Egyptian experts said ditch Nile dam talks, go to court

Friday 27/11/2015
The Grand Renaissance Dam under construction near the Sudanese-Ethiopian border.

Cairo - The failure of talks on Ethiopia’s Nile dam, the continuing construction of the project and poten­tial devastating effects of it on Egypt are reasons why Cairo should scrap negotiations and take a new course of action, Egyptian experts say.
They add that while Egypt is try­ing to reach a diplomatic settle­ment to the dispute, Ethiopia con­tinues to drag its feet on the dam’s potential catastrophic effects.
“This means that the Ethiopians will make the dam a fact on the ground so soon, while we are fol­lowing this negotiations course,” said Ahmed Refaat, an internation­al law expert. “It is very necessary for our country to leave this nego­tiations track and follow another more effective one to stop the pro­ject.”
Ethiopia’s Grand Renaissance Dam has turned into a severe prob­lem for Egypt since construction started a few years ago. Ethiopia says the hydroelectric dam, which will store about 79 billion cubic metres of water, is necessary for economic development.
The project will, however, effec­tually leave Egypt without needed water and destroy millions of hec­tares of agricultural fields, Egyp­tians say.
Egypt receives 55 billion cubic metres of water from the Nile — by far its primary source of fresh water — every year without an increase for decades. The country also gets around 15 billion cubic metres of water from other sources, includ­ing subterranean sources and rain.
Water and irrigation experts say with an annual individual water share of 650 cubic metres, Egyp­tians receive 35% less water than average international amounts.
They add that, together with the poor quality of water in most of the country’s provinces, water short­age can lead to huge economic losses. Some observers expect wa­ter scarcity to destabilise Egypt if the government does not find solu­tions.
Refaat says Egypt should resort to international arbitration to stop the project until studies on its ef­fects on Egypt are complete.
“The African Union, in which both Egypt and Ethiopia are mem­bers, has its own dispute settle­ment mechanisms,” Refaat said. “We can also resort to the United Nations Security Council to stop the project.”
Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan have been locked in months-long ne­gotiations on the ramifications of constructing the dam but the talks have produced no results.
The three countries have hired consultancy firms from France and the Netherlands to conduct spe­cialised studies on environmental impacts of the project but the two firms are at loggerheads on meth­odology.
In March, the presidents of Egypt and Sudan and the prime minister of Ethiopia signed a declaration of principles on the dam. Apart from ensuring that disputes between the three countries will be solved in a negotiated manner, the declaration called for involving Egypt in the process of filling the dam’s reser­voir and management of the dam after completion.
However, Egyptians are afraid that they will wake up one day to find the dam a fait accompli.
“At this point, we cannot do any­thing about it and we have to deal with its catastrophic effects on us,” Refaat said.
Egypt’s former Irrigation minis­ter, Mohamed Nasr Allam, said on November 18th that Egypt should declare the negotiations with Ethi­opia and Sudan a failure.
“Maintaining what are called technical negotiations reflects the three countries’ insistence on wasting time,” Allam was quoted by a local newspaper as saying. “In doing this, Egypt is also wasting every chance on which it can reach a settlement that puts an end to its fears on the dam.”
The water ministers of Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan met in Novem­ber in Cairo to reconcile the two consultancy firms and kick-start studies on technical effects of the project. The meeting, however, ended with no results. Another meeting was scheduled for Novem­ber 21st in Khartoum but was post­poned, reflecting gaps between the three countries on the studies.
Egyptians who follow the nego­tiations closely say the country can no longer resort to international arbitration or courts to stop the project simply because the dam is there already.
“This is why negotiation is the only course we can follow in this regard,” hydrologist Meghawry Shehata said. “Arbitration — if pos­sible — will take years, a period of time during which the dam will have been built already.”