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Egypt to link Nile dam crisis to wider water issues at COP27

Egypt will host COP27 Climate summit in November amid the continued faltering of negotiations on the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam.
Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi arrives for the COP26 UN Climate Summit, Glasgow, Ireland, Nov. 1, 2021.

CAIRO — Egypt is planning to raise the water issue at the United Nations Climate Change Conference 2022 (COP27), which it will be hosting in Sharm el-Sheikh later this year, and is expected to attract great international attendance.

On May 9, Egyptian Environment Minister Yasmine Fouad said during a meeting with Italian Ambassador to Cairo Michele Quaroni that Egypt will raise the water issue during the COP27 as a new topic in climate conferences.

Fouad noted, “This has become urgent in light of the increasing importance of water issues such as the pollution of seas and oceans, and the sustainable quality of life for local communities dependent on water.”

Egyptian Minister of Irrigation Mohamed Abdel Aty said in statements to Egyptian TV May 7, “Egypt is hosting the summit [COP27] this year and African issues are at the top of our priorities. For the first time, the water issue will have a special focus during the COP27, and we will thus discuss water issues and water shortages, periods of drought and floods, and changing the location and quantity of rain.”

He continued, “These issues will also be discussed during the Cairo Water Week in mid-October, to come up with international recommendations that will be presented at the COP27.”

The talks of Cairo including the water issue on the COP27 agenda come as negotiations on the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) continue to falter, while Addis Ababa prepares for the third filling of the dam's reservoir during the rainy season starting July.

Former Egyptian diplomats and analysts who spoke to Al-Monitor view the COP27 as an opportunity for Egypt to raise the water issue on the international scene, especially with the stalled GERD negotiations between Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia. However, they do not believe it would create a major leap in the course of the tripartite negotiations.

The last round of tripartite negotiations was held in Kinshasa, capital of the Democratic Republic of Congo, in April 2021, without reaching a breakthrough.

Mona Omar, former assistant to the Egyptian foreign minister for African affairs, told Al-Monitor, “Egypt will benefit from the COP27 in drawing the attention of the international community to the importance of the water issue because water shortage is a climate change issue and has a very strong impact on food security, manufacturing fields and many sectors.”

She said, “The COP27 will be an opportunity for Cairo to tackle the GERD crisis, either directly or indirectly, and showcase how the lack of agreement [with Ethiopia] affects Egypt and Sudan, such as the decline in their water shares. In general, Egypt never misses an international occasion to raise the issue of the Ethiopian dam and its expected negative effects.”

Egypt fears that the GERD that Addis Ababa is building on the Blue Nile will affect its supply of Nile water, on which it depends for 97% of its drinking and irrigation needs.

Omar noted, “The countries participating in the COP27 are not expected to have a role or influence with regard to the GERD issue. Cairo will only raise the issue and highlight the anticipated effects of the dam on Egypt and Sudan, without expecting this to affect the negotiation track or resolve the crisis.”

An Egyptian government source told Al-Monitor on condition of anonymity, “The Egyptian government is seeking to include cross-border water disputes among the priority files for discussion during the COP27, given the impact of dams on international rivers on many countries, especially developing countries.”

On the sidelines of the 76th session of the UN General Assembly in 2021, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi had called for “the need to deal seriously with any unilateral measures that contribute to exacerbating the consequences of climate change, foremost of which is the construction of dams on international rivers without agreement with the downstream countries on the rules for filling and operating them.”

Ahmed Mohsen, member of the Agriculture and Irrigation Committee in the Egyptian Senate (the upper house of parliament), said in an April 5 press statement that the COP27 will be a “golden opportunity” to raise the issue of the water crisis plaguing Egypt and to integrate water challenges within climate change.

Saber Othman, climate change expert and former director of the climate change department at the Egyptian Ministry of Environment, told Al-Monitor, “The issue of water is very important because it is the main source of life, and it thus concerns many countries, specifically developing countries. With the worsening climate change, many more countries might be affected, which may eventually lead to drought or disruption in the precipitation process due to extreme weather conditions.”

He said, “Egypt intends to raise this water issue at the COP27 because it is an issue that concerns countries around the world, and there are several disputes between countries over river basins. So it is important that there is room for this proposition that benefits the whole world and Egypt in particular, especially since the different scenarios of climate change indicate the possibility of a decrease in the amount of precipitation over the Nile in the coming years.”

He pointed out, “For the first time, the water issue would be profoundly discussed in a climate change conference, and global initiatives for cooperation between countries in this regard have already been put forward.”

Othman concluded, “There is a clear connection between Cairo raising the water issue at the COP27 and the GERD crisis; every action the Egyptian government takes has political and strategic dimensions because the water issue is a crucial one for Egypt so all attempts are made to solve this problem from its different aspects, be it by raising the issue at the COP27 or through talks with African countries.”