Egypt’s president Mohammed Morsi has warned that “all options are open” as a row with Ethiopia over diverting the Blue Nile for Africa’s largest hydroelectric dam intensified.
Ethiopia has begun moving the course of the Blue Nile, which rises in its western highlands, by close to half a mile as part of work on its Grand Renaissance Dam.
Costing £3 billion and standing 560ft above the gorge it chokes, the dam plans to more than double Ethiopia’s electricity generation.
But Mr Morsi’s government claims that the flow of the Nile through Egypt could be cut by a fifth during the five years that it takes for the 650 square mile lake behind the dam to fill.
“I confirm that all options are open to deal with this subject,” the president told hundreds of his supporters late on Monday.
“If a single drop of the Nile is lost, our blood will be the alternative. We are not warmongers, but we will never allow anyone to threaten our security.”
Earlier, several Egyptian politicians were filmed during a debate on the Nile waters row threatening to arm Ethiopian rebels to destroy the dam, or to suggest Egypt was boosting its military air power and could bomb the project.
It appears the politicians were unaware that their comments were being aired live.
Most of Egypt’s 84 million population rely on the world’s longest river for their survival, and a colonial-era treaty signed with Britain in 1929 allots Egypt the lion’s share of the Nile’s waters.
The agreement gives Egypt 65 percent of the river’s flow, and Sudan 22 percent, with the remaining 13 percent split between the other seven Nile Basin countries, Ethiopia, Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania, Burundi, Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo.
At 4,132 miles from source to mouth, the Nile is the world’s longest river. Its main two tributaries, the White Nile, starting in Lake Victoria, and the Blue Nile, flowing from Ethiopia, join at Khartoum, Sudan’s capital.
The seven “upstream” countries rebelled against the British-brokered deal, arguing in a 2010 treaty signed without Egypt’s approval that they should not have to seek Cairo’s permission for projects to tap the river’s resources.
Mohamed Kamel Amr, Egypt’s foreign minister, is due to travel to Addis Ababa, the Ethiopian capital, later this week to discuss the crisis with officials there.
“We have a plan for action, which will start soon,” Mr Amr told MENA, Egypt’s state news agency.
“We will talk to Ethiopia and we’ll see what comes of it. Ethiopia has said it will not harm Egypt, not even by a litre of water. We are looking at … this being implemented.”
Mr Morsi’s opponents claim that he is whipping up nationalistic anger over the Nile crisis to divert attention from his wilting popularity at home.
In an interview aired on state television and radio on Wednesday, Hailemariam Desalegn, Ethiopia’s prime minister, vowed that work on the Grand Renaissance Dam would not stop, despite Egypt’s apparent threats.
“‘All options’ include a war. I don’t think they will take that option unless they go mad,” Mr Hailemariam said. “I urge them to abandon such an unhelpful approach and return to dialogue and discussion.”