Skip to main content
x

Egypt's description of its water thirst is hyperbolic

Nature is honest, and those of us who deal with it and with its various manifestations, such as the Nile River, must be equally honest. I would say that Nature's "Three Commandments" on the River Nile and given down to the riparian people are:

  1. Use it equitably: Each country should have its fair share of the bounty and it should be able to enjoy it in a peaceful way.
  2. Nurture it: Plenty of trees must be planted around the river so that there could be more rain. If the Nile River is to be plentiful, lower as well as upper riparian countries must take afforestation as their common project.
  3. Handle it with due respect: As a celebrated Egyptian artist, Sherine, is said to have said:  "Egyptians abuse the Nile as they revere it". Probably the same can be said about the other riparian countries. The Nile must be used efficiently and kept clean.

I strongly believe that Egypt has blatantly violated Nature's first commandment on the use of the Nile, namely, to use it equitably. It takes nearly all the water of the Nile for itself and it tries to justify her action through an array of specious arguments forwarded through marshaled politicians, academics and journalists.

One of the mantras that Egypt uses ad nauseam is "historic right". It clings precariously on Nile River-related colonial treaties that trample the right and dignity of almost all other riparian countries.

Another mantra Egypt uses is "existing conditions". Just because the unjust colonial treaties have given her a monopoly of the Nile water, it has come to develop an excessive and unrealistic appetite for the Nile water.

The development and expansion of Egypt's existing agricultural, urban and industrial sectors has been brought about, to a significant extent, at the expense of the growth and development of upper riparian countries. The untenable status quo has to change, however expensive it may be for Egypt. An unjust existing condition must not be allowed to continue to exist. Any argument put forward to prop up an unjust existing condition would be nothing else but sophistry.  

Yet another Egyptian mantra is "thirst".  Just recently, Khaled ElAbyad, Egyptian ambassador to Kenya told The East African in an interview published on June 15, 2020: "… the impact of the water shortage in Egypt caused by the dam project can be catastrophic".  Continuing the alarm, he said:

"Millions of jobs will be lost, thousands of hectares of arable land would disappear, cultivated land would experience salination, the cost of food imports would increase dramatically, and urbanization will sky-rocket due to rural depopulation, which will lead to an increase in unemployment, crime rates and transnational migration".

Egypt's water thirst fixation and the cry of suffering being broadcast at international forums is assuming  hyperbolic and paranoiac dimensions, particularly as the Ethiopian dam (GERD) is  nearing completion and readying for initial filling,

Although Egypt's general aridity on the surface is well understood, it could be said that it is sitting on water. Mary C. Morton, well versed in geology, among other disciplines, said "Aside from the Nile River's green corridor, much of Northern Africa is desert. But the arid landscape hides a secret: Vast quantities of groundwater fill an underground aquifer that spans four countries." These four countries are Sudan, Chad, Libya and Egypt.  

Satellite-aided geological studies show that Egypt has underground reservoirs that extend beyond its national borders and contain billions of cubic meters of water. Farouk alBaz, Egyptian-American scientist, geologist and director of Boston University's Center for Space Physics, said that Egypt has underground water "that could last a hundred years". What is more surprising is that, according to Mary Morton, the earlier mentioned countries are known to own "more than 150,000 cubic kilometers of groundwater - more water than the Nile River discharges in 500 years."

Mary Morton further cites Cliff Voss, a hydrologist with the U.S Geological Survey in Menlo Park, California, as saying, in Hydrology Journal:

In 2014, we mapped out the Nubian aquifer in the hope that the four countries wouldn't compete over their share of water. ... Fortunately, all four countries [mentioned above] essentially have water forever, especially Egypt and Libya.

Furthermore, Voss added that the groundwater is: "a gorgeous supply, clean, not salty...you can drink it without filtration or treatment".

On around August 16, 2019, standing in the midst of the abundance of groundwater under him, Egypt's Minister of Water Resources and Irrigation, Mohamed Abdel Ati, said:

The water situation in Egypt is critical. ... We have reached a point where the available water quantities set the limit for economic development. We have become one of the driest countries in the world.  

Having seen the situation of the underground water in Egypt, let us glance at what is on the surface. Egypt has, in Lake Nasser, water "worth almost 2 years of river discharge."  This means that it would have enough water for almost two years even if the Nile, for some reason, does not give water for two consecutive years. In fact, according to Wikipedia, "At the Aswan High Dam, the floods could be controlled and the water could be stored for later releases over multiple years".

Fortunately though, the Nile is, as always, obliging. However, given all this blessing, Egypt is, now a days, throwing such a tantrum in front of the world just because Ethiopia has decided to take a little extra water for the initial filling of its dam, without causing any serious harm on it.

If there is any thirst of water in Egypt, it is not due to lack of water but due to the country's leaders not having done their homework in developing the necessary infrastructure for exploiting the existing resource. Or else, they are saving it aside for later days, choosing, for now, to scramble for whatever water there is in the Nile at present and, God forbid, for when there might be extended droughts in the highland countries.   

Egypt is wasting precious time indulging in specious arguments focusing on anachronistic "historic rights", "existing conditions" and over-exaggerated water thirsts.  It must come out of a world of self-delusion when it comes to the Nile River.

A veteran Ahram Online journalist, Dina Ezzart, quotes Ayan Abdel Wahab, an expert on the management of water resources at Al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies (ACPSS) as saying:

I think that what Egypt needs to do now is pursue a far more comprehensive vision of the management of the Nile and its resources by all the riparian states.

Another voice, among the many other wise voices of advice for Egypt, is Sam Hamad, a Scottish-Egyptian and author, who says: 

What is sure is the days of Egyptian hegemony over the Nile are over – the only way through this for Egypt is to develop a relation with Ethiopia that is conditioned by mutual respect and good faith, as opposed to belligerence and chauvinism. Only then can the potential for genuinely unprecedented disaster in Egypt be averted - at least for now.

I wish to add my voice to those of Sam Hamad and many others. I call on Egypt to sit down and commune with its co-riparian countries and act in concert to fulfill Nature's commands: to use the River Nile equitably, to nurture it and to handle it with due respect so that there would be water in abundance and there would be no thirst.

Ed.’s Note: The views expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the views of The Reporter. The writer can be reached at [email protected]

Contributed by Hailu Araaya