Thursday, 13 January 2011

Egypt fears Southern Sudan's secession could threaten its access to water

Egypt in recent years has looked at Sudan as a source of water and bawabs [doormen - in previous times, abid or slaves]. It fears now that the likely secession of Southern Sudan into an independent state could threaten Egypt's access to Nile water.

This is a psychological issue rather than a realistic one. Egypt has all the paranoia of a downstream state, dependent on a quantity of water that it is not in its power to control.

For years, Egypt has pointed to the Nile Water Agreements signed in 1929 and 1959 as guarantees of its share of Nile waters. These gave Egypt a total of around 55.5 billion cubic metres (bcm) of water and Sudan 18.5 bcm out of the Nile's average total water supply while the remaining 10 billion bcm is lost in evaporation. Until recently, Sudan has never used its full allocation but its economic development has been increasing its usage. At the same time, the upstream riparian states have been rethinking these arrangements.

While the expected creation of another Nilotic state could further complicate these calculations, ironically it is not Southern Sudan which is a problem for Egypt but Ethiopia. Although the White Nile - which flows through Southern Sudan before meeting the Blue Nile at Khartoum where they become the River Nile – has the larger volume of water, so much is lost in evaporation in the Sudd swamps of Southern Sudan, that the vast majority of the water that Egypt receives is from the Blue Nile; a raging torrent in the rainy season but a calm and lazy river in the dry season. If Ethiopia proceeds with its plans to build more dams across the Blue Nile and increase its own use of the water, this would, indeed, have a severely detrimental effect on Egypt.

Egypt has already begun a belated campaign to curry favour through economic co-operation with upstream states. We are likely to see Egypt increasingly turning to Africa as its true hinterland to ensure its lifeblood.

For more news and expert analysis about Egypt, please see Egypt Politics & Security.

© 2010 Menas Associates

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