Ethiopia wants to build a dam for the purpose of creating what would be Africa’s biggest hydroelectric power plant and the seventh largest one in the world. Egypt has been filled with consternation because, as the Egyptians argue, this dam would divert water from the Nile River which provides over 90% of their country’s water. According to Egyptian scientist, Essam Heggy, if things do not get resolved Egypt will lose 72% of its farmland, as we read in Middle East Eye:
Egypt could lose as much as 72 percent of its farmland when the latest phase of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam is completed, according to a new study cited in the London-based Al Quds al-Arabi.
The study, conducted by NASA, the University of Southern California and Cornell University, finds that while the dam offers development opportunities for Ethiopia, the changing flow of the Nile River will lead to significant water deficits in Egypt.
Egyptian scientist Essam Heggy, who worked on the study, said that if the deficits created by the completion of the second phase of the dam’s construction are not addressed with a joint agreement for water storage, he expects Egypt to lose up to 72 percent of its arable land.
The loss of water – which he estimated could be as much as 40 percent of Egypt’s current water share – could see unemployment rates rise to 25 percent and the gross domestic product drop by as much as 8 percent.
“Egypt will overcome this crisis, but at a high price, which will make it more vulnerable to other water and environmental crises looming over a near horizon,” Heggy said.
“The quick profit diggers investing in the Renaissance Dam project are fully responsible for the disaster that could take place not only in Egypt but in the entire region, as well as the destruction of a river which represents is the cradle of human civilization and the legacy of all mankind.”
It is no wonder that Egypt’s Foreign Ministry has stated that Ethiopia’s dam project threatens “security and peace” in the region. Egypt is not the only one worried, but Sudan as well. Both Egypt and Sudan have lobbied the United Nations, the US government and other countries to intervene and stop Ethiopia. Egypt consumes 84 billion cubic meters of water every year, and this demand is expanding as the population grows. If Ethiopia continues with its aims, and there is no resolution, we could be seeing a war over water between Egypt and Ethiopia. In fact, going all the way back to the 1950s, Egypt has threatened Ethiopia with military intervention for wanting to conduct dam-building. War between Egypt and Ethiopia is not far-fetched. In 2020, when Ethiopia began filling up the dam, Egypt lobbied the Arab League to demand Ethiopia to cease with its dam project, and Sudan refused to join with the League in fear of a pan-Arab conflict with Ethiopia.
Initially, Al-Sisi ruled out the possibility of war with Ethiopia, but as discourse between the two countries has broken down to an impasse, in 2021 al-Sisis said that “all options were open.” Political leaders in Egypt have even argued that the use of military force to stop the dam project is possible.
Relations between the two countries has not always been relaxed. In 1979, Egypt wanted to preclude plans by Ethiopia to build a dam along the Nile. Ethiopia, on the other hand, opposed a plan by Egypt to divert water to irrigate the Sinai Peninsula which would have decreased the water levels in the Nile basin. Things got even more tense between the countries after gunmen tried to assassinate Hosni Mubarak in Addis Ababa in 1995. It was during the Arab Spring, in 2011, when Egypt was overtaken by revolution, that Ethiopia took advantage of the situation and began its dam project, making a deal with the Italian company, Webuild. Regardless of the fact that in 2015 Egypt and Ethiopia signed an agreement of cooperation (which included a seven-year timelines for fill the dam), tensions remain and a solution has not come to fruition.
Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry has called the dam an existential threat for Egypt: “Egypt — a nation of over 100 million souls — is facing an existential threat … A grand structure of mammoth proportions has been constructed across the artery that bequeaths life to the people of Egypt.” Ethiopia has resisted any sort of arguments from Egypt with a nationalist approach, stating that Egyptians are exaggerating. In 2020 Ethiopia filled the dam with 4.9 billion cubic meters of water. Ethiopia began the second filling in July 5 of 2021, without an agreement with Egypt and Sudan on water flow. Efforts for mediation have reached an impasse, with Ethiopia refusing to come to an agreement for an international-mediated agreement with Egypt and Sudan for management of water flows downstream from the dam. According to Al-Monitor: “For Egypt, as well as Sudan, the mediation efforts of the African Union over the past year have hit a dead end.” The stalemate is occurring regardless of three hour meeting in which members of the UN Security Council called on Ethiopia, Sudan and Egypt to settle their dispute over the dam under the superintendence of the African Union. “We got engaged in a whole year of talks that were convened and facilitated by our African brethren to forge an African solution to this intractable problem,” Shourky said. “And yet, we have failed,” he added. Shourky also stated:
“After a year of abortive negotiations and despite the tireless efforts of the Chairpersons of the African Union and our international partners, we find ourselves – again – confronted by the reality of the unilateral execution of the filling of the GERD without an agreement to protect downstream communities against the dangers of this dam … This blatant act of unilateralism is not only a manifestation of Ethiopia’s irresponsibility and its callous indifference to the damage that the filling of this dam could inflict upon Egypt and Sudan but it also illustrates Ethiopia’s bad faith and its attempt to impose a fait accompli in defiance of the collective will of the international community as expressed and embodied in the holding of this Security Council session to discuss and take action on the question of the GERD … the AU-led process, in its current format, has reached an impasse
The United States wants to see international mediation that would settle the dispute, as Linda Thomas-Greenfield, the US representative to the Security Council, stated:
“The African Union is the most appropriate venue to address this dispute, and the United States is committed to providing political and technical support to facilitate a successful outcome. We urge the African Union and the parties to use the expertise and support of the three official observers — South Africa, the European Union, and the United States — as well as the United Nations and other partners to help achieve a positive outcome.”
Egypt has already been suffering from drought, and a dam that would divert the Nile’s waters would also be destructive. Magda Ghoneim, a professor of agricultural development at Ain Shams University, warned: “Nobody is telling farmers how to mitigate and adapt to climate change …Adding the pressure of a dam puts Egypt on the verge of catastrophe. Soon enough we won’t [find food to] eat.” Egypt’s farmers have also had to face new plant diseases and insects and unprecedented humidity. There has also been the phenomena of rising seas contaminating groundwater with salt. When Abo Khokha, a farmer, pumped underground water to make up for the reduced flow of the Nile, he found only half the usual volume, with a higher level of salinity. Mohamed Abdel-Ati, Egypt’s minister of irrigation and water resources, affirmed that Egypt cannot live without the Nile and that Ethiopia must prove that its dam will not harm Egypt: “Egypt cannot live without the Nile …Egypt understands Ethiopia’s right to development but Ethiopia has to prove, practically, that the dam won’t harm Egypt.”
The Bible itself foretold that the Nile will dry up. In Isaiah 19:5 it reads: “The waters of the Nile will fail to rise and flood the fields.” Ezekiel 30:12 tells us: “And I will dry up the Nile and will sell the land into the hand of evildoers; I will bring desolation upon the land and everything in it, by the hand of foreigners; I am the LORD; I have spoken.”