Sunday, April 6, 2014

Egypt-Sudan-water-relations - Al-Ahram Weekly

The issue of Ethiopia’s Renaissance Dam also brings up Egypt’s historic relations with Sudan, which Khartoum turned its back on in December last year, largely for selfish reasons, writesMaghawry Shehata

Historically, Sudan and Egypt together formed the Nile Valley region, as defined by the Nile tributaries from Ethiopia and the equatorial plateau that converge to form the Blue Nile and White Nile respectively, and the convergence of these two major arteries at Khartoum to form the Nile that wends its way northward into Egypt. This crucial riparian connection has given rise to an array of factors that combine to make Sudan one of the most important countries to Egypt in the world. In addition to their geographical contiguity in the Nile Valley, they share common bonds of history, religion, language and kinship. Geopolitically, Sudan is Egypt’s gateway into Africa. However, perhaps their most salient point in common is that they are the two Nile estuary countries. Cooperation between them would strengthen their position among the countries of the Nile Basin. Combined, they occupy the largest segment of the Nile system, while both are heavily dependent on Nile waters — Egypt primarily so and Sudan to a great extent.

Historically, a concept of unity has prevailed in the Egyptian political consciousness of its relationship with Sudan. The ÒUnity of the Nile ValleyÓ had existed as a nationalist calling and administrative reality until the July 1952 Revolution. In February 1953, Cairo and Sudan signed the Sudanese autonomous rule agreement and this was shortly followed by the Anglo-Egyptian evacuation agreement of 1954. Nevertheless, the history of Egypt-Sudanese political relations has been punctuated by numerous crises that ricocheted through other dimensions of their relations, with detrimental effects on bilateral cooperation, especially in the domain of water resource management and hydraulic projects.

Even before the transition to Sudanese self-rule and independence, media campaigns and various third party interventions worked to sour relations between the Egyptian and Sudanese peoples. As a result, Sudanese society grew sharply divided over the question of its country’s special relationship with Egypt. While some quarters continued to support this relationship, others opposed what they called the Egyptian mandate over Sudan.

The Sudanese civil war in the south, which rocked political stability in the country following independence, also lured foreign intervention into Sudanese affairs. Often, one of the aims of the foreign powers was to further disconnect Sudan from Egypt. Although Egypt tried to remain neutral on the civil war in Sudan, this did not spare Egypt adverse reactions from the warring sides. The southern secessionist movement (the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement — SPLM) set itself against the Jonglei Canal project, which therefore had to be suspended in spite of the benefits it promised to both Sudan and Egypt. The northern Islamist front constantly accused Egypt of helping the South.

The Machakos Protocol of July 2002 heralded further troubles for relations between Cairo and Khartoum. The agreement was the first in a series that would lead to the creation of a new state — South Sudan — which would naturally have its own water needs, water rights demands and visions for hydraulic projects of its own. This necessarily complicated Egypt’s relationship with the North.

But Egyptian-Sudanese relations had been strained before this for other reasons. Prime among them was contention over the area known as the Halayeb Triangle. When, in 1992, Khartoum took measures to alter the status quo in the area defined by Halayeb, Shalatin and Abu Ramad, Egypt responded with measures that eventually led to the annexation of that region to Egyptian administration. Tensions over that issue reverberated through the economic and commercial relations between the countries. With regards to water resources, in December 1992 Khartoum froze its cooperation in the Nile Waters Technical Organisation. It then threatened to ignore the 1959 Nile Waters Agreement between Egypt and Sudan. Khartoum accused Egypt of confiscating a portion of Sudan’s quota (it cited five billion cubic metres), closed the Rosaris Dam on the Blue Nile and began construction of the Kenana and Rahaq canals without coordinating with Egypt over these projects, in violation of the provisions of the 1959 agreement. Sudan has other hydraulic projects that could jeopardise Egypt’s water security, especially in view of fluctuating relations between the two countries and volatile political relations inside Sudan itself.

In spite of such problems, water relations between the two countries have remained uninterrupted. Bilateral communications between Cairo and Khartoum’s water authorities have continued and it is likely that Egyptian-Sudanese relations will improve. After all, Egyptian-Sudanese solidarity is strategically beneficial to both sides. They are already bound, in their capacity as the two Nile estuary nations, by a number of bilateral water agreements that they continue to recognise, even if other Nile Basin countries refuse to do so. These agreements are:

- The 1913 agreement: In 1913, Britain (on behalf of the government of Sudan) notified Egypt of its plans to construct a dam as part of a plan to irrigate a portion of Sudanese land called Al-Gazira. The two sides agreed to study means to control the Nile in ways that would benefit both Egypt and Sudan. The studies gave rise to proposals for the construction of the Sennar Dam and Gazira irrigation project, the Jabal Al-Awliya Dam to create an emergency water reservoir for Egypt, and other reservoir projects in the Great Lakes area. Egypt initially objected on the grounds of the possible harm that such projects might cause it. Therefore, a committee of experts was formed to study the matter. Headed by an Indian expert, the committee found that Egypt’s annual water need amounted to 60 billion cubic metres. Accordingly, Britain pledged not to expand the area of reclaimed land in the Gazira project beyond 300,000 hectares without first notifying the Egyptian government. Following the agreement, the Sennar and the Jabal Al-Awliya dams were indeed constructed.

- The 1929 agreement between Egypt and Anglo-Egyptian Sudan: Following the assassination in Cairo of the British governor-general of Sudan, Sir Lee Stack, Britain notified Egypt that it would increase the scope of the Gazira irrigation scheme to the degree it saw fit. Faced with Egypt’s adamant objections, however, it agreed to form a commission of experts and through an exchange of letters in May 1925, Britain (on behalf of Sudan, Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania) acknowledged Egypt’s rights to Nile waters and pledged to safeguard these rights and not to undertake any irrigation or electricity generating projects on the Nile or its subsidiaries, the Great Lakes region, or in any areas under British control that would prejudice Egyptian rights. Egypt was also granted the right to monitor the Nile flow in upper riparian countries and would be given the facilities to conduct the necessary studies on the Nile in Sudan.

- The 1959 Nile Waters Agreement: After winning its independence in 1956, Sudan objected to the 1929 agreement on the grounds of its political nature. Cairo and Khartoum entered into negotiations that resulted in the agreement between Sudan and Egypt for full control utilisation of the Nile waters. Signed in 1959, that agreement sought to regulate the use of Nile waters to ensure its optimal utilisation in accordance with the provisions of international law.

The provisions of the agreement, if faithfully applied, would benefit both Egypt and Sudan and unify their positions with respect to the other Nile Basin countries on the basis of their realisation that they are both estuary countries endowed with natural and acquired rights. According to the agreement, both nations have the right to undertake water-regulating projects within the limits of their established quotas. The costs and benefits of projects that would enhance the Nile flow by preventing evaporation losses in the marshes of the White Nile in southern Sudan would be shared equally between the two countries. The two countries also agreed that Sudan would have the right to build the Rosaris Dam on the Blue Nile and that they would share the benefits of the waters that would be retained as the result of the construction of the High Dam at Aswan.

They determined that the average annual Nile flow was about 84 billion cubic metres, measured at Aswan, and that of this Egypt and Sudan would have a quota of 55.5 billion cubic metres and 18.5 billion cubic metres respectively, after Sudan obtained 14.5 billion cubic metres of what the High Dam furnished and Egypt obtained 7.5 billion cubic metres of the waters of the High Dam lake. The two sides further agreed to share equally any increase in flow due to higher than average flooding of the Nile. In addition, Egypt agreed to pay Sudan LE15 million in compensation for damage caused by the reservoir created by the construction of the High Dam and it relinquished its right to waters in the reservoir of the Jabal Al-Awliya Dam, title to which it handed to Khartoum.

The 1959 agreement also established the principle of cooperation in — and sharing the costs and benefits of — the utilisation of lost waters in the Nile Basin. Accordingly, the two countries created a framework for cooperation in water loss reduction projects in the Sudanese regions of Bahr Al-Jabal, Bahr Al-Zaraf and Bahr Al-Ghazal and in the Subat River and White Nile basin.

In spite of the foregoing, Khartoum undertook a major shift in its position on Ethiopian hydraulic works such as the Renaissance Dam and other major dams on the Blue Nile. In December 2013, the Sudanese president declared his support for the construction of the Renaissance Dam, which, he said, would benefit Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia. The shift was closely connected to a range of domestic political issues and problems in Sudan in which Addis Ababa is closely involved, most notably Sudan’s dispute with South Sudan over the oil-rich Abyei region. But Sudan also stands to benefit directly from the Renaissance Dam project. It will furnish a permanent supply of irrigation water for territories that Sudan has earmarked for major development projects. With the secession of South Sudan, Sudan lost the water diversion projects in the Bahr Ghazal area and the Jonglei Canal project ground to a halt. It is therefore searching for alternative and perpetual water sources and believes that the Renaissance Dam is the key. In siding with Ethiopia, Sudan has overlooked the advantages of its strategic alliance with Egypt, especially in the face of schemes to partition it further. It has also chosen to ignore the potential dangers of the Renaissance Dam from erosion and other environmental problems to massive flooding should part or all of the dam collapse.

The writer is former president of Menoufiya University and an expert in water issues.

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