Egypt and Thirsty Neighbors at Odds Over Nile

(New York Times) Thanassis Cambanis - Upstream countries, looking to right what they say are historic wrongs, have joined in an attempt to break Egypt and Sudan's near-monopoly on Nile River water, threatening a crisis that Egyptian experts said could, at its most extreme, lead to war. Egypt's population is growing briskly, and by 2017 at current rates of usage the Nile's water will barely meet Egypt's basic needs, according to the Ministry of Irrigation. Under British colonial rule, a 1929 treaty reserved 80% of the Nile's flow for Egypt and Sudan, then ruled as a single country. Usually upstream countries dominate control of a river, like the Tigris and Euphrates, which are much reduced by the time they flow into Iraq from Turkey and Syria. The case of the Nile is reversed because the British colonials wanted to guarantee water for Egyptian agriculture. The seven upstream countries - Ethiopia, Uganda, Tanzania, Kenya, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Burundi and Rwanda - say the treaty is an unfair vestige of colonialism, while Egypt says those countries are awash in water resources, unlike arid Egypt, which depends on just one. This spring, Ethiopia inaugurated a $520 million hydroelectric dam on a Nile tributary, part of a decade-long project to create a modern electricity infrastructure. In addition, investors from China and the Persian Gulf region have expressed interest in underwriting enormous agriculture projects in Uganda and Ethiopia which would use Nile water. Meanwhile, water experts say that Egypt has done little to curtail its own misuse of water. Irrigation water still flows largely through dirt channels often choked with weeds. Much of it leaches into the ground before reaching crops. So long as water is free for farmers, there is little incentive to conserve.

2010-10-01 09:31:43

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