Experts say Nile Basin countries may fight over water

By Muhammad Yamany, Wael Naguib / August 3, 2009

CAIRO (Xinhua) — Some Egyptian experts accused the United States and Israel of raising differences among Nile Basin countries to affect Egypt and Sudan, warning that Nile Basin countries may fight for water in the future.

They referred that Egypt, with a population of about 77 million people, would never give up its historic rights in the Nile water.

There are foreign hands pushing some of Nile Basin countries to amend the 1929 agreement, which organizes the relations among these nations and the proportion of water to each country, so as to put pressure on Egypt and Sudan, said Dr. Abed al-Monem al-Mashet, Director of Search and Studies Center in the prestigious Cairo University.

Al-Mashet told Xinhua late on Wednesday that these hands are Israel, which has some old projects to affect Egypt's quota in the Nile water especially in Ethiopia, and the United States which has an influence in southern Sudan.

He added that differences among the Nile Basin countries could be normal if there was not an agreement organizing the relations among them signed in 1929 and so no country can change the water quota for each country.

Earlier this week, Egypt's Minister of Public Works and Water Resources Mahmoud Abdel Halim Abu Zeid said that Egypt is suffering from a serious shortage of water.

"Egypt has already entered the cycle of water poverty," said Allam.

On the other hand, Egypt's Ministry of Foreign Affairs said that Egypt's need of water is a red line that no one can come across and Nile Basin countries should consult Egypt before carrying out any projects that could affect Egypt's share of water.

Asked about the outbreak of war due to differences among Nile Basin countries, al-Mashet said that Nile water is a matter of national security to Egypt and in the past Egypt's former president Mohamed Anwar Sadat threatened to use military power if any of the Nile Basin countries tried to amend the 1929 agreement.

However, al-Mashet said that he does not think it could reach war at the time being as there is no big water projects in the Nile Basin countries, but it would happen in the future.

He called for negotiation in good intentions among the countries, expressing his belief that negotiation needs a summit for presidents instead of water ministers.

Meanwhile, Dr. Eglal Rafat, professor of political science at Cairo University, warned that differences in this issue could lead to war in the future if countries did not reach an agreement about sharing water.

She told Xinhua that Egypt sees that the past agreements about sharing Nile water are legal and the international law is in its side, so it is impossible that Egypt would compromise any of its historical rights as it is already suffering from water poverty.

Egypt reiterated that it would not recognize any agreement or any organization for the Nile basin countries unless it admits clearly the Egyptian rights in Nile water and that Egypt should be consulted before carrying out any project on the Nile which could affect the water quota of Egypt.

Egypt's water needs will surpass its resources by 2017 because of its population. A recent report by the cabinet's Information and Decision Support Center said that Egypt would need 86.2 billion cubic meters of water in 2017 while its resources would only be 71.4 billion cubic meters.

Egypt's water resources stood at 64 billion cubic meters in 2006, of which the River Nile provided 55.5 billion cubic meters, or 86.7 percent, the report said.

Egypt says that the Nile water is enough for every country if these countries concentrated on how to mange and use it.

On Tuesday, Nile Basin countries delayed signing a water-sharing agreement rejected by Egypt and Sudan, which opposed any reduction in their quotas.

"Wars could break out for water in the future unless an agreement is reached on how to share the river's water," said Rafat.