The QANAT: June 26- July 2

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 RiverOoska 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.


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 EgyptEgypt 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.

The QANAT: June 9-15, 2012

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 2012China 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.


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.

Mubarak’s Fall and the Future of the Nile Basin

By Patrick Keys 

Jan25 Youth Revolt & Mubarak’s Fall

With Mubarak stepping down, the army taking over, and many political & democratic unknowns, the future of the Nile Basin and the status quo of the previous 30 years is uncertain.  (To catch you up if you didn’t hear the recent news: after several weeks of largely peaceful protests and demonstrations by hundreds of thousands of Egyptians, the Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak stepped down after 30 years of rule.  The armed forces have taken over the government, dissolved the (largely corrupt) constitution, and is expected to hold normal elections this September.  If you want to know more, check out this detailed article about the recent and current dynamics that have shaped what has become known as the “Jan25 Youth Revolt or Jan25 Revolution.” )

Photo from Wikimedia Commons

What does all this mean for water security in the Nile Basin?  How will the departure of Mubarak impact ongoing discussions about allocation of the Nile, specifically is the new leadership going to remain as hawkish towards Egypt’s upstream riparian neighbors?

Multipart Series on Water Security in the Nile Basin

Over the next few posts, we’re going to explore the recent history of the Nile Basin, the relevant hydrology, and the ongoing discussions about allocation.  Additionally, we’ll take a look at what the future might hold specifically for Egyptian water resources, but for the Nile broadly, under climate change conditions.

Photo from Wikimedia, German Federal Archive

To begin with, though, lets take a look at the recent past to get a current snapshot.

Mubarak and Recent Nile Issues

Hosni Mubarak was a water hawk, in that he was unrepentant about not giving in on Egypt’s rights to the majority of the annual flow of the Nile, based on the 1959 treaty signed by Sudan and Egypt.  Regardless of their actually being ten nations that contribute to and/or consume water from the Nile, Mubarak stood firm.

As recently as the Spring of 2010, Mubarak and his cabinet were vocal about Egypt’s desire to influence allocation of the Nile.  In April 2010, Egypt’s water minister called for Egypt and Sudan to have the right to “veto any projects that may threaten their water security.” Similarly, in May of 2010 Mubarak met with the presidents of Kenya and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), to discuss the agreement set forth by the Nile Basin Initiative (NBI) that seeks to equitably allocate the Nile waters among the 10 riparian nations.  Kenya had already signed, and the DRC promised to sign it in 2011.

Currently, Ethiopia is the wildcard for Egypt, since it provides over 80% of the Nile water that Egypt eventually receives.  If a new water hawk does not emerge in Egypt, the other Nile nations may combine their collective power to ‘encourage’ Egypt into accepting a less beneficial agreement in order to have a seat at the negotiation table.

Egypt’s claim to a large portion of the Nile was articulated in 2010 by Mubarak’s water minister Mufid Shehab when he suggested that the “issue of Nile water is a matter of ‘life and death,’ since 95 percent of Egypt’s water resources came from the Nile, unlike Nile Basin states that have plentiful alternative water sources.”  However, this precept is likely to be challenged by upstream neighbors over the coming decades, as water resources overall become more scarce with increased population growth, increased development, increased temperatures (from climate change), and decreased flow (due to formal and informal irrigation diversions).

Example of changing future of the Nile Basin Riparians; click to enlarge (based on data from Wikipedia).

Current Events: 11th Riparian & Nile Day in DRC

Recently, the citizens of the Republic of South Sudan have elected to break away from Sudan, and form their own nation, becoming the 193rd in the world (as recognized by the UN), and the 11th riparian of the Nile Basin (since the White Nile passes directly through it, and notably it contains the Sudd Wetlands).  Whether and how Southern Sudan decides to interact with the ongoing Nile negotiations remains to be seen.

Yesterday (February 22), the annual Nile Day celebration was held in Goma, DRC.  Though there are no recent updates available, DRC Minister of Environment and Lands Stanilas Kamanzi indicated that the DRC planned to sign the Comprehensive Framework Agreement (CFA).  The CFA has been developed by several Nile riparians, and seeks to replace the NBI.  Currently, the CFA has five signatories (Ethiopia, Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania, and Uganda), and needs six signatories (and legislative ratifications) to come into effect. With Burundi having having signed the agreement in 2011, and the DRC planning to, Egypt risks falling by the wayside as the upstream riparians unite to exert greater control on the uncooperative downstream riparians.

A Diminished Role?

Egypt’s claim to Nile waters was forcibly (politically speaking) led by Mubarak for the last 30 years.  Despite the dominant role Egypt has played in the past, Egypt’s place at the negotiation table and ability to influence Nile Basin politics may diminish with the departure of Mubarak. In the next few posts we will explore the basics of the physical system, to provide the framework on which we can understand future developments in the basin.

Also, for a broader overview (examining the entire basin), check out Wikipedia’s excellent summary on ‘Water Politics in the Nile Basin.’

NEXT POST: Egyptian Water Security vs. Ethiopian Development