El Sisi says Egypt determined to resolve Nile dam dispute with Ethiopia

Egyptian leader calls on international community to do more to help end the row

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Egypt is determined to do everything it can to resolve its dispute with Ethiopia over the potential effect on its water share from a hydroelectric dam Addis Ababa is building on the Nile, President Abdel Fattah El Sisi has said.

Cairo has long complained that the dam ― formally known as the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam, or Gerd ― would reduce its share of the Nile waters, on which it depends for almost all its fresh water needs. That, it insists, would devastate its vital agriculture sector, disrupting its delicate food balance and putting millions out of work.

“Egypt, realising the gravity of this issue and its existential importance, is renewing its commitment to settle the issue of the renaissance dam in a manner that will realise the interests of all parties,” the Egyptian leader said at a water conference in Cairo.

“Egypt calls on the international community to bolster and reinforce efforts to achieve this just aim,” he said, according to a text of his comments released by his office late on Sunday.

Responding to Egypt’s fears, Ethiopia has long maintained that the dam was unlikely to hurt the interests of downstream Egypt and Sudan, but it has also refused to enter a legally-binding agreement on the operation of the dam or agree on a mechanism to deal with future droughts.

The nearly complete $5-billion dam is being built on the Blue Nile, the river’s main tributary contributing the majority of the water reaching Egypt. It enters Sudan from the east before it joins the White Nile near Sudan’s capital Khartoum and travels north to Egypt.

Ethiopia says the power generated by the dam is key to its development, lifting millions of its people from poverty and allowing the Horn of Africa nation to export electricity to some of its neighbours.

In his Sunday comments, President El Sisi spoke of Egypt’s predicament as it struggles to deal with what he called water and food security and climate change.

“Egypt is one of the world’s driest countries and depends almost exclusively on the Nile for its renewable water sources,” he said, explaining that 80 per cent of the river’s water goes to agriculture, a sector that is a lifeline for the country’s 104 million people.

“In light of this unique water scarcity, Egypt’s water resources are no longer meeting the needs of its people despite the implementation of water conservation policies and the repeated use of irrigation water,” he said.

Egyptian farmers in the Nile Delta north of Cairo. EPA

Climate change has also had an effect on Egypt’s vital agriculture sector, with the rising water levels of the Mediterranean steadily encroaching on the fertile farmlands of the Nile Delta in northern Egypt, an area that has long been the country’s food basket.

In a thinly-veiled reference to Ethiopia’s Gerd, the Egyptian leader said Cairo wanted to see more cooperation between the Nile basin nations “rather than unilateral moves and uncooperative competition that leave us with limited and inadequate results in both size and scope.”

The last round of negotiations on the Gerd between Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia broke down in April last year in the Democratic Republic of Congo. There has been no word since on when negotiations were likely to resume.

Egypt’s delicate food balance has come into focus since the Russia-Ukraine war halted its wheat imports from the two nations, which normally account for 80 per cent of the country’s wheat imports.

Often the world’s largest wheat importer, Egypt endured steep hikes in wheat prices on world markets after the war broke out in February. Authorities meanwhile ordered local growers to sell around six million tonnes of wheat from this year’s harvest to the government under a programme that included incentives, as well as hefty fines for farmers in breach of the order or hoarders.

Updated: October 17, 2022, 3:38 PM