June 30, 2013 in War Drums on the Nile Part 10
- MARK BYRNESEthiopia is currently building Africa’s largest hydroelectric power plant. When it opens next year, the “Great Renaissance Dam” will tap into the Nile River. Unsurprisingly, Egypt, a country whose identity and way of life are tied to that body of water, feels threatened by its neighbor’s ambitions.
The new dam will help provide electricity to a country where more than 80 percent live without it. But in Egypt, most of its population is centered near the Nile valley and delta. The former chairman of the National Water Research Center tells Time that the dam will reduce water flow anywhere from 1,300 billion gallons to 6,600 billion gallons per year. It will also increase river pollution, harming fisheries and making it difficult for boats to navigate the river. As Egypt’s foreign minister Mohamed Kamel Amr said recently, “no Nile, no Egypt.”
Tensions between the two nations over the dam project have been palpable. Egypt president, Mohammed Morsi said in a speech on June 10, “we will defend each drop of the Nile with our blood.” During a televised cabinet meeting the week before, several members told the president that “he must destroy the dam through any means available.” Ethiopian prime minister, Hailemariam Desalegn however said recently that “nothing and no one” will stop construction of the dam.
Politics aside, the Nile does play a defining role in everyday life for Egyptians, whether they be farmers or floating restaurant owners. Below, via Reuters photographer Asmaa Waguih, we get a glimpse of the wide ranging ways Egyptians use their treasured river:
A small cruise boat passes Nile City Towers, which is owned by Naguib Sawiris the owner of Orascom Telecom, overlooking the river Nile in Cairo June 7, 2013. (REUTERS/Asmaa Waguih)
A boat passes buildings under construction and the two towers of the Bank of Egypt building (R), overlooking the river Nile in Cairo June 7, 2013. (REUTERS/Asmaa Waguih)
A woman rows, while another holds a net as they fish in the river Nile in Cairo April 16, 2013. (REUTERS/Asmaa Waguih)
Boats sail past the burned out headquarters of former President Hosni Mubarak’s National Democratic Party, on the banks of the Nile in Cairo June 12, 2013. (REUTERS/Asmaa Waguih)
Women wash clothes in the river Nile in Cairo May 20, 2013. (REUTERS/Asmaa Waguih)
A boy jumps into the river Nile as people celebrate the spring holiday of Sham el-Nessim on the outskirts of Cairo May 6, 2013. (REUTERS/Asmaa Waguih)
A boy washes his horse in the river Nile in Cairo May 22, 2013. (REUTERS/Asmaa Waguih)
Men help a priest disembark from a river taxi on the river Nile April 5, 2013. (REUTERS/Asmaa Waguih)
A fisherman rows his boat on the river Nile in Cairo April 13, 2013. (REUTERS/Asmaa Waguih)
A farmer stands near his cow while it drinks from the river Nile in Cairo May 22, 2013. (REUTERS/Asmaa Waguih)
Boys play on a ferry jetty on the shore of the river Nile in Cairo May 22, 2013. (REUTERS/Asmaa Waguih)
People sit on chairs set out by a cafe on the banks of the river Nile in Cairo April 21, 2013. (REUTERS/Asmaa Waguih)
People sit in a cafe overlooking the barrages of al-Qanatir on the river Nile in Cairo May 6, 2013. (REUTERS/Asmaa Waguih)
A woman looks out as she sits in a boat during a cruise on the river Nile in Cairo June 7, 2013. (REUTERS/Asmaa Waguih)
Boats housing restaurants and nightclubs float on the river Nile in Cairo May 8, 2013. (REUTERS/Asmaa Waguih)
June 28, 2013 in Water Wars
While major powers continue to cross swords around Syria, a little further south, at a distance of a thousand kilometers, another conflict is flaming. The conflict between Egypt and Ethiopia may become the first struggle of a new type for natural resources, or water, to be more precise. Futurists are correct in their predictions as the 21st century will become the century of wars for survival.
Ethiopia, thanks to the support of the Soviet Union, was at the peak of its power during the 1970s. The country was a regional leader in East Africa. Since that time, the country has experienced several economic crises, multiple civil clashes and two wars – with Eritrea and Somali armed groups.
Leftist forces, led by the recently deceased Meles Zenawi, proposed a concept of national renaissance. The concept stipulated the construction of a large power plant on the Blue Nile that would be called “The Grand Ethiopian Renaissance.” The height of the dam will be 170 meters, its length – almost 2 kilometers.
For Africa, it would be a fantastic project, just like the cost of it – nearly $ 5 billion. The design capacity of the plant is 6000 MW, and there are no other similar power plants on the black continent. As soon as the plant is launched, Ethiopia receives a powerful impetus for development, satisfies the needs of its own economy in energy and water, and also obtains a reliable channel of revenues from the export of electricity. This is a classic example of how a variety of economic and geopolitical problems could be solved in nearly one day.
However, these intentions of Addis Ababa turned out to be highly disturbing to Egypt, the territory of which lies upstream of the Nile. In case the hydropower plant is built in Ethiopia, Egypt loses more than 20 percent of water supplies and at least 40 percent of energy produced by hydroelectric power plants (mostly the Aswan one). This is a disaster for the economy and agriculture of Egypt. Egyptian President Mursi said that he was ready for anything, because the river Neil was the natural wealth of Egypt. “If Egypt is the Nile’s gift, then the Nile is a gift to Egypt. The lives of the Egyptians are connected around it… as one great people. If it diminishes by one drop then our blood is the alternative, Mursi stated.
A mufti of Egyptian Islamist group Al-Gama’a al-Islamiya stated on Al Arabiya TV channel that he would declare Jihad to Ethiopia, should the country begin the construction of the power plant. The mufti also accused Israel of being a part of the project. According to him, the construction of the dam was a “conspiracy to put pressure on Egypt.”
We would like to note here that the mufti is wrong. Israel learned how to put pressure on Egypt (and some other countries) a long time ago, by funding politicians of interest directly. Needless to say that this method is a lot less expensive.
In the beginning of June, Egypt urgently sent a delegation to the territory of former Somalia to assess the prospects for the revival of the Somali army that used to be at war with Ethiopia, and the creation of a military alliance with the unrecognized state of Somaliland. It is highly likely that Eritrea will take Egypt’s side, taking into consideration the fact that Ethiopia defeated Eritrea in 2000. The governments of Sudan and South Sudan supported the Ethiopian government. Another developed country (by African standards) – Kenya – has not expressed its opinion on the matter. However, Kenya is interested in receiving cheap electricity from Ethiopia.
Six African countries, including Burundi, Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania, Uganda and Ethiopia signed an agreement that replaced a number of documents of the colonial era. Egypt used to consume up to 70 percent of the Nile waters and could veto any decision on the construction of any type of hydro-technical facilities. Nowadays, restrictions and quotas have been lifted.
As for Egypt, if it were only about the military conflict, then the army of Egypt, which is 10-15 times superior to the armed forces of all signatories and their allies in terms of manpower and 20 times – in terms of tanks and combat aircraft, would crush the enemy in a few days. However, Egypt and Ethiopia have no common border, so the Egyptian military maneuver around semi-guerrilla forces, Somali groups and unprofessional Eritrean armed forces. In addition, the political situation in Egypt is far from being stable. A war could make matters even worse.
To crown it all, Egyptian President Mohamed Mursi has a very limited set of moves to resolve the crisis. Mursi is doomed to start combat actions. If he uses political methods, many would accuse him of betraying vital interests of the country, which would lead to a national revolution. Quite on the contrary, a successful military campaign against Ethiopia would retain the balance of the Egyptian economy and dramatically reduce the political weight of the opposition. In this case, Mursi would be able to take full control of the political situation and finish his reforms.
Should the conflict occur, it will go down in history as the first large-scale war for water.
Herbert Marcuse, the founder of the theory of overpopulation of the Earth, predicted that by the middle of the XXI century, wars for water, food and energy resources would completely replace class wars for geopolitical influence. In a nutshell, people will fight for misery that will help them survive. Will his predictions come true?