Were Egyptians hungry during frequent droughts in Ethiopia?
By Andualem Sisay Gessesse – In the past few years the tension between Ethiopia and Egypt has been escalating over the use of the water of the Nile River. Thought the reason for the dispute is said the Great Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD), which the country is set to start filling water this July, the issue is different.
Ethiopia proposed that it will fill GERD gradually without causing significant damage to water use of neighboring downstream countries – Sudan and Egypt. Ethiopia proposed that during the first year – this July rainy season -, to take 4.9 billion metric water and around 13 billion cubic water next year.
Meanwhile since the beginning of the construction of the dam, Egypt has been claiming that GERD will reduce the historical water volume from the Nile River (between 40 to 55 billion cubic meters of water). As July approaches, Egypt is currently trying everything that will force Ethiopia to ink a deal rather give assurance to Egypt that it will release at least 40 billion cubic meters of water annually from the River Nile.
Egypt, which is know as “the Gift of the Nile” argues that its people will starve and millions will be exiled to Europe if Ethiopia begins using the Nile River. But is Egypt’s claim true? To answer this it is good to know some basic facts.
Fact number 1 is to know the sources of the water of the Nile. Though around 15 percent of the water that flows into the the Nile River comes from other Nile Riparian countries mainly Uganda, Ethiopia contributes 86 percent of the water.
This 86% water is not coming from one river. It comes from tens of small water streams, which often almost dry or their water volume comes down by less than 50 percent during drought seasons.
Fact number 2 is that when these rivers dry in the absence of rain, Ethiopia, which relies in rain-fed agriculture was hit many times by severe droughts ,including the 1980s famine that claimed lives of millions of Ethiopian farmers.
But, during these drought periods in Ethiopia, which reduced the volume of the water flowing into the Nile River by more than half, Egyptians were not hungry.
Egypt somehow has managed to deal with the reduced reduced volume of water. If that is the case how come Egyptians become hungry today when Ethiopia begins filling about 5 billion metric cube water from the Nile? No! I will try to explain why at the end of this article. But will Ethiopia’s beginning to use the water reduce the current water volume of Egypt? Yes. Is there a solution? Yes many options. But before jumping into the solutions let’s first list out the major facts.
Fact number 3 is to know the final destination of the water of the Nile River. After leaving Ethiopia, the 86 percent of the water originated from Ethiopia, and the remaining from the other Nile riparian countries first arrives Sudan. In Sudan the water has been used for several purposes from irrigation, tourism to hydro-power and fisheries, among others.
Then the water of the River Nile directly goes to Egypt, where it has provided light to over 90 percent of the population, helping millions of farmers to grow rice and cotton, among others. In Egypt for centuries, the water of the Nile River has also been used for tourism, fishery and the like.
Fact number 4 is that Ethiopia’s beginning to use the water of the Nile River, which is its “natural right’, will indeed reduces Egypt’s current water volume coming from the River.
The about 5 billion cubic meters of water Ethiopia reduces from the Nile River to fill GERD this July and the total of 74 billion cubic meters, the country will take over the coming few years, will indeed affect Egypt’s current Nile River water use.
This is because of fact number 5, which is currently Egypt is using almost the whole water of the Nile River, leaving small amount to Sudan as per the colonial agreement the two countries / colonies inked in 1959 by ignoring the 86 percent water source of the water – Ethiopia.
The 1959 deal, which Ethiopia is not part of it, shares the water to Sudan and Egypt at 18.5 and 55.5 billion cubic meters, respectively. Egyptian politicians, who are now running from Arab League to the United Nations to stop Ethiopia from using its natural resource, are not worried about the about five billion water Ethiopia is using this rainy season for the GERD.
The Egyptian politicians are seeking a political pressure that will forces Ethiopia to ink a deal, which indirectly legalizes the unfair and immoral colonial agreement of the 1959.
But will Egyptian politicians political pressure on Ethiopia, whose 50 million population out of the total 110 million in darkness, succeed is the question for many.
In my view based on the above facts at least, Egyptian politicians effort, which at times mixed with lies or the attempt to threaten Ethiopia with military or sponsored cyber criminals will have a far negative impact on the people of Egypt.
All the current unwise moves of Egyptian politicians may force the government of Ethiopia to distribute water pumps to millions of its poor farmers to suck the water that flows into the Nile River and start small scale irrigation. That means, the current lies of Egyptian politicians that says, Egyptians will be hungry if Ethiopia fills GERD, will indeed be true.
As a verse of the Wholly Bible says. you eat the fruits of your tongue. Egyptian politicians wished hunger for their currently productive farmers instead collaborating with Ethiopia and Sudan to adapt with the water volume decline.
That means a few years later Ethiopia will be providing rice aid to hungry Egyptians. Even though I am an Ethiopian, I don’t wish that for Egyptian farmers. I believe punting myself in the shoes of those farmers. There are things the government of Egypt can do to balance the Nile water use of Ethiopia with use of the water by its farmers.
The first step for Egyptian politicians is to accept the above facts and the natural right of Ethiopia to use the water of the Nile River without causing significant harm to the downstream countries.
Once, the Egyptian politicians accepted the facts and acknowledge Ethiopia’s right to use the water reasonably, I am sure they can do adaptation actions like they did many times before when the water volume of the Nile River was declined during frequent droughts in Ethiopia. But most of all Egyptian politicians have to know that Ethiopians are tired of begging food aid from abroad while sitting on the Nile River, which can enable the country to feed its neighbors let alone its people.
As far as I know as a journalist, Ethiopia with its leadership, and the people who are contributing money from their pocket for GERD, are going to be unstoppable with current selfish attitude of Egyptian politicians.
Therefore, accepting these realities and taking some adaptation action is much better for Egyptian politicians than running up and down to keep millions of Ethiopian farmers in hunger, darkness and poverty.
Let me suggest the following five adaptation mechanisms Egyptian politicians can take to compensate the decline of the water from the Nile River when Ethiopia begins using.
- Egypt can use the water going into the Mediterranean Sea. This will help Egypt to get billions of cubic meters of water that will compensate the water decline it will face when Ethiopia begins using the Nile water.
- Shift from water-intensive crops Rice and cotton farm to other less water consuming irrigation farming. It is clear that the water volume farmers need to grow rice and cotton is several times more than growing other crops. Helping Egyptian farmers to gradually shift or mix other less water consuming cash crops, can also compensate for Egypt the volume of water Ethiopia will be using from the Nile River.
- Cut evaporation from Nasser Dam. As we all know about ten billion cubic water is being evaporated from the Nasser Hydro dam of Egypt. By using technology, Egypt can also manage to reduce the volume of water that evaporates. This will help Egypt to secure billions of cubic meters of water that can also compensate the water Ethiopia will be using.
- Use some of its ground water, which can sustain the country for over a 1,000 year even without a drop of water from the Nile River. During the frequent drought seasons and even now, millions of Ethiopians are dependent on the use of ground water for drinking and cooking. Egypt, which has the potential of ground water that can last up to 1,000 years without even the water from the Nile River, can start using some of this potential to compensate the water decline when Ethiopia start using the water from the Nile River.
- Filter and use the sea water using the latest technology. While Ethiopia is land locked nation, Egypt which has access to the Mediterranean Sea can also get water using the latest technology that filters sea water. By the way, the Mediterranean Sea is also known for claiming lives of poor African youth including children of Ethiopian farmers, who try to cross to Europe escaping poverty.
As I indicated above, Egyptian politicians need to acknowledge that like Egyptian farmers need food, electricity, millions of Ethiopians also deserve the same right from the common gift of God to all the 11 Nile Riparian countries – Tanzania, Uganda, Burundi, Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia, Sudan, Egypt, Eritrea, Kenya, Rwanda, and South Sudan.
By the way Egyptian people and politicians should prepare themselves for the inevitable equitable and fair Nile River water share agreement among the 11 Nile Riparian Countries, which is now passed by parliaments of four countries. Egypt has prepare for the worst. If at least two more countries’ parliament approved that deal in their respective parliaments, the current 80 percent plus water share of Egypt will definitely go down to about 10 percent.
Rest assure, when these countries wake-up from their current deep sleep like Ethiopia, at least to feed their population using their potential and cut the billions of dollars they invest to import food, neither the Arab League nor the UN Security Council will hinder them from exercising their inherited natural right of equitably benefiting from this common gift – the Nile River.