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Fekahmed Negash

The Nile issue is the issue of the basin countries

 Fekahmed Negash, Currently, he is as an executive director of the Eastern Nile Technical Regional Office (ENTRO), covering Egypt, Ethiopia, South Sudan and Sudan, within the Nile Basin Initiative (NBI). ENTRO is tasked with the identification, preparation and planning of investment projects in the water sector that have a trans-boundary implication in the areas of irrigation, hydropower, power trade and interconnection and watershed management. He has an MSc. in land and water management from Cranfield University, UK.

Could you brief us about the aim of NBI?

Fekahmed: The NBI is an –governmental organization established in 1999 by the Nile basin member states mainly to cooperate and collaborate on the equitable and reasonable utilization of the Nile water. It was established by nine countries. Eritrea was an observer and South Sudan didn’t gain its independence then.

Its main objective was to alleviate poverty, eradicate environmental degradation, improve socio economic development and ensure the sustainable utilization of water among the Nile basin in equitable manner.

Specifically, it was working to build trust among the member states and narrowing the disparity of capacities.

In addition, it was working on the information and communication as well as the preparation of investment projects on the ground. This showcases that benefit of cooperation.

Has the initiative hit right on the nail?

Fekahmed: Yes, but there are challenges. One of the biggest challenges in the Eastern Nile is the existence of the colonial era treaties that apportion the availabilities of the water among the two downstream countries.

There were earlier attempts like hydro made which was started in 1960th among the downstream countries, mainly, for their benefits in the form of generating hydro methodological data. This was followed by other attempts known as Undugu in the 1980th. It was more of a Brotherhood. It mainly focused on the cooperation out of water.

In 1993, Takeo Nile was the other attempt by the downstream countries to divert the attention of upstream countries not to raise the question of equal water allocation. This was dealing with no studies and conferences. But when we come to Nile Basin Initiative, it plays secretarial role for the negotiations among the countries. The NBI has been playing a big role in bringing countries together and narrowing down capacity gaps, because if one does not have a capacity, the negotiation will not be on the equal footing.

Furthermore, NBI prepared some projects that are implied by the countries It was conducted fostering cooperation and peace.

Currently the issue of Nile is running out of the hands of Nile Basin countries and NBI, what could you say on that?

Fekahmed: Egypt has not been fully participating in the NBI since 2010, the time when six upstream countries signed the Nile basin Cooperative Framework Agreement (CFA). Sudan too had frozen its participation in 2010 .But it has got back in 2013.

So, all these countries are cooperating except Egypt. The issue of CFA is not the direct issue of the Nile Basin Initiative because it was negotiated and signed out of NBI. Now, it is on the process of ratification. But

as far as technical cooperation is concerned, NBI is actively engaged even though some countries are trying to handle the issues that would have been handled by NBI. The Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) can be mentioned in this regard.

Egypt raises GERD as survival issue, isn’t survival issue for Ethiopia too 60% of whose population is still shortage of light?

Fekahmed: Frankly speaking, no one can survive without water. It is a survival issue for all the basin countries, but the sole issue that Egyptians are reiterating is, “We don’t have alternative, while Ethiopia has.” They say Ethiopia enjoys a rainfall when Egypt has almost none. In addition, they say Ethiopia has other basins, while Egypt has only Nile.

But this claim is utterly wrong. Yes, Ethiopia has basins but all are trans-border by nature. So, if Ethiopians forgo the Nile for the sake of Egypt, they should forgo Omo and Genale for the sake Kenya, Awash and Wabi Shebelle for the sake of Somalia, 92% of Ethiopia’s water resources is transborder and Ethiopia will be left with only 8% of the water which is not acceptable at this point.

Also, in the other side, Egyptians are saying they don’t have alternative but in reality the reverse is true. Even, they have a better alternative than Ethiopia. Ethiopia has a rainfall by far better than Egypt. But the rainfall is unimodal falling once in a year and agriculture once in a year. Thought it is not sufficient to feed the population, it is unreliable due to the climate change.

So, it is really quite difficult to depend only on rainfall. So, there has to be a resort to irrigation as well. Even, for power, hydropower is dependent on rainfall.

But when we look at Egypt, for one thing they do have Nile and also have ground water while Ethiopia has almost none. Egypt has 55 billion cubic meter water from the Nubian Sandstone Aquifer. So, at a current water allocation, Egypt can use ground water for 1000 years.

Furthermore, Egypt has other alternative that is desalinization of sea water. So, Egypt has access to red sea, Mediterranean, and Swiss canal. So, since the cost of desalinize in going down, Egypt can easily use it for different purposes but Ethiopia is landlocked and has no such opportunities. So, when we look at all these options, Egypt is far better than Ethiopia.

Does GERD have negative impact on Egypt?

Fekahmed: Actually, GERD is a simple dam. It is a simple one that stores water and the water hits the turbines and flows to the downstream. Nothing is new. People have been constructing dams for the last 400 years. Egyptians are not the first to construct dam in the world. They know what it means. So, there is no issue with this dam.

The Issue is with the politics, and power struggle. With the Egyptian request to maintain the status co, they are ensuring their historical right over the Nile. Otherwise, it is a simple dam. Yes, it is not scientific to say the dam has no impact but the impact is not significant. It will reduce the flow during the filling but Egypt has Aswan Dam with the capacity of 2.5 twice of Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam. They stored the water they need for more than a couple of years and they can use that during the filling of GERD. This is not the new invasion but it is what has been around.

If we look at the Aswan Dam, it generates 2100mws. Egypt’s current capacity is more than 40000mws. So, the contribution of hydropower is about 6%. If we look at the maximum impact of GERD on the dam is about 10%, it means 200mws which is 0.07%.

The other impact is evaporation from the GERD; the evaporation will be about 1.7 billion cubic meters. But this water will be compensated by the reduction from the Aswan Dam as the dam will operate lower than the usual. Every year, there will be 1. 4 billion cubic meter evaporation from Aswan High Dam, so, the remaining is only 0.3 which is insignificant.

But, due to the prevention of flooding in Sudan, the GERD will play a great role and the net amount of water Egypt will get will increase than the previous one. Also, the Aswan High Dam will be benefited.

Herald: How did you see the U.S. Department of Treasury’s remarks?

It is one sided and unfair. First, they were not invited. Ethiopia never invited them to participate as the third party, they invited themselves and they slowly promoted themselves to observers, facilitators, mediators, negotiators, and finally they became a deal maker.

The statement they make is words Egyptians put words into their mouth. It wasn’t the statement by U.S Treasury but it was what Egyptians has been saying. Since 2015 Egyptians were saying Ethiopia should not fill the dam without reaching agreement with them. Even, to Americans, many well-known are condemning the act.

Egyptians are rising colonial time deal, while Ethiopia is the only country that remained not colonized, what does the deal has to do with Ethiopia?

Fekahmed: It is the matter of notifying what is going on in the international community; in the name of diplomacy

Egyptians are going around the globe giving wrong information about Ethiopia. When you raise this colonial era treaties, the first treaty was signed between Great Britain and Egypt in 1929. Britain signed the deal representing Sudan, Kenya, Uganda, and Tanzania who were under her colony.

This has nothing to do with Ethiopia, even; the countries under Britain’s colony rejected this treaty after they got freedom. This move was what inspired by President Julius Nyerere. It was the treaty signed on behalf of the countries without consulting them. Even, Sudan rejected the treaty in 1956. Then Egyptians signed another treaty with Sudan in 1959 allocating the Nile between them. Though, Ethiopia requested to be part of treaty they downplayed its request.

So, Ethiopia rejected the treaty. The treaty is applicable when it comes to the water that is in Sudan and Egypt not in the one in Ethiopia. They cannot manage the water not in their territory. What Ethiopia has to do is to inform the international community as the deal is the denial of the current situation. It has to be informed that Ethiopia deserves more respect as opposed to the belittling thing Egypt is saying about it.

And also, make sure that the current treaty that is Nile Basin Cooperation Framework Agreement is ratified by all countries. Ethiopia should work on the implementation of this agreement.

Egyptians are embracing none riparian countries, while Ethiopia remains with riparian countries; who is going to be the most loser?

Fekahmed: The Nile issue is the issue of the basin countries. So, it is always important to remain with basin countries.

The issue of the GERD is the issues of Ethiopia, Sudan, Egypt, and upstream countries. So, it is import for Ethiopia to continuously update them about developments so that Egypt does not distort them. Egypt always tries to create a wrong information that Ethiopia is violating the agreements among the basin countries.

Yes, Egyptians have closer relation to the Middle East countries, Europeans, and Americans than the Nile basin countries. That is why they went to these countries to secure their support. But these countries have to do nothing with Nile. It is up to Egypt to choose the best. No matter what, the issue of the GERD should be within the basin countries. So, the solution must be from within not from without.

From a professional viewpoint what solutions do you suggest to solve GERD’s quarrels?

Fekahmed: The countries have to come back to the negotiation table and they should work on the technical part. The biggest problem among the three countries is that they are bringing politics and security in the water issue where it doesn’t belong. For Ethiopia, water is a technical issue. It is managed by the technical ministry. So the Ministry of Water and Energy is in charge of all aspects including decision making. You go to Sudan, you find the same story. But if you go to Egypt, water is not only technical issue but also political and security because it is partly managed by foreign affairs and security.

If you come to Ethiopia, the water is technical but in Egypt the water is shrouded in politics and security. So, if the Ministry of Water and Energy is negotiating with Foreign Affairs and Head of Security, it is quite difficult to understand each other.

The best way for Egypt is to bring down the water issues to the technical level so that, the Ministers in change can make a decision. Several times, the three ministers of water had sit round table and agreed but when they go back, the Egyptian minister will be forced to change his decision. So, this is the problem we have been witnessing.

In addition, it is better for the three countries to be in the driving seat. This Dam is an Ethiopian dam and it will be filled by Ethiopia’s equitable share of water on an Ethiopian river. So, it has to be clear that any agendas regarding filling operational should be designed by Ethiopia. It should be documented for negotiation. This will give Ethiopia a power to set agenda and direct the discussion and negotiation.

Furthermore, it helps to come up with what will benefit the countries. We know that Egyptians are preparing a document form the interest of their national agenda. So, we should not allow such documents in discussion. The document we prepare shouldn’t be undermining the remaining countries. These are the areas on which we have to work hard.

They should stop finding solution from a third party because such parties will complicate and confuse things. Let them be transparent and genuine. The solution is only within the basins. But they have to avoid politicization and securitization.

If you have something to add, you are welcome?

Fekahmed: Particularly, this issue of third party is always important to think twice before making a decision. It has been Ethiopia’s position not to bring in a third party from the start. But this time for one reason or another, third parties are allowed not only to come in as an observer but also to interfere in our case. We have seen its attendant ills. So, third parties are always coming with their interests. We, the basin countries, though our interests are different and sometimes contradictory, it is possible for us to narrow down the differences. We know each other’s fears and interests. We are conjoined by a river never to divorce. We don’t have any option rather than cooperation. But if we are going to confrontation, we are going to lose. But a third party should not be the part of this package.

They don’t understand our fears, interests and concerns. In addition, they don’t share our visions. Nor are they tied with others and their interest cannot be reconciled. They lose nothing. So, my advice to the basin countries is to stop seeking solution from a third party. The best solution is to strengthen cooperation and sit for discussion.


Source: The Ethiopian Herald