Egypt safe from ME water conflict
Egypt, Economics, 7/7/2001
A team of water consultants and construction engineers was recently dispatched to inspect the Blue Nile from the air. In response to its findings the Minister of Public Works and Water Resources, Mahmoud Abu Zeid, said: "The committee did not see any construction work in the area, and there is no sign of Israeli aide to Ethiopia as far as dam projects are concerned."
Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan are among the eight countries that depend on water from the Nile. Egyptian water officials predict that Egypt will need to find an extra 20 billion cubic metres (an increase of 30 per cent) of water a year by 2017. The country's water consumption is at present estimated at 66.34 billion cubic metres a year, of which 55.5 billion cubic metres are drawn from the Nile alone.
Abu Zeid dispelled fears of Egypt's involvement in a future Middle East water war. Egypt has successfully distanced itself from a potential regional water struggle by signing binding agreements with Nile Basin member states.
"The Nile Basin countries are collaborating to introduce initiatives to increase water resources, and any proposed water project should not threaten the others' water supplies. Member states must consult each other before any project is put in place," Abu-Zeid said.
Egypt gave the go-ahead to the giant agricultural projects in Toshka, Sharq el-Oweinat and Sinai with the consent of fellow Nile members.
This initiative is an unprecedented step in the history of cooperation among the Nile Basin countries.
Abu Zeid believes water will have an impact on Syrian-Israeli peace talks, while a final Israeli pullout from southern Lebanon may be influenced by the loss of water drawn from the Litani River.
Ismail Seragedin, Vice President of the World Bank, made an ominous prediction in 1995: "Many of the wars of this century were about oil, but the wars of the next century will be about water."
Assessing the future of Middle East water supplies, international organizations have pointed out that Israel, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria all draw water from the Jordan and Yarmuk rivers, while Jewish settlers and Palestinians in the West Bank are heavily dependent on the Yargon/Tanninim and two others lying under most of the areas' disputed settlements. In Gaza, the ground water level is reportedly sinking by 15 to 20 centimetres (six to eight inches) a year, while its quality deteriorates due to encroaching seawater.
The issue even extends to Turkey where the massive Southeastern Anatolian Project's dam system will have a major impact on the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, with untold consequences for Syria and Iraq downstream.
Abu Zeid has said that water consumption in agriculture must be rationalised as it uses up to 52.13 billion cubic metres per year. Egyptian water officials are confident that drawing 11.27 billion cubic metres from underground water sources and recycling 8.4 billion cubic metres of agricultural sewage water can reduce the country's water consumption.
New strategies will target rice growing, one of the country's major crops, and specific policy governed jointly by the Ministry of Agriculture and the Ministry of Public Works and Water Resources.
Officials are also drawing up water-saving irrigation schemes and Abu Zeid praised governors and water officials of Delta provinces for implementing these irrigation systems properly.
A LE 1.3 billion barrage is being set up in the Upper Egyptian City of Assiout. The project is due to begin next year and will be completed in 5-6 years time It is jointly financed by soft-term loans from a German bank and a European bank. "The project in Najaa Hamadi will revamp and improve irrigation and sewerage networks," he said, adding that "the project does not endanger the environment."
Abu Zeid did not exclude the possibility that water desalination projects will be expanded nationwide in the near future. Playing down doctors' warnings about fresh water obtained from desalinated sea water, he said: "A large number of hotels and tourist projects in South Sinai and the Red Sea obtain their entire water supply from the desalination water process.
"There are some particular salts, such as calcium, added to fresh water to make it healthy.
Studies are now under way to see when desalination projects should be expanded in the country.
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