affairs Minister Hailemariam Desalegn on the occasion said construction of the Dam will be completed due schedule if Ethiopians at home and in the Diaspora further strengthen the ongoing support for construction of the Dam. Hailemariam, who is also Chairperson of the Public Coordination National Council for the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam project, said construction of the Dam will be finalized if the ongoing participation of the public further continues.
- Pat’s thoughts: I’m uncomfortable with the large amount of emphasis being placed on voluntary contributions for the completion of this dam. It is the government’s responsibility to levy fair taxes to cover the initial costs, as well as secure private financing to help fund the dam. Given the lack of full transparency in this whole process, I am skeptical that the money being raised is actually being used for the dam – but I do hope I’m wrong.
DESALINATION & WATER SECURITY
Ensuring the security of water, ‘a strategic commodity on par with oil.’ The National (June 30, 2012)
The creation of a strategic reserve of 26 million cubic metres of fresh water in the Empty Quarter is part of a major drive to ensure that the UAE always has enough to meet its needs.
Unlike other countries which don’t have the finances to solve the problems, here money isn’t a problem,” he said. “They have a physical scarcity which they can solve by an expensive solution. Looking at the bigger picture, food and water security are important.
- Pat’s thoughts: The fact that the UAE is pumping enough desalinated water into an aquifer to supply drinking needs for 90 days is pretty astonishing. It shows wealth, foresight, and pragmatism. Although the environmental impacts of desalination are significant, countries like the UAE are stuck with it as a means for providing water to its rapidly modernizing population. Experiments such as the UAE’s artificial recharge of artificial freshwater may be a surprising window into our collective future.
Desalinated water could help quench a thirsty Egypt. Egypt Independent (June 26, 2012)
Over 40 percent of Egypt’s desalinated water is used by the tourism sector, and roughly 20 percent is utilized by the industrial sector, according to a 2010 report by the Center for Future Studies (CSF), a think-tank at the Cabinet’s Information Decision Support Center.
“We need to try to localize different technology, which would reduce the cost, allow us to enhance the Egyptian industry, and have complete control over water resources [in terms of producing water],” said Shakweer.
- Pat’s thoughts: Aside from the obviously cool fact that Egypt has a “Center for Future Studies”, I think this is an interesting idea for improving economic competitiveness regionally as well as improving water security. This could be a tremendous point of collaboration and partnership with Israel, if the newly elected Muslim Brotherhood leadership were interested in stabilizing the region.
Seventy dead, 200 000 stranded in Bangladesh. AlertNet (June 27, 2012)
Days of rain in Bangladesh, some of the heaviest in years, have set off flash floods and landslides, killing at least 70 people and stranding about 200,000, police and officials said on Wednesday.
Agriculture officials said it was too early to estimate crop damage. “In flash floods, water recedes soon after the rain stops, So we don’t anticipate any major damage to rice and other crops,” one official said.
- Pat’s thoughts: This is a devastating flood, and it looks as though other areas have been hit in the region (e.g. India). I appreciate Reuter’s non-inflammatory tone when it comes to whether food crops will be affected. As this is the beginning of the region’s monsoon, I hope this event is recovered from quickly, and serves as an opportunity to identify weaknesses the emergency response system.
What is The QANAT? A weekly digest of highlights (from news websites, blogs, etc.) related to water security, broken up by topic.
The QANAT is named after an ancient water supply system comprised of a series of vertical shafts that drain into a long horizontal tunnel, connecting a mountain aquifer to a community, field, or livestock pond. Check the wikipedia page for an excellent overview.
Water Plan to take effect by 2012. China Daily (June 11, 2012)
A policy featuring the principle of water rights is undergoing a test run in Zhangye, Gansu province. Farmers there are given a water quota based on the scale of the land they are cultivating and the types of plants they grow. If they use less water than they are given, they can trade the quota left for money.
- Pat’s thoughts: Amazing. I can’t believe China is leading the charge on this. I’m very interested to see how well this works.
Smart hand pumps promise cleaner water in Africa. BBC News (June 8, 2012)
…researchers at Oxford University have developed the idea of using the availability of mobile networks to signal when hand pumps are no longer working. They have built and tested the idea of implanting a mobile data transmitter into the handle of the pump.
- Pat’s thoughts: Mechanical training of local community members should be an integral part of this; otherwise there’s (yet another) bottleneck with the external aid community.
Officials call for action as Bethlehem villages run dry. Ma’an News (June 11, 2012)
Without water, and without… water rights, there can be no viable or sovereign Palestinian state,” Attili warned.
- Pat’s thoughts: True. But there would be very little to stop Palestinians from drilling new wells, if Israel Defense forces were to withdraw from Palestinian lands and functionally eliminate their ability to monitor these activities.
Dams and Politics in Turkey: Utilizing Water, Developing Conflict. Middle East Policy Council (2012)
On July 11, 2009, the government of Turkey announced the construction of… eleven dams in the Hakkari and Sirnak provinces along the border with Iraq and Iran. These dams are not constructed for hydroelectric power purposes. Neither will they be used for irrigation, since the area is sparsely populated… These additional dams are being constructed as a wall of water, with the sole purpose of making it difficult for PKK guerrilla fighters to penetrate Turkey’s borders.
- Pat’s thoughts: Very interesting. If this assertion is true, then this is a blatant use of water infrastructure as primarily a defensive measure. Can anyone think of instances where this is the primary use of the infrastructure?
As water bills rise, utilities struggle for funds. Reuters (June 12, 2012)
About 85 percent of respondents said average water consumers had little to no understanding of the gap between what they pay and how much it costs to provide water and wastewater services.
- Pat’s thoughts: Let prices rise to reflect costs and the consumers will realize how much water is worth.
AGRICULTURE & LAND
Land and Rio+20: Protecting an Irreplaceable Resource. IFPRI (June 13, 2012)
Called land degradation and, in arid and semi-arid regions, desertification, this phenomenon leads to an annual loss of 75 billion tons of fertile soil. “About 24 percent of global land area has been affected by land degradation,” writes IFPRI Senior Researcher Ephraim Nkonya…
- Pat’s thoughts: This is a sleeping dragon in terms of potential impact on global food supplies. Its definitely an awake dragon for the small-holder farmers throughout currently Africa dealing with this. For more on this, check out David Montgomery’s “Dirt: The Erosion of Civilization”
Squeezing Africa dry: behind every land grab is a water grab. GRAIN (June 11, 2012)
Those who have been buying up vast stretches of farmland in recent years, whether they are based in Addis Ababa, Dubai or London, understand that the access to water they gain, often included for free and without restriction, may well be worth more over the long-term, than the land deals themselves.
- Pat’s thoughts: Fantastic work here. Henk Hobbelink (GRAIN’s director) contacted me sometime ago about the issue of land grabs and since then has produced this great piece. I’ll be digging into this over the weekend and expect to share more detailed thoughts with you then.
By Patrick Keys
(This is Part V, of Water Security Blog’s series on post-Mubarak Water Security, the previous posts are: 1. Mubarak’s Fall and the Future of the Nile Basin; 2. Egyptian Water Security vs. Ethiopian Development; 3. Egypt’s Jonglei Canal Gambit; and, 4. Egyptian Saber-rattling and a White Nile Coalition)
This series on Egyptian water security has explored the hydrology, diplomatic relations with upstream riparians, and potential infrastructure changes to White Nile and Blue Nile streamflow. The emphasis has been on the relationship between Egypt and Ethiopia, because as evidenced in the second post in the series, Egypt receives the majority of its Nile streamflow from the Blue Nile. This final post seeks to summarize the series and briefly explore a few potential scenarios for what the future may hold.
What have we learned?
As the upstream riparians of the Nile River are finally planning to use their water, specifically Ethiopia, Egypt’s water security is uncertain. However, as the details of the Millennium Dam are becoming evident, Egypt and Ethiopia have exchanged strong words; but so far, only words. It seems unlikely to me that the nations in the Nile would resort to violence, simply because it would (a) inflame existing instability, and (b) the international repercussions would likely be swift. Furthermore, recent news indicates that Egypt is more willing to cooperate than previously thought.
What is most likely is the continued development of Ethiopian water resources. If this is so, we can expect to see Egypt continuing to pursue alternative/ back-up strategies to ensure that it receives the flow it needs for agriculture, municipal, and industrial purposes.
The perspective of this series has been that of “what are the impacts of X on Egypt’s water security” and relatively scant attention has been paid to “whether or not X is appropriate.” The development of Ethiopian water resources, both for hydropower and agriculture, is to be considered an important step forward towards modernization. Given the ambition and the potential of Ethiopian water resources, important strides could be made towards providing food, energy, and jobs to the current residents of Ethiopia, many of who live in poverty.
These are speculative scenarios for how Egypt’s water security may proceed, focusing on Egypt’s relationship with Ethiopia.
Scenario 1: War on the Nile
Let it be known that this is considered very unlikely. If armed conflict was to emerge, it would likely begin with Egypt striking first, and would cost Egypt resources as well as potentially contribute to additional instability. Furthermore, if Egypt were to attack, it loses the moral high-ground that it is trying hard to cultivate with the international community, as it has tried to cast itself as somewhat of a victim.
However, instability can often lead to the emergence of nationalist sentiments, and the seeking for a rallying cause. This fall, assuming democratic elections take place, it is possible that one ore more candidates may try and take advantage of this cause. Mohamed Elbaradei, a strong contender for the Egyptian Presidency, has already indicated he can use strong language towards Israel, so it should be considered a possibility that he can direct that rhetoric towards other nations which threaten Egyptian interests.
Though I do not think this is likely, this scenario is potentially catastrophic and warrants consideration, if for no other reason, to illustrate what should not be allowed to happen.
Scenario 2: White Nile Coalition
This was described in the previous post , regarding a potential collaboration among the White Nile Riparians. This was evidenced by Egyptian officials visiting White Nile nations (Uganda, South Sudan, and Sudan), and the promises made (e.g. South Sudanese development funds) and partnerships forged (e.g. Ugandan “tabling” of ratification of the Entebbe Agreement).
If Egypt successfully forms this White Nile Coalition, as a counter to Ethiopian control of the Blue Nile, then it is likely that the chief impacts would be in the form of non-violent hostility, such as trade tariffs, trade embargoes, or marginalization in the international community.
Scenario 3: Egyptian & Ethiopian Cooperation
This is rarely suggested in either News reports or more thorough analyses; however, I think there is a strong case to be made for cooperation between Egypt and Ethiopia. Egypt is much richer than Ethiopia, with a more diversified economy. Ethiopia has the potential to store a great deal more water in the Blue Nile, which could have further benefits to downstream nations in terms of preparing for and adapting to changes in streamflow.
Cooperation would also provide an opportunity for Egypt to monitor construction of new dams along the Blue Nile, and play a role in the negotiations of when and how these dams are filled. Hostility would not be likely to produce the same willingness to share this type of information.
Recent news indicates that it is looking increasingly likely that Egypt will pursue a strategy of cooperation. Egyptian Ambassdor to Ethiopia, Tarik Ghoneim, said Thursday: “Everything is on the table.” He says Egypt’s new government wants to start discussions with all nine Nile countries about using waters in the best interest of all.
The long-term impact of this “willingness to negotiate” will be measured by Egypt’s willingness to participate in international treaties, specifically the Entebbe Agreement/Comprehensive Framework Agreement. I predict that Egypt will seek only bilateral cooperation with Ethiopia, and avoid larger agreements because there is more sacrifice associated with a broader agreement.
The final message of this series, though not apparent at first, appears to be a positive one of cooperation. Though the news mentioned above is less than a day old, it suggests that Egypt is seeking a balanced and regionally productive approach to managing transboundary issues. Rest assured, however, that updates to Egyptian Nile relations will be explored as they arise, here on this blog.
In exploring the relationship between Egypt and its dependence on the Nile River, interesting questions have arisen. Among these, what has been interesting to me is the foreign acquisition of land resources for the purposes of food security (or biofuels security). This land acquisition, also known as “land-grabs”, is taking place quickly, in a less-than-transparent manner, and is concentrated in Africa. Given that large-scale appropriation of water for irrigation can be disastrous for downstream users (see inflows of the Colorado river to Mexico) it is worth exploring the potential impacts of irrigating these land acquisitions relative to changes in streamflow.
This will be the topic of the next series. “Global Land-grabs and Irrigation.” Gathering the necessary information for this will take a bit of time, so please be patient!
By Patrick Keys
(This is Part IV of Water Security Blog’s series on post-Mubarak Water Security, the previous posts are: 1. Mubarak’s Fall and the Future of the Nile Basin; 2. Egyptian Water Security vs. Ethiopian Development; and 3. Egypt’s Jonglei Canal Gambit.)
Over the last few weeks, the Egyptian leadership has moved further and further away from Mubarak style diplomacy, towards a more active and “in-your-face” style diplomacy. In the first post we asked what the post-Mubarak regime would look like, and whether they would be more amenable to upstream riparians and the Entebbe Agreement, or whether they would take a more hawkish stance. The verdict is in, and they are not only more hawkish in speech, but appear to be more hawkish in behavior.
As of this morning (April 8, 2011) Egypt looks to be cementing relationships along the White Nile to act as a buffer to unilateral Ethiopian development along the Blue Nile. This is both strategic and necessary on Egypt’s part to ensure that when the “Great Millennium Dam” is constructed, and filling, that Egypt continues to have an adequate flow in the Nile. Furthermore, by cementing relationships with upstream riparians, this blog is arguing that Egypt may be in the process of forming a “White Nile Coalition” that can act as a nested interest group within the larger Nile basin.
Outside of Nile Basin policy, Egypt is taking a hardline stance against Israeli activity (by making overt threats related to Gaza), and reversing the more-or-less frozen ties with Iran. The implications of these developments on Nile Basin water security are limited, save for the importance of acquiring regional allies, that are of strategic geopolitical importance.
This post seeks to summarize the current flurry of News reports, unpack some of these issues, and provide some analysis on where things are headed.
Egypt strengthening ties with White Nile Riparians
All signs suggest that Egypt is not resting while the Entebbe Agreement (a.k.a. the Comprehensive Framework Agreement) inches closer to becoming a fully fledged International Treaty. A recent Newsvision article seems to suggest that Uganda may hold-off on ratifying the Entebbe Agreement until Egypt undergoes its post-Mubarak transition. The article is quoted below:
“Museveni said Uganda was willing to wait for Egypt to reorganise herself before she could ratify.”
If this is true, then Uganda may be much closer to Egypt than earlier assumed. Also, it begs the question: What did Egypt offer in exchange for this delay? It would be foolish to think that Uganda is doing this out of generosity, and thus the details for this agreement between the two nations are important.
This comes closely on the heels of another high level visit by interim Egyptian leadership to the new country of South Sudan, as discussed in the previous post here. In short, Egypt’s stated interests were to help South Sudan develop economically, including restarting the Jonglei Canal project to drain the Sudd wetlands (depicted above).
All of this points to a concerted effort on the part of Egypt to cement relations along the White Nile, likely towards the goal of forming either a formal or informal coalition. Though its unlikely that the purpose of this coalition would be for military purposes, it is not unreasonable to think that this group could serve exclusionary purposes, including favorable trade agreements or development assistance among coalition nations.
Current Egyptian regime more volatile than predecessor
The hawkish activity within the Nile basin is mirrored by hawkish activity outside the basin. A trademark of the Mubarak regime was regional stability, both in the regime’s maintenance of diplomatic ties with Israel and with the broader Middle East North Africa (MENA) region. In general, there was very little saber-rattling.
Not so anymore. Recent news reports suggest that on various fronts, Egypt may be ramping up its military rhetoric as well as strengthening ties with regional nations that have a track record of anti-Israel rhetoric- specifically Iran. In February, for the first time sinze 1979, Egypt allowed to Iranian boats through the Suez Canal, including the Iranian warship Alvand. Though this does not mean Egypt wants a war, it is apparently comfortable with Iranian boats floating right next to Israel (a country that Iran has in the past threatened directly).
Several days ago, Mohammed Elbaradei – a former International Atomic Energy Agency inspector (IAEA), Professor, and Nobel laureate – met with Mahmoud Ahmedinejad, President of Iran. This wouldn’t be terrible on its own, however a recent soundbite from Elbaradei is reason for pause. Elbaradei is quoted as saying: “In case of any future Israeli attack on Gaza – as the next president of Egypt – I will open the Rafah border crossing and will consider different ways to implement the joint Arab defense agreement.”
So, what constitutes an attack? What does “implement the joint Arab defense agreement” actually mean? Boots on the ground? Since the Muslim Brotherhood does not have the power that many news outlets suggest (for more on that read this), Elbaradei is a very realistic candidate for future president. Now, it could be that he is bulking up his “tough-talk” street-cred to cozy up to the current interim Egyptian military leaders, or, he could actually be quite hawkish. Time will tell.
This increase in aggressive rhetoric could be interpreted as a bad omen. Many in the MENA region and beyond are frightened that these words are drum-beats for a war march. However, I think there is a great deal of room for optimism, primarily because the question of an actual war between Arab nations and Israel would draw in other allies that have enormous stake in the stability of the region, specifically the US and China. Why? Oil (obviously).
Actions speak louder though, and actions by these global powers are being taken. This is evidenced by China sending its special envoy for Middle East affairs, Wu Sike, to Israel, Palestine, Syria, Lebanon and Qatar, in an effort to encourage the Peace Process. China has no desire for Middle Eastern tensions to actually erupt into violence, because it would threaten the pace of their development – which isn’t an option for the Communist regime. Rising fuel prices in China would foment existing discontent and could lead to unrest similar to what we have seen in many Arab nations. China will do everything it can to avoid this.
It is also worth noting that China is beginning to act like a global power, perhaps even inadvertently preparing to wear the mantle of the (emerging global superpower. That, however, is fodder for another post…
What does it mean for Water Security in the region?
This blog is about water security, not international security in general, so what does this mean for the Nile Basin? In general, this increased hawkishness by Egypt means that the ratification of the Entebbe Agreement will likely move more slowly, especially as this White Nile Coalition takes shape.
For Ethiopian development, particularly for the Great Millennium Dam, it means that a more unified White Nile could make trade and other international activity more difficult. Since the Great Millennium Dam costs 4.8 billion USD, equal to 95% of the Ethiopian governments fiscal year 2011 budget, Ethiopian is very nearly going “all-in.”
I predict that China will step up its efforts to mediate relations in the basin for the simple reason that it has made a significant investment in the hydrological future of Ethiopia, specifically in its hydropower (dam) infrastructure. These investments are likely not a generous act on behalf of the Chinese, but almost certainly related to the fact that China’s food security will require massive imports of cereals and other crops in the coming decades, and Ethiopia’s abundant water resources make it a viable candidate for this necessary agricultural expansion.
That prediction should of course be taken with a grain of salt, given how quickly things on the ground change.
Also, I’ve been trying to tell you what to expect from “upcoming posts”, but seeing as how Current Events have called me to the other topics, I’ll just say that expect more on this topic soon.
If you have comments, thoughts, or reactions, please feel free to share them, and please keep them in the spirit of furthering the discussion, because I will reject comments that are outwardly hostile, especially if they are hostile to specific nations or peoples.
By Patrick Keys
(This is a continuation of a post here: Mubarak’s Fall and the Future of the Nile Basin)
In the previous post, the post-Mubarak political terrain was examined, with particular emphasis on how the polarity of power may be shifting away from Egypt and Sudan, towards the more coordinated upstream nations. It was concluded, that without the hawkish stance of Mubarak, Egyptian influence in the Nile Basin may wane, while the influence of upstream nations may grow.
As the title of this post indicates, Egyptian water security is closely related to the development of Ethiopian water resources. Based on the volume of water that Ethiopia contributes to the total Nile River flow, I argue that the most critical decisions impacting Egyptian water resources in the coming decades, will be implicitly related to Ethiopian development of its renewable water resources resources, specifically in terms of hydropower and irrigation.
(click map to enlarge)
Though there is enormous complexity that could be discussed, this ‘hydrology’ discussion will be limited to average streamflow. Below is a summary table of the average discharge at key points along the tributaries of the Nile.
Adapted from Wikipedia
An important characteristic of the Nile is the Sudd, which is a vast wetland in Sudan, where the White Nile enters with 1,048 cubic meters per second and exits with 510 cubic meters per second. This loss is equivalent to 15 cubic kilometers per year. This is an enormous volume of water, however it is worth comparing it to the volume of water lost from evaporation in the Aswan High Dam, which is roughly 10 cubic kilometers per year. The Jonglei canal, a planned diversion past the Sudd to increase the downstream flow, has been discussed for decades, though it’s construction is unlikely in the near term, not least because the Sudd now falls in the domain of the new Republic of South Sudan.
Additionally, you may notice that the flowrates from the White Nile, Blue Nile, and Atabara do not add up to the average discharge at the Nile Delta. This is attributed to the evaporation losses in the Aswan High Dam, along with the very significant abstractions that are used for irrigation (that never return to the main stem of the river).
The Blue Nile = Egypt’s Lifeblood
For Egypt, the Blue Nile is the most critical component of water security. Though the White Nile provides the stable flow during the dry season, this volume of water (relative to the wet season flow) is much less significant. This has been recognized as recently as March 3, 2011, with the Egyptian Ministry of Irrigation “seeking to form a legal committee that will help ensure Egypt retains its “historic water rights“, as well as aiming to step up cooperation with Ethiopian water projects.
Furthermore, given that the Blue Nile originates in Ethiopia, the dependence of Egypt on Ethiopian water resources management is clear. Currently, the Ethiopian government is doing very little to alter the flow of the Blue Nile, given that access to the river is largely prohibited by a deep, treacherous, and long gorge. If Ethiopia were to undertake large scale hydropower projects on the Blue Nile, there could be serious implications for downstream users (read: Sudan & Egypt) when (1) hydropower reservoirs are filled (when downstream flows could be significantly reduced) and when (2) irrigated agriculture emerges, since the hydropower infrastructure, namely roads and access to electricity, would make this a possibility.
Dams & Irrigation
The importance of the Blue Nile to Egypt’s flow suggests that any alteration of the flow-rate, particularly on the part of Ethiopia, could be very important to downstream consumption.
As an example we will look at the Tana-Beles hydropower project, potentially Ethiopia’s largest power plant, which is located on the Beles River and Lake Tana, tributaries of the Blue Nile River. The project, which was begun in 1992, reached a milestone in 2010, when the first electricity was generated (115 MW). Eventually, the goal is to generate 460 MW and provide irrigation for 140,000 hectares (ha). Irrigating 140,000 hectares is a considerable volume of water, if you assume that the depth of irrigation is 1 centimeter (which is a very conservative estimate). After converting all the units, that is equal to 14 million cubic meters. Compared to the flow of the Blue Nile, this is negligible; less than 1/millionth of total discharge. However, this is only one project, and the potential for more irrigation is enormous.
According to a 2009 report published by the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), Ethiopia is currently irrigating 289,530 hectares (ha), which is only 11% of its irrigation potential (irrigation potential is a term used by the Food & Agricultural Organization (FAO) to denote “land resources suitable for irrigation”). Compare Ethiopia’s values to Egypt’s, which is irrigating nearly 3.5 million ha, and is at 77% of its irrigation potential.
Additionally, the same IFPRI report examines ‘Total Available Renewable Water Resources’ or TARWR. There are several measures they use summarized in the table below.
Egypt’s numbers are (not surprisingly) quite high. The dam capacity per capita is especially large compared to most other African nations (although not as high as Ghana, due to the enormous Lake Volta behind the Akosombo Dam). Ethiopia’s figures are, by comparison, very low. The general conclusion a reader may draw from this table is that Ethiopia has enormous potential to build more dams.
The importance of the Chinese in developing Ethiopian water resources must not be understated. As the Wikipedia table below demonstrates, 6 of the 11 (or more than 50%) of Ethiopian dams have been, or will be, contracted to Chinese corporations. And since three of the dams were “no bid” contracts, China received 6 of the 8 “bid” contracts, thus making China (or Chinese corporations) responsible for underwriting 75% of Ethiopia’s dams. At this point, it is abundantly clear that China has enormous interest in Africa, both in terms of influence and resources. Whether it is land acquisitions for food production, oil contracts, or (in this case) hydropower production, China is a major force in African infrastructure.
(click to enlarge)
What China’s involvement with Ethiopian water resources implies for the future of Nile basin politics remains to be seen. However, I think it is very unlikely that China would allow its significant investments of money and good-will in Ethiopian infrastructure to be threatened by Egyptian military force. Perhaps with the emergence of China as a major player in the development of Nile basin water resources, we are also witnessing the emergence of a new balance of power, with the interests of downstream Egypt (historically guaranteed by the US) vying with the interests of upstream Ethiopia (which may now be guaranteed by China).
In the next post, the status of the Comprehensive Framework Agreement will be examined, with an examination of the impacts on Egyptian water resources, and the potential timeline associated with ratification of the CFA.
NEXT: The CFA and some Future Scenarios