The floating Sahara, Egypt’s obsession with perpetual dependency

BY TESFU TELAHOUN ABEBE – The current tense state of affairs between Ethiopia and Egypt is a situation which is heightened by the domestic politics of both states, shifting regional rivalries and alliances as well as by powerful global geopolitical undercurrents. Never has the Nile issue been put to such prominent and international scrutiny.

The blatant intrusion by US Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin into this most delicate matter in which he nor his department are hardly equipped to handle has only served to galvanize an enraged Ethiopian populace which has been stung by what it perceives to be the USA’s official position on the matter.

However, this is not the case as has been revealed by the extent to which Mnuchin and his office have been roundly condemned by senators and members of congress from both the Democratic and Republican parties as well as by erstwhile friends and allies of Ethiopia-many of whom possess the necessary diplomatic skills and hands on experience in African and/or cross boundary resource administration and in plain unbiased analysis.

To Mr. Mnuchin we must remind him that our nation’s sovereignty is not a tradable asset to be mismanaged like a Wall Street hedge fund. This uncouth individual has had a torrid reputation rooted in the scandals of the subprime mortgage crisis which resulted in the 2008 financial meltdown and is personally responsible for countless shattered families as his companies aggressively foreclosed on tens of thousands of homes.

His appointment to the treasury came about as a a result of his generous political donations and had nothing to do with merit-such as it is. Ethiopia expects that a more polished senior official will soon try to make amends to Mnuchin’s racist statements and thereby repair the damage to the 120 years old relationship between Ethiopia and the United States.

At this juncture we must rise and bow to the new government and to the people of Sudan for the brave stance they have adopted in resisting Egypt’s efforts to isolate Ethiopia and to turn the Nile into an Ethiopia versus Arab or Africa versus the Arab world issue.

I cannot find the words to express to my Sudanese brothers and sisters about how deeply touched and appreciative we Ethiopians are and wish you all the success as you rebuild your nation out of the rubble of tyranny.

Touted by its inceptor as ‘the eighth wonder of the world’, the planet’s largest system of extraction wells, storage tankers, pumping stations and mammoth pipes has created Libya’s Great Man-Made River (GMMR).

It has been said that any worthy achievement is a function of the incidental and/or accidental convergence of the right time, the right place and the right condition. As for the GMMR it is all of these prerequisites plus one more-the boundless ego that would even attempt such an outlandish and seemingly over-ambitious project.

Richly endowed with high grade, readily accessible and marketable oil and natural gas reserves, Libya was also doubly fortunate in the hydro-geological sense because it is one of the four countries which share the Nubian Sandstone Aquifer System-NSAS. This extraordinarily rich source of groundwater is the world’s largest reservoir of so called ‘fossil’

fresh water, covering over 2 million square kilometers-nearly twice Ethiopia’s size. Armed with the requisite ego and self confidence, unlimited funds at his disposal and the astounding global developments in engineering; Muammar Ghaddafi tapped into this resource and made it flow 1600 kms to the parched and populous northern rim of Libya.

Built in phases between 1984 and 1999, the GMMR supplies 70% of Libya’s fresh water needs and at current levels of extraction the groundwater will last for at least the next 800 YEARS!

The NSAS is shared among Libya, Chad, Sudan and Egypt with the latter having the largest portion within its territory. In fact, nearly all of Egypt is literally floating on an underground ocean of fresh water. It has been conservatively estimated that just the western section of Egypt’s portion of the NSAS holds enough fresh water equivalent to 500 years of the Nile’s present volume during peak flow.

Let me repeat: the exploitable and treatable groundwater in western Egypt amounts to at least five centuries of Nile water reaching Egypt.

As Libya demonstrated 25 years ago, Egypt could just have easily tapped into the Nubian Sandstone Aquifer System; a reliable, well researched and geologically very accessible resource.

Research by Egyptian, European, American and other experts also recommend that Egypt can actually exploit the water at virtually little to no expense-apart from initial construction costs. This is because the aquifer is located in a region which has the world’s highest solar exposure-thereby allowing for wells, pumping pressure, distribution, irrigation and other activities to be powered by abundant and inexhaustible solar energy.

The NSAS is truly a Gift from God for the four thirsty nations and even more so for an Egypt which exists in precarious and pathetically helpless dependency on a single river system.

Egypt would do well to explore the numerous options available to them to augment their water supply as well as to establish the fact that they do not necessarily have to rely on the good will of upstream states for their very survival.

Necessity is the mother of invention-and this is very apt for Egypt. It is a dynamic state which at its best has been able to build a second Suez Canal channel in less than a year. Surely it can dig holes into soft sandstone and extract a virtually infinite supply of fresh water.

In fact, I do not see any other choice for Egypt. It must diversify its sources of water or be doomed to remain a petulant spoilsport forever dependent on an Ethiopia which has had enough of Cairo’s repeated warnings over a resource located in a sovereign land which has a proven reputation of fiercely guarding its dignity. As a matter of fact, Egyptian historians know better than most about what this means.

I’ve read recently an op-ed on Al-Ahram English in which the writer concluded by saying:
“It is better that we go (to war) and die fighting the Ethiopians rather than dying of thirst in our homes. ”

May I suggest that instead of worrying about how best to die; Egyptians should roll up their sleeves and extract the sweet water of life sloshing around under their feet.