Monday Re-cap @ World Water Week

After a day of meetings, Opening Plenary events, High Level panels, strategic framework launches, and a City Hall reception – I’m back home and writing a blog entry. To entice you to keep reading, I’ve included pictures ūüôā

Summary for Policymakers

In the spirit of high level frameworks and so on, here are some of my reflections from the day:

1. Choosing to trust¬†– At the opening plenary session this morning, one of the speakers was from PepsiCo. The gentlemen was speaking about his and PepsiCo’s enthusiasm for integrating water stewardship into their food production supply chain, particularly where it concerns communities that are around their production facilities. My knee jerk reaction in these situations is to be skeptical about the honesty of these statements, but today I decided to choose to trust their statements. As stated by honored speakers today (including Swedish Enviroment Minister Gunilla Carlsson and many others), engaging the private sector is critical to long-term sustainability; I agree with this in general, and I think in practice, people interested in advancing the responsible and just allocation of water among all users should open their minds to unconventional partners.

Opening Plenary speech by PepsiCo representative, Copyright Patrick Keys 2012, All Rights Reserved.

2. Leave the pre-conceived notions at the door РDuring a session launching the framework for Water Security and Climate Resilient Development, sponsored by AMCOW (African Ministers Conference on Water) and GWP (Global Water Partnership) and others (CDKN, ADA, etc.), I asked a question about how/why Egypt and Ethiopia were not a part of the program, and whether their conflict may spell a problem for regional cooperation and resilience. I was informed, in somewhat direct terms, by Bai-Mass Taal of AMCOW that ever since January 25th 2011, the whole perception of regional water conflict needs to change. Three key points illustrate this shift: 1. Sudan is engaging Egypt to grow rice in its lands; 2. the Egyptian water minister has made at least two trips to Ethiopia in the last month; and, 3. Egypt has declared that the Nile must be used equitably for development by all riparian states. This is a major shift in policy, and is reflective of a new, hopefully more fully engaged, policy. Lesson learned.

Framework for Water Security and Climate Resilient Development, Copyright Patrick Keys 2012, All Rights Reserved.

3. Disconcerting lack of foresight – During the high level panel on the global rush for land and water today, the Deputy Minister for Food Security (far left below, not pictured on the projector) from Sierra Leone had apparently not thought of including clauses for compulsory land rehabilitation and stewardship for companies to whom his country has signed leases. Though a convincing case was made for the at least somewhat thoughtful leasing process in Sierra Leone, if this Deputy Minister has indeed not heard of this concept of compulsory rehabilitation, then I am shocked. This is resource extraction contracts 101. I’m not comfortable saying that they are learning as they go, since this is their job to know. I hope that this glaring gap in contract creation is an anomaly, rather than the norm.

High level panel on water and land grabs, Copyright Patrick Keys 2012, All Rights Reserved.

If you’ve made it this far, then here are a few more pictures that characterize the day’s events…

My Junior Rapporteur group, “Good Governance for Water and Food” met at 9am this morning. Tomorrow its 8:30. Ouch…

At the opening plenary, I thought the stage looked pretty swanky…

…only then did the Swedish circus performers come out. Surprising? Yes. A little odd? Yes. Really cool? Absolutely.

Also, after the full day’s activities, there was a great reception at Stockholm City Hall. Here is a picture of the “Golden Room” with the “Queen of Lake Malaren” depicted.

I hope to keep this up tomorrow, with lots more information about the general information I’m learning and more pictures of the fun stuff. Till then!

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 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‚Äôt believe China is leading the charge on this. I‚Äôm 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‚Äôs thoughts: Mechanical training of local community members should be an integral part of this; otherwise there‚Äôs (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‚Äôs 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‚Äôs 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‚Äôs 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. ‚ÄúAbout 24 percent of global land area has been affected by land degradation,‚ÄĚ writes IFPRI¬†Senior Researcher Ephraim Nkonya‚Ķ

    • Pat‚Äôs 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‚Äôs ‚ÄúDirt: The Erosion of Civilization‚ÄĚ
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‚Äôs thoughts: Fantastic work here. Henk Hobbelink (GRAIN‚Äôs director) contacted me sometime ago about the issue of land grabs and since then has produced this great piece. I‚Äôll be digging into this over the weekend and expect to share more detailed thoughts with you then.

Nile Day 2012 and an unexpected Joint Technical Committee

By Patrick Keys

Nile Day 2012

Recently, the Nile basin riparians celebrated the 2012 Nile Day in Jinja, Uganda. Jinja is located on the shores of Lake Victoria, which is considered the source of the White Nile River.

From Google Earth, 2012

An important characteristic of Nile Day celebration was that the three ‘big fish’ in the basin were in attendance (Sudan, Ethiopia, and Egypt). The participation of Egyptian water minister,¬†Mr Hisham Qandil was particularly striking given Egypt’s previous opposition to the Nile Basin Initiative and its output, the Comprehensive Framework Agreement. For full coverage, check out the following articles:

Cooperation, via the joint technical committee

If you read the series on this blog last year, then you may have seen the three possible scenarios that I outlined (1. War on the Nile, 2. White Nile Coalition, 3. Egyptian & Ethiopian Cooperation).

It appears that reality is mirroring the third scenario most closely, with the recent tripartite joint technical committee, under which Egypt, Ethiopia, and Sudan coordinate an investigation of the Ethiopian Grand Renaissance Dam. The simple fact that this technical committee is comprised of representatives from all three of the users that would be directly impacted by the Grand Renaissance Dam, suggests that the recommendations and results are more likely to be used than if they were produced by a single state.

The 1959 Treaty is dead, and Egypt should take notice

Although there are water lawyers out there that could certainly argue with me as to whether the 1959 treaty is a useful international law, I find it hard to believe that any court or government outside of Egypt or Sudan would publicly recognize this treaty as legitimate, simply because the other riparians were not party to the treaty.

Do you disagree? Great! Explain to me (politely, please), how it is possible that Ethiopia and the other riparians could realistically fit into an amended 1959 agreement? If there is no realistic (and equitable) way to do this, then the 1959 agreement must be tossed out, in favor of something that integrates the modern Nile Basin riparians.

“2012 Treaty on the Equitable Allocation of Nile River waters”

The joint technical committee has the potential to lay the groundwork for an evidence-based technical agreement that satisfies the three big fish in the Nile Basin – Egypt, Ethiopia, and Sudan. I should be clear that I think there are enormous benefits for creating stronger regional ties between these three nations. Economic integration is one path that could lead out of a strong technical treaty.

Adapted from CIA

Ethiopia provides between 70 and 80% of the total flow of the Nile and has vast hydroelectric potential, Sudan has very large oil resources, and Egypt has well-established (though volatile) institutions.  Using equitable water allocations as a backdoor for broader integration among these three countries, it is possible that a more stable economically integrated Nile region could emerge.

Wait and see

Above all, the official uptake of the results of the tripartite technical committee will signal how the region plans to proceed; whether they aim for technical cooperation, increased regional trade, and potentially greater stability (through economic integration), or whether they close themselves off, limit dialogue and create upstream blocs (Ethiopia plus White Nile riparians) and the downstream “1959 bloc” (Sudan and Egypt).

Egypt & Ethiopia: Nile Cooperation at last?

By Patrick Keys 

UPDATE – “The Dragon and the Nile” exploring China’s role in Nile geopolitics

(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.

Future scenarios

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

by Kobus Savonije, Picasa

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

Sudanese and Egyptian flags from “One Step Forward”

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.

What’s next?

Center pivot irrigation in Sahara, from Wikipedia

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!

Egyptian Saber-rattling and the White Nile Coalition

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.)

Photo by Nabil Omar, from Wikipedia

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.

Photo from Wikipedia

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.

Photo from Wikipedia

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).

Photo from Wikimedia

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 ‚Äď as the next president of Egypt ‚Äď I will open the Rafah border crossing and will consider different ways to implement the joint Arab defense agreement.”

Photo from Wikipedia

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.

Positive outcome?

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).

Photo from Wikipedia

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.

Photo by Steve Evans, from Wikipedia

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.

Egypt’s Jonglei Canal Gambit

By Patrick Keys 

(This is a continuation of two posts: first, Mubarak’s Fall and the Future of the Nile Basin ; and, second, Egyptian Water Security vs. Ethiopian Development)

In the previous two posts, post-Mubarak Egyptian water security and conflicts with upstream Ethiopian development were explored. It was argued that Egypt’s post-Mubarak water policy must remain hawkish in order to vie with the emerging upstream powers, notably Ethiopia’s development of the Blue Nile.

Though I indicated that the next post would be specifically on the Comprehensive Framework Agreement and future scenarios of development within the Nile Basin, other news must first be discussed.

Egypt Renews Interest in Jonglei Canal

On March 27th the current Prime Minister of Egypt, Essam Sharaf, visited government officials in the soon-to-be-partitioned Republic of South Sudan (here referred to as South Sudan). Although pre-trip  press releases suggested that PM Sharaf would be discussing Nile River issues with South Sudan, it was unclear that the Jonglei Canal was among them. Whats more, the Sudan Vision daily newspaper reports that various Egyptian ministers, including Egyptian Minister of Foreign Affairs, Dr. Nabil Al Arabi, and Egyptian Minister of Water Sources, Dr. Hussein Al-Atfi, met with South Sudanese government representatives to discuss specific partnerships with regard to flow monitoring equipment and planned, bilateral cooperation.

Although this news is only a few days old, these are the first explicitly water-oriented actions of the new Egyptian political regime, and these statements and actions suggest that the new Egyptian government plans to be actively involved with upstream Nile nations, specifically with those nations that Egypt has historically strong ties.

This news is enormously important, because until recently, the Jonglei Canal has been a backwater (no pun intended) issue, given the continued lack of action.

Why is this a Gambit?

Renewing interest in the Jonglei is a gambit for Egypt in the sense of the so-named chess move; where a sacrifice is made to gain advantage.

Photo from Wikimedia

By agreeing to share the water that the Jonglei Canal would transport equally with South Sudan, Egypt is hoping that this hydro-diplomacy will cement their ability to exert influence in the new nation.

The Jonglei Canal – a Primer

The White Nile enters South Sudan from the south via Uganda. Shortly after entering Sudan, the Nile enters a vast marsh/wetland/swamp area known as the Sudd. The Nile enters the Sudd with an average flowrate of 1,048 m^3/s and leaves the Sudd with an average flowrate of 510 m^3/s. Therefore, approximately 500 m^3/s is “lost” in the Sudd (which if totaled over an entire year, equals approx. 15 cubic kilometers per year).

The  Jonglei diversion project would largely bypass the Sudd, with a 360 kilometer (or 220 miles) canal. For a sense of scale, this is equal to the straight-line distance between either New York to Washington DC; London to Paris; or the North-South length of of Taiwan.

The goal would be to transport more water downstream, that can be used for irrigated agriculture in Egypt, Sudan, and now, South Sudan.


First proposed in 1930 by hydrogeologists, the Egyptian government studied the diversion project during the 40’s and begin planning in the 50’s.¬† Construction began in the 70’s and stopped in 1984.¬† By the end of 1984, 240 of the planned 360 km had been completed. Construction halted due to actions by the South Sudanese rebels in 1984, and has not resumed since.¬† Until now, the project has remained a remote possibility due to a lack of political will both upstream and downstream.

Photo from United Nations

[The photo above is of the rusting hulk of a german made excavator, apparently named “Sarah”, that was abandoned after canal construction was halted in 1984]

The stakes: The Sudd

The Sudd (a.k.a. the Bahr al Jabal, Al Sudd or As Sudd) is an enormous wetland, fed by the White Nile, that has an average size of 30,000 square kilometers (although during the wet season, it can become as large as 130,000 sq. km.)

For an in depth overview of the Sudd, I recommend going to the Wikipedia page, which has sections on climate, geomorphology, population, and ecology. The important point is that the Jonglei Canal would, for the most part, drain the Sudd. Numerous studies have been conducted that provide ample evidence that there are both vibrant ecosystems (including huge numbers of wildlife) as well as diverse pastoral societies (notably the Dinka, Nuer, and Shilluk), that exist in the Sudd.

What are the Consequences of the Draining the Sudd to construct the Jonglei Canal?

Draining the Sudd would likely reduce, if not fully eliminate, many of the afore-mentioned human and non-human systems. A few of these impacts are detailed below.

Physical Consequences

The Jonglei Canal would be disastrous for the Sudd, specifically the diverse ecology that exists there.  There are over 400 species of birds that either live or migrate through the Sudd, as well as enormous numbers of large animals that forage and water in the Sudd region.

Photo by Charlesjsharp, from Wikipedia

Also, though Egypt and the other backers of a renewed Jonglei Canal project claim that the canal prevents the water from being “lost”, this is not entirely accurate. Lost is an inappropriate term, since recent research (Keys et al.submitted) suggests that a large amount of growing season precipitation originates as terrestrial evaporation over the Sudd. Removing the Sudd could thus have large implications for, albeit distant, rainfed agriculture in the Sahelian region.

Political & Economic

Increased Egyptian influence could potentially have a stabilizing effect on relations between the Sudan and new Republic of South Sudan.

Internally, however, it is unclear whether the negative consequences of draining the Sudd or the postive impacts from the construction of the Canal, would win the day. Southern Sudan has, historically, been racked by war and ethnic strife, and removing a key stabilizing factor (access to water and suitable grazing land for the predominantly pastoralist societies) would almost certainly inflame these tensions.

Photo by Tim McKulka, UN Media

However, if Southern Sudan can provide the means for the dislocated communities to receive the Egyptian influxes of capital, in the form of local jobs (canal construction and operation) and opportunities for communities (improved infrastructure, including electricity, water, roads, and potentially education), it is possible that these potential tensions may be reduced.

When Could the Jonglei be Completed?

It is unclear how long it would take to complete the project, but apparently in 2008 Sudanese and Egyptian authorities set a target of 24 years; in other words “Here’s a date that is so far into the future, that we aren’t going to worry about it.”

However, if Egypt is serious about investing in the Jonglei Canal (and it would appear they are serious based on the overwhelming display of Government Ministers on the recent trip to South Sudan), then it is probable that the project could take little more than a decade. This conservative estimate is based on the fact that the early construction completed 2/3 of the project (240 km of 360 km) in approximately 6-years, despite political unrest.

Foundations of a Nile Basin Showdown?

With Egypt courting the partnership of South Sudan, it seems much¬†less likely that the government of South Sudan will sign the Comprehensive Framework Agreement (CFA).¬† Though there are many other nations in the Nile Basin that have signed the CFA, losing South Sudan’s support would be significant because it represented a major potential downstream partner.¬† The other signatories, Burundi, The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Ethiopia, Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania, and Uganda,¬† are all generally upstream providers of the Nile River.

Including South Sudan in the CFA could mean a bridge between the currently upstream providers of the Nile waters and the downstream recipients.  In this scenario, South Sudan could act as an intermediary, facilitating dialogue between the upstream and downstream nations.

However, if Egyptian political and economic influence begins to play a major role in South Sudanese water security, it is unlikely that South Sudan would jeopardize their situation by signing a politically volatile treaty with the upstream nations.

What is the Future of the CFA in the Nile?

If this is true, then it is possible that the CFA may become irrelevant as a diplomatic tool for governing the Nile, and that the issue of allocating the finite waters among the Nile riparians will remain an uncoordinated endeavor.

The next post in this series will (likely) explore how these emerging issues will inform the ongoing CFA effort and how these new development may inform Future Scenarios for the Nile Basin.