Why is the electricity switched off in Egypt

Huge dam project - the battle for the Nile escalates: is the world threatened by the first water war?

Huge dam project
The battle for the Nile escalates: is the world threatened by the first water war?

Ethiopia is using the corona crisis to advance its huge dam project. Ironically, the divided Sudan is now supposed to mediate.

The sound becomes shrill, the nerves are on edge. Exactly four more weeks, Ethiopia wants to start filling the gigantic basin of the “Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam” (GERD) with water from the Nile - regardless of the neighboring countries of Egypt and Sudan.

The $ 4.8 billion dam is three quarters complete. The first two of the 13 power turbines are ready for use. It should start at the end of June with the start of the rainy season. Five years later, the 74 billion cubic meter reservoir would be full.

However, Egypt is resisting this by all means and recently even switched on the UN Security Council. The Ethiopian plans would “endanger the supply of water and food, and indeed the entire existence of the more than 100 million Egyptians, whose livelihoods are totally dependent on the Nile,” said Cairo's 17-page letter to the world committee.

Anti-aircraft missiles to protect the holy waters

Ethiopia countered irritably. According to Addis Ababa, there is no legal obligation in any way to obtain the approval of Egypt. Incidentally, the damming of the Blue Nile will start as planned.

For almost ten years now, the three Nile nations have been trying to defuse their points of contention over the colossal stowage project - above all the duration of the filling, but also the guaranteed annual flow rate for Sudan and Egypt as well as Ethiopia's obligations in the event of a drought. In November 2019, the diplomatic situation was such that the adversaries even asked US President Donald Trump as a mediator for help - without success.

In the meantime, the corona crisis has pushed the tricky Nil dispute off the international agenda. And Addis Ababa apparently wants to use the global state of emergency to unilaterally create facts. Even a military confrontation no longer seems to be ruled out. Ethiopia recently deployed anti-aircraft missiles near the dam. In return, Egypt's head of state Abdel Fattah al-Sisi put his army on high alert.

On top of that, Egypt's constitution defines the protection of “historical rights” to the river as a national goal. What is meant are the agreements of 1929 and 1959, which, however, have never been recognized by Ethiopia. With them, the two lower reaches secured the lion's share of the river with 87 percent - Egypt 55.5 billion and Sudan 18.5 billion cubic meters per year.

In the failed negotiations, Cairo now demanded an annual flow rate of at least 40 billion cubic meters during the filling years, while Addis Ababa offered only 31 billion. In return, Ethiopia demanded a minimum volume in the reservoir for periods of drought so that the electricity turbines do not have to be switched off.

Egypt, on the other hand, insisted on a guaranteed flow rate even when there was little rain and on the right to have its own experts monitor the locks on site. Cairo suspects that their adversaries will no longer want to let their cards be looked at in the future.

Split Sudan tries to act as a mediator

In this climate of mistrust, Sudan of all people is currently trying to mediate between the fronts, although its leadership is divided on the Nile dossier. Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok, who came to power a year ago after the overthrow of dictator Omar al-Bashir, leans towards the Ethiopian side because he and his management team lived in Addis Ababa for a long time.

Sudan's army leadership, on the other hand, including the notorious ex-militia chief Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, sees itself firmly on the side of Egypt and its potentate Abdel Fattah al-Sisi for strategic reasons.

Last week, however, Hamdok made it clear at an online meeting with the Ethiopian leadership that filling the basin for Khartoum without a comprehensive treaty was also out of the question - a partial diplomatic success for Egypt.

Now the opponents want to look for a way out of the mess at the last moment. Cairo announced that they were ready for renewed negotiations, provided that “a future agreement takes into account the water interests of Egypt as well as the water interests of Ethiopia and Sudan”.