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.

Egyptian Water Security vs. Ethiopian Development

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.

Hydrology Overview

The Nile River encompasses a vast watershed, and is considered the longest river in the world, measuring 6,550 km, from the White Nile headwaters in Burundi to the delta in Egypt.

(click map to enlarge)

Photo from World Bank

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.

Tississat falls on the Blue Nile (posted to Flickr by Giustino)

Photo by Giustino, from Flickr

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.

Chinese Influence

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

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