Ethiopia, Saudi Arabia in row over Nile River dam project
Mohammed Awad Posted date: March 09, 2013 In: East Africa, Egypt, Environment, Gulf, Latest News | comment : 8
Ethiopia's dam project has seen widespread criticism from Egypt, Sudan and now Saudi Arabia.
ADDIS ABABA: Ethiopia has demanded that Saudi Arabia explain itself after a minister attacked the country over its massive Renaissance Nile River dam project, saying that the water rights of Sudan and Egypt would be threatened with its completion.
“The Renaissance dam has its capacity of flood waters reaching more than 70 billion cubic meters of water, and is located at an altitude of 700 meters and if it collapsed then Khartoum will drown completely and the impact will even reach the Aswan Dam,” the Saudi Deputy Defense Minister, Khalid Bin Sultan said at the meetings of the Arab Water Council in Cairo last week.
The $4.8 billion Renaissance Dam is currently under construction and is scheduled for completion in 2015.
The Saudi official further accused Ethiopia of being keen on harming Arab nations.
“There are fingers messing with water resources of Sudan and Egypt, which are rooted in the mind and body of Ethiopia. They do not forsake an opportunity to harm Arabs without taking advantage of it,” Prince Khalid said.
“The establishment of the dam leads to the transfer of water supply from the front of Lake Nasser to the Ethiopian plateau, which means full Ethiopian control of every drop of water, as well as [causing] an environmental imbalance stirring seismic activity in the region as a result of the massive water weight laden with silt withheld in front of the dam, estimated by experts at more than 63 billion tonnes,” he added.
Ethiopian foreign affairs ministry spokesperson, Ambassador Dina Mufti said the accusation was “unexpected and shocking.”
The dam project has seen widespread concerns from Egypt and Sudan, who have echoed the Saudi official’s sentiments over the project, which they see as an infringement on their historical rights to Nile water.
The dam could threaten the regional stability after the Egyptian government said it remained “concerned” over Ethiopia’s actions along the Nile River.
The International Monetary Fund (IMF) has also called on Addis Ababa to push the dam project to the backburner in order to focus on other economic initiatives.
While Cairo has denied any intention of attacking the dam, as reported by whistleblower website Wikileaks, the country’s Water Resources and Irrigation Minister Mohamed Bahaa el-Din said last month that his country was maintaining its concerns about the construction of the Renaissance Dam in Ethiopia.
He did say that officials at the Ethiopia foreign ministry “assured Egypt and Sudan that in case there was any impact on their water quota to the dam, other projects will be carried out to collect lost water and cover shortages.”
It is the latest in the ongoing battle for the world’s largest river’s water, with Egypt and Sudan continuing to remain obstinate in amending any of the colonial treaties that guarantee their countries with a lion’s share of water from the Nile.
Wikileaks released documents this month that revealed Egypt and Sudan had been planning to attack an Ethiopian dam project to “protect” their rights over Nile water based on colonial era treaties.
In documents revealed by Wikileaks, the Egyptian and Sudanese government appeared ready to develop a launching pad for an attack by Egypt against the dam.
Wikileaks has leaked files allegedly from the Texas-based global intelligence company, Stratfor, which quote an anonymous “high-level Egyptian source,” which reported that the Egyptian ambassador to Lebanon said in 2010 that Egypt “would do anything to prevent the secession of South Sudan because of the political implications it will have for Egypt’s access to the Nile.”
Ethiopia’s massive dam project has seen much concern from Cairo and Khartoum, who fear the establishment of Africa’s largest dam would affect previous colonial deals on Nile water-sharing.
It is to be built some 40 kilometers upstream from Sudan on the Blue Nile.
But even before the official announcement of Ethiopia’s prime minister’s passing on August 20, Egyptian officials told Bikyanews.com that they believed a post-Meles region could bring forth new negotiations and compromise over Nile water.
An Egyptian ministry of water and irrigation told Bikyanews.com last year, two weeks before Zenawi was pronounced dead, that with the combination of Egypt’s new President Morsi and the potential of seeing a new leader in Ethiopia, they hoped the tension over Nile River water could be resolved.
“While this can in no way be official policy at this point, I believe that there would be more maneuvering with a new leadership in Ethiopia because there would be the ability to communicate and not be seen as antagonistic,” the official said, adding that they were not authorized to speak to the media.
“Let us be frank about the situation between Egypt and other Nile countries,” the official continued. “We in Egypt have not been the best at compromise so I think overall, there is so much that can be done to help bring countries together, and Ethiopia has been a leader in its criticism of Egypt so starting there would be good.”
With the Nile comes a new set of issues, and with Egypt holding onto a lion’s share of water from the world’s largest river, upstream countries such as Ethiopia have taken it on their own to begin building dams and other water related endeavors, much to the anger of Cairo.
However, officials hope that solutions can be had in the new post-revolution Egypt that could see the growing tension between countries along the Nile reduce.
“While Egypt never wants to mingle in another country’s affairs, a new leadership in Ethiopia would go a long way to changing how things are run, just like it has in Egypt,” the official added.