At the Media Roundtable Discussion series "Behind the Headlines," titled, "Ethiopia's Renaissance Dam: Impact on Egypt and the Future of Water for the Nile Basin Countries,” held yesterday at the American University in Cairo (AUC), professors analyzed the impact of Ethiopia’s Renaissance Dam on Egypt and to what extent it could affect its water share. Speakers were AUC professors Hamid Ali, associate professor and chair of the Department of Public Policy and Administration; Hani Sewilam, professor of sustainable development and water resources management, the Department of Mechanical Engineering; Sherine El Baradei, assistant professor, the Department of Construction and Architectural Engineering and Jasmine Moussa, assistant professor of law. The discussion was moderated by AUC alumna Randa Abu AlAzm, Cairo Bureau chief of Al Arabyia Channel.Sewilam explained that Egypt currently receives 55.5 billion cubic meters from the Nile River, which don’t cover Egypt’s needs. “Although we recycle water for agricultural use, we are below the water poverty line, which is 1000 cubic meter per capita per year. In Egypt, the person’s share is 650 to 670 cubic meters. Our real consumption of water is 75 billion cubic meters.” Sewilam added that the current situation is already delicate and sensitive without adding the impact of the Ethiopia Renaissance Grand Dam and that is why researchers and the government care about finding alternative water resources.
Since the building of any dam will affect the downstream countries, AUC professors discussed how and to what extent these countries would be affected as well as the possible strategy to move forward.
El Baradei explained that the temporary effects of the dam will happen when Ethiopia starts to fill the reservoir behind the dam, with its capacity of 74 billion cubic meter of water. “Such process that might take from five to seven years will result in a 12 to 25 percent decrease in Egypt’s share of water from the Nile,” she said, “in addition to the 3 billion cubic meters of water loss as a result of evaporation per year, the construction of dams also affects the quality of water negatively, increasing the salinity of water, which is not beneficial to the agricultural countries in the downstream of the river including Egypt. It will also affect the production of electricity in the Egypt’s High Dam by 12- 25 percent.” El Baradei explained that if Ethiopia decided to fill water during the months of cultivation in Egypt, the agriculture in Egypt will be affected. Not to mention the environmental effects of building the dam on the nature of the soil. “So far, Ethiopia doesn’t have a clear scenario for the opening and the closing of the dam, there is a dire need to preserve the water levels of the Nile.”
Moussa explained that from a legal point of view, there have been a number of signed agreements concerning the water of the Nile. In 1902, Ethiopia signed an agreement with the UK, which was occupying Egypt at the time, agreeing to not build dams that would harm the water flow to Egypt. In the Anglo- Egyptian agreements that followed in 1929 and 1959, Ethiopia wasn’t a party. “Ethiopia rejects these agreements, arguing they were signed under colonialism, which is a weak argument because in 1902 Ethiopia wasn’t under colonization. Generally, Egypt’s rights are protected under the general principles of international law, but there are no mechanisms to implement them.” However, Moussa added that the 2015 declaration of principles signed by Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia is based on the idea of a supplementary agreement with obligations on Ethiopia. “On many occasions Ethiopia has stated no harm to Egypt’s rights and currently Egypt is trying to put a peaceful framework to resolve the conflict.”
Ali, on the other hand believes that building trust is the way forward. He argued that the solution to the current situation is political in the first place. “The problem here is whether the construction of the dam is moving faster than the usual steps taken to build the dam. We need to rebuild this trust and find ways to make use of the energy which the dam is expected to provide. Many of the Nile Basin countries don’t need water but they need energy and if these countries reach agreements together, such cooperation could happen.” On the long run, Ali argued that the dam’s benefits will overshadow its cons if Egypt is able to make use of the energy generated from the dam.
Sewilam believes that the first step to build trust is for Ethiopia to halt the construction of the dam, because such step preceded the calculations, discussion and studies on the dam conducted by independent strategic offices.
El Baradei stressed the importance of having enough studies with numbers, which is not the case currently. “We have to have a mathematical model to know the effects of the dams. If we reach a good agreement with Ethiopia; the risks will decrease on the long-run.”