Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry recently paid an official visit to Israel and met with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Of the issues discussed between the two, the most important was that Egypt might consider appointing Netanyahu as its mediator to resolve its water dispute with Ethiopia. A point overlooked by local media, which focused on what they claimed was the betrayal of the Palestinians the meeting represented.
Also overlooked was the fact that Israel will manage the electricity output from the Renaissance Dam and is in general becoming a strong presence on the continent.
Water is a matter of national security for all nations, and particularly so for Egypt.
According to the 1959 agreement on the distribution of the Nile River water, Egypt’s share is 55.5 billion cu.m. What was enough in 1959, however, is not enough in 2016.
While Egypt has ambitious economic plans, the country’s pressing population increase is not making matters easier for the Egyptian government. The end justifies the means and so Egypt appointed Netanyahu to resolve water issues with Ethiopia as part of a two-phase project. In the first phase, a pipeline is to be constructed from Tana Lake in Ethiopia which will pass through Eretria (where Dahlak and Fatma islands host the Israeli naval forces that are strategically overseeing Bab al-Mandab), then through Sudan and finally Egypt. Afterwards, in phase two, the pipeline can be extended to take Nile River water to Israel.
The mutual benefits are obvious: for Egypt a higher share of cleaner Nile water for irrigation, industrial and commercial usage. We can build pipelines or construct canals to reach the western desert regions depending on site surveys and cost-benefit analyses. Israeli innovations and technology in agriculture will be an added assist.
For Israel, the plan will guarantee a continuous flow of Nile water to meet its current and future needs. It will be then be in a position to sell water to both Jordan and Palestinians in return of securing peace for its people. Israeli companies will profit from the rapidly growing Egyptian market – with approximately 2.6 million children added each year.
Once Israeli technology is adapted in Egypt, together the two countries will gain entrance to African markets with signed bilateral trade agreements such as COMESA and others.
The Alexandria to Cape Town highway and new tunnels under the Suez Canal – projects under construction – will facilitate the movement of products from Egypt and Israel.
Ethiopia will generate cash by selling the water. This cash can be utilized to meet its industrial and agricultural needs.
I am a strong believer that peace and prosperity can be brought about through economic cooperation. This vision, once accepted by the three leaders, will require building an advocacy team with members from each country which has strategic vision to carry out an action plan. The Egyptian public is beginning to feel the impact of water shortages, in agriculture and in the home. It is appropriate to take action now while the political and economic circumstances permit.
The author is a competitive intelligence consultant.