Monday, March 23, 2015

Analysis: Egypt Forced to Negotiate on Nile Dam

(Mar 23, 2015, (Business Insider Australia))--Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi will travel to Addis Ababa on March 23 to address Ethiopian lawmakers before travelling to Sudan to sign an agreement on the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam. The details of the agreement are unknown, but its aim is to balance Ethiopia’s economic interests with Egypt’s national security concerns.

Ethiopia, Egypt and Sudan agreed March 6 on preliminary governing principles on Nile water cooperation. This followed a Feb. 21 decision by Egypt to return to the Nile Basin Initiative, a group it had boycotted for five years.

Ethiopia’s dam could jeopardize Egypt’s access to the Nile — access that is critical to sustaining Egypt’s population and economy — because it would give Addis Ababa the power to curb Nile water flows. Egypt needs guarantees this will not happen. However, the division of the Nile and its tributaries (the Blue Nile and the White Nile) between nine different states makes a stable agreement extremely difficult.

Until recently, Egypt’s tactic was to push Ethiopia to cancel the dam altogether — the only surefire way for Cairo to guarantee the secure flow of the Nile. With the project now 40 per cent complete, Egypt must shift gears and pursue a solid agreement, even if it is one that it cannot be sure will last forever.

The March 6 agreement emerged from a three-day gathering of ministers from Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan in Khartoum. It laid out governing principles following months of negotiations, recognising Egypt’s security concerns as well as Ethiopia’s right to use its water resources for economic development. The agreement is not final, however, and will give way to further rounds of talks. The same is also probably true of whatever agreement emerges March 23.

Ethiopia, Sudan and Egypt are all to some degree reliant on the water of the Nile, but as upstream nations, Ethiopia and Sudan have a distinct geopolitical advantage. Both countries have the potential to regulate downstream flows and are not as vulnerable to disruption themselves. As the last in a line of nine nations, Egypt, on the other hand, is dependent on continued flows. Ethiopia’s dam would give the country the ability to all but cut off the flow of the Blue Nile, which supplies 85 per cent of water to the Nile Valley, where nearly all of Egypt’s 82 million people live.

Egypt’s Limitations
Egypt’s options to counter Ethiopia’s plans are few. Cairo does not have the ability to stop the dam militarily before its construction or, once the dam is finished, pose a credible threat to its continued operation. It is simply too distant from Egypt’s airfields, and Cairo has neither aerial refueling abilities nor access to nearby Sudanese bases. Read the full report at Business Insider Australia »

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