Egyptian-Ethiopian Conflict Spikes as Addis Ababa dams Blue Nile

The Ethiopian government’s unilateral and high-handed decision to build an enormous dam on the Blue Nile has thrown Egypt into a state of high anxiety. Egyptians already suffer from too little water (700 cubic meters/ yr vs. about 1,000 cubic meters average in rest of world). Water shortages were among the impetuses to rural populations to join in the 2011 revolution against dictator Hosni Mubarak.

The Ethiopian decision contravenes an earlier agreement among the 11 nations through which the Blue and White Nile rivers flow.

Retired officers have been quick to throw cold water on the idea of an Egyptian military response, pointing to the powerful international supporters of the dam, including China and Italy [some Egyptian source also allege Israeli involvement but this has been disputed]. It would be naive, however, to imagine that the step will not raise tensions between the two countries.

Leftist politician Hamdeen Sabahi said Egypt should consider denying the dam’s international backers use of the Suez Canal.

Aljazeera English reports:

Ethiopia has enormous wind and solar energy potential, and does not need to dam the Nile to get electricity.

One of the side effects of American corporate actors such as the Koch brothers and Exxon-Mobil impeding the adoption of wind and solar in the United States is a Himalayan opportunity cost. If the US had gone in for alternatives in the 1990s on the scale the climate change crisis calls for, wind turbines and solar panels would be much cheaper than they are now (as it is their cost has fallen precipitously). Dangerous dam-building of the sort in which Ethiopia is engaged could then have been avoided.

US Big Oil is making our world more dangerous on a whole range of levels, not least of which is delaying the needed world energy revolution.

Egypt will not only increasingly face a crisis of fresh water, but it along with Bangladesh is among the two countries most threatened by rising sea levels, since the Nile Delta is close to sea level and will likely be inundated by the Mediterranean over the next century. Tens of millions of Egyptians could be displaced by these two environmental catastrophes.

Posted in Uncategorized | 23 Responses | Print |

23 Responses

  1. Interesting that Israel is supporting the dam given the threats it has leveled at Lebanon over waterflows from Lebanon into Israel.

    • Oh, Hugh. Really? Now Israel ought to somehow be held responsible for Ethiopian domestic policy? Sorry, but not this time. The broader question is connected to Egypt’s self-inflicted misery as a result of managerial mismanagement, horrid pollution and waste of resources and – most importantly – spiraling population growth. It’s the latter which will doom Egypt. Maturing societies generally see their population growth rates moderate. Let’s see whether this trend makes a substantive difference in Egypt. The religious establishment generally opposes attempts at birth control so I am very pessimistic this situation will improve very much.

      If this were a stock market play, I’d be short Egypt.

      • He didn’t mention Egypt, did he? Seems he’s bringing up the issue of Israel’s own future water shortages, and the suspicion of many that it will one day seize Lebanon up to the Litani River as an attempt at a solution. Which would require destroying Hezbollah so that the Shia population there would be defenseless.

  2. denial of access to the Suez for Chinese shipments is a great way to lose Egypt any sympathy it might have, as well as the income the ships generate. More importantly, this is just the beginning of damming issues throughout the Middle East.

    (By the way, Mexico’s not been releasing enough water out of the Rio Bravo. You wouldn’t support more border controls there, I don’t imagine. ;) )

  3. Israel has not spent a single dollar on this project nor has it given technical assistance. There was not even a non-Israeli Jewish organization or person involved. But, I guess if you want public support for an agenda in Egypt you have to invoke the boogy-man Jew.

    Also, Ethiopia’s actions does not contravene the NBI, it makes it real. NBI seeks to remove the veto power of a single country on critical economic projects carried out in other Nile basin countries. It is Egypt that walked out on the negotiations when all others signed it.

  4. Important? Very.
    Are the fossil fuel companies demons? Yes.

    But when you mention wind and solar power, you should also include the enormous benefits that would accrue if the countries along the Nile would improve their wasteful irrigation methods.

  5. “Leftist politician Hamdeen Sabahi said Egypt should consider denying the dam’s international backers use of the Suez Canal.”

    Were Egypt to follow through with Mr. Sabahi’s suggestion, it would find itself in direct contravention of its international obligations under the Constantinople Convention of 1888, which is still the governing authority on use of the Suez Canal. Article I of the Convention is quoted below.

    “Article I:

    The Suez Maritime Canal shall always be free and of commerce or of war, without distinction of flag.
    Consequently, the High Contracting Parties agree not in any way to interfere with the free use of the Canal, in time of war as in time of peace.
    The Canal shall never be subjected to the exercise of the right of blockade.”

    If Egypt were to deny any nation use of the Canal because of support for the Ethiopian dam, or for any other reason, it would find itself an international pariah and suffer significant financial and economic losses as a result. I doubt that Egypt would cut its nose to spite its face because of one misguided politician.

  6. The destructive potential energies in reservoirs behind dams, that themselves are so nicely vulnerable to various weapons, make great weapons in their own right, and provide all kinds of tactical and strategic options and opportunities — more grist for the effing Great Game mill.

    As long as the goal is tribal dominance, and of course “profit,” achieved by destroying the stability and security of others, with the various “benefits” that accrue to a very few Players, we are well on our way to “Planet of the Apes Meets Soylent Green.” But there will be so much to chatter about, along the way, and speculate on and offer Illuminations based on deep thinking and complexitations from our Well Placed Cogniscenti and Experienced Players. And what actually happens will invariably be dictated by Mr. Murphy, not the Best Laid Plans.

    But there’s money to be made in the interstices… Lots of it… and with any luck, you can do a Nazi Retreat to Argentina or a “Tailor of Panama” riff, to duck the big consequences of your tripping the first leg of the whole Rube Goldberg apparatus…

  7. I think the Maldives rank somewhere in the top two countries to be affected by rising sea levels.

    from Jimmy Wales:
    “With an average ground level of 1.5 metres (4 ft 11 in) above sea level, it is the planet’s lowest country. It is also the country with the lowest natural highest point in the world, at 2.4 metres (7 ft 10 in). Forecasts of Maldives’ inundation is a great concern for the Maldivian people.”

  8. It is a very biased and one sided article. Do you know that most of the rivers that flows in Ethiopia are tributaries to the Nile? Do you know that about 85% of the water comes from Ethiopia? Here you are telling Ethiopians that you can’t use a single drop of water that ever falls on their backyard (i.e. what ever is there would go to the Nile). Mr Cole, What would you say, if your neighbour comes to your house and commands you what to do or not to your property? Your assertion seems like Ethiopians can survive without water unlike the Egyptians. Regarding the Nile basin initiative agreement, I think you don’t have a clue. The NBI has been negotiated for more than a decade by all Nile basin countries and it has been played down by Egypt every single time. Then, 2 years ago, the rest of the countries signed the deal except Egypt and Sudan. The NBI agreement removes the Veto power of Egypt. The Veto power was give to Egypt by the Colonialists in 1929 disregarding the interests of upstream countries (i.e. Ethiopia was not a colony of anybody anytime, there is nothing that abides the country by the treaty) and in 1959, Egypt negotiated with the Sudan ignoring all other upstream countries and gave herself the lion share of the Nile waters. The NBI erased this unfair treaty over upstream countries and formulated a treaty that will benefit every riparian country equitably. Ethiopia hasn’t contravened the NBI, rather your article contravenes your own principles of providing an independent and well informed perspective of middle Eastern and American politics. May be you don’t have an independent and well informed perspective on Africa!

    • Ethiopia signed agreements not to do this. And, water flowing through your country to somewhere else is not your exclusive property.

      I am also critical of what the US has done to the Colorado River that used to flow into Mexico.

    • The problem is, during the Bush regime, Ethiopia was a known neocon whore in the process of becoming an authoritarian state. Then it invaded Somalia to install a UN-backed regime because of its fears that its own growing ethnic Somali population might be a threat. For all practical purposes it was acting as Bush’s proxy in the War on Moslems, Horn of Africa subdepartment. Do we trust neocons anywhere else where they’re still in power?

  9. I’m Egyptian, and some of the comments shows only ignorance, nonsense and lake of reading history. And as usual you would speak about protecting Israel and threatening its neighbors in order to keep Israel safe but fuck others “who cares” and even you will use anyway to deny the right of using the Suez Canal as a strategic card that Egypt can use against countries like Ethiopia that tries to deprive Egyptians from the only source of life in Egypt “river Nile” not mention the 7000 years that proves the eligibility of Egypt in the Nile water.
    The Suez Canal had been done by Egyptians hands and we have the full right to use it as a protective immunity against any national security threat.
    We’re the Egyptians love people so much and even sometimes we exaggerate in giving hospitality, If You read history remember the Jews in Joseph’s era.
    I can’t believe that some people would like to see Egyptians in miserly.
    Egypt is a great country and will continue to

    • You are just nonsense and illiterate. All 85 million Ethiopians will die for their water. The history what you’re talking is not real history. No Ethiopian signed in 1929 but colonialists who are not Ethiopians. Look, after feeling the dam the water will come to you and we cannot keep it in our pocket. So, it is not clear why you are worrying about it. The dam will be completed on time with Ethiopians b/s it is the wealth of all 85 million people.

      • It isn’t your water that is at issue, it is damming up the Blue Nile for electricity.

        It is your electricity that is at stake, and it isn’t Ethiopians who are being asked to die for it, it is Egyptians.

        If you want more electricity, put in wind turbines, solar panels and geothermal installations the way Kenya is doing. You don’t need to water-starve your northern neighbors to get your lights turned on at night or to run air conditioners.

    • Wesam- Strategically speaking Ethiopia is better placed to use the Nile if Egypt insists to block Suez canal. It is no win situation. Even if you choose war, I think Ethiopia has the military might to defend the Dam that said once again Ethiopia is in control do what it likes if it chose to. I do not think any wise Egyptian will advise war until such time Ethiopia severly decrease the water flow say by 50%. becouse if you go to war it means there is no wate finito. So you have to let Ethiopia do what it wishes. BTW I am not sure why the Egyptian negotiators fail to sign the new agreement.I think the Egyptians were Tricked by the Ethiopians.Had Egypt signd the agreenmet, It would have menat that Egypt could have a say on Nile Dam, in return Egypt could have had a lions share share of the Dam worth 6 Neculat plant. I think Egypt was tricked by the Ethiopians and missed a massive opportunity, the Ethiopian Negotiators are loughing by the sheer stupidity of the Egyptian negotiatores. If I were Egyptian I would be very angry by the lack of insight from the Egyptian negotiatores and that of the gov. Massive opportunity lost for Egypt from being the owner of initiatives on the nile to empty haded. Still there are oportunities Egypt should take them this time.

  10. The only one to blame on this issue is non other than Egyptian rulers.They forget that Ethiopia is the source of 85 % of the water which flowes to the Nile river.History showes that the Egyptian rulers conspired against Ethiopia by arming and financing every conflict this country engaged in inorder to weaken Ethiopia not to utilize the God given water,it is a crime and in the eyes of God and the people of Ethiopia.It is not a chance that all adverseies who one time or another work aganst Ethiopia found themselves in the situation they can’t get out.Ther is a blood in the hands of Egyptian ruler’s which they have to take responsiblity for conflicts perpetuated against Ethiopia.Never in history Ethiopians violated the other countries interest,they are God fearing and always striving to get along with all.This generation of the Ethiopia is realizing that there main enemy is poverty and they determined to come out of it ,inorder to do it they have to utilize God given water to produce much needed energy without harming down stream countries,by doing so they invite all concerning countries to come to the table and negotiate where all parties can benefited,as of to day thire good gesture is not reciprocate from the down sream countries.No one can force Ethiopia by dectating a treaty in which they are not part of it.the only solution for all concernig parties is a win win solution where all parties agrees.If Ethiopia can’t able to drink the Nile which is sufficent enough for all,no one able.The Nile(blue) river flowes from the heart of Ethiopia,it is a mistake to harm the breast which feed you.Finally I am hopping the Egyptian brothers and sisters comes to the reality and work with Ethiopian brothers and sister.We are not in any way to harm Egyptians, this is a fact every body to uphold.

    • There is nothing as clear as the explanation given above. Actually, I believe senior politicians in Egypt clearly understood Ethiopia’s intention of Building the dam. President Mursi has already clearly stated that ‘Egypt is not against the Dam as far as the water flow to Egypt is not reduced’. So what brought all this chaos is very clear and straight, those that are always starved of war. Western Media and Aljezeera are desperate of hearing some miss-understanding between these hysterically and blood tied countries. It is not healthy to imagine that Ethiopian politicians can have anything against the vast majority and innocent civilians. The problem is ‘there are other parties that have some interest from the conflict. I don’t believe they will be successful. The Egyptians know this very well, unless they have other agenda, against the Ethiopian Development Endeavors!

    • It is funny how the arguments always tend to involve Israel, biblical insinuations, nationalistic flares when it comes to Egypt the Middle East in general. The issue at hand is not something the sprung overnight. It has been proposed since the 1980s or even before. One thing precisely accurate in the article is the value of water. Along with many riches that the African continent promises clean water and fertile land is principal. Israeli intervention is a fact not fiction, they would be so stupid not to do so, go to the map and ascertain for yourself the important location of Ethiopia to the red sea.
      I am Egyptian too, and for sure I love my country and love water, but what Sabahi is suggesting is utter nonsense. He has no political weight on the ground, nor he has any knowledge about a crisis like the one at hand. Unless China is in direct military conflict with Egypt, Egypt cannot deny passage. The argument that no one signed for Ethiopia but the colonial powers is also flawed, it is a ratified treaty not a handshake in a coffee shop after last call for liquor. Many donot also know, that Egypt doesnot deny the right of Ethiopia or any other country to develop their land, after all the Electricity coming out of the dam has to be sold somehow, and I believe there are plans to link Electrical networks. The main problem comes after completing the dam, in the period where you start filling the artificial lake, you have to stack water for five consecutive years to have a level suitable for power generation. That means that you are going to block water from users downstream.
      Then also you have to consider the nature of the land at this part of the world which is prone to Earthquakes especially with all the new concentration of pressure, in case of a breakdown Khartoum will disappear. That is to be taken into consideration.
      So what is the solution, first all countries have to recognize that treaties exist for a reason. Second, the ultimate solution is to cut deals that benefit all countries on the nile. The issue is not an Egyptian veto, the issue is precedent, just because I don’t like the way you look in the morning I can claim I didn’t sign any treaty. Ethiopia also is paying the price of neglecting it is own people for the benefit of Cold war adventurers. This prevented any serious attempts to develop all the Nile basin as an integrated economic unit.
      For those who like history what you may not know is that a treaty between Egypt and Ethiopia exists since 1979 when part of Ethiopia was colonized by Ismael, this treaty gave back the land to Ethiopia (trying to unite at the time) in return that Egypt pays a certain amount of money and NO dam or Water work wold take place. The land that the dam is on is part of this treaty. Ye again, the solution is not in war or international law. It is in recognizing that the destiny of neighbours is linked like it or not.

  11. Hello there, I am an Ethiopian and I want to say these things on behalf of my country. My Country (Ethiopia) has full right to use the Nile river as the country is the source of 85% of the water that pass through the great Nile river. All the Egyptian Should know and understand the truth forgetting the colonized and absolute agreement that had been agreed long time ago. The Egyptian Government need to aware its citizens that Ethiopia has a full right to use the river.

  12. There is something left out in all there arguments, that irrespective of legal rights and international treaties is the fact that the Nile has always, since ancient times, been allowed to flow to the upper countries. There are very well established communities that use this resource. So why would Ethiopia knowing full well that they are precipitating an international crisis

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