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Egypt hopes high rainfall will lessen impact of Ethiopia's third filling of Nile Dam

Despite high rainfall rates registered in the Ethiopian plateau, Egypt remains on high alert amid the completion of the third filling of Ethiopia’s controversial Nile dam.
Muslim devotees pray under the rain as they gather at Meskel Square to break their fast during the holy Muslim month of Ramadan, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, April 29, 2022.

CAIRO — Egypt’s former Minister of Water Resources and Irrigation Mohamed Abdel Aty said during an Aug. 7 meeting of the Permanent Committee for Regulating the Nile Revenue affiliated with the Ministry of Water Resources that high rates of rainfall were monitored on the Atbarah River and Blue Nile basins, which he considered a promising start for the current flood season.

According to a ministry press release published after the meeting, the Nile Revenue Committee is currently monitoring the rates of rainfall in the sources of the Nile, since Egypt’s water needs are increasing during the summer agricultural season.

The statement continued that the Ministry of Water Resources has raised the state of alert to deal with the river’s revenue, follow up on the water situation and cover the water needs of the various sectors.

The committee’s meeting coincided with a ceremony Aug. 11 held to celebrate the operation of the second turbine of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD). During the event, Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed announced that the dam’s third filling has been completed, storing approximately 4.9 billion cubic meters of water with the beginning of the rainy season in July, bringing the total water retained in the dam’s lake to 22 billion cubic meters of water.

Abbas Sharaki, professor of geology and water resources at Cairo University, told Al-Monitor, “Ethiopia’s policy is unilateral and takes into consideration rainfall rates and river flows, as it begins to sequester water at the beginning of the rainy season. It is not possible to scientifically predict the stability of rainfall rates until the end of the rainy season.”

He said, “Flood waters from the Blue Nile are yet to reach the [Aswan] High Dam lake, as the first water flow crossing through the GERD occurred Aug. 11, and the water was supposed to reach Egypt by the end of July, as the water year begins in Egypt on Aug. 1.”

Sharaki noted, “The security of the water reserves in Lake Nasser is the result of the strict policies adopted by the Irrigation Ministry to reduce local water use to the lowest level, especially in the agricultural sector, and to compensate for the shortage through unconventional water projects.”

He explained, “The Ethiopian government has provided conflicting figures and data about the river’s hydraulics as a result of storage and operations in the GERD, because of how it [Ethiopia] deals with the GERD project as a national political project and a huge achievement for the Ethiopian political administration. Meanwhile, satellite images show data that contradicts that of Ethiopia’s about the quantities of water in the dam, which is reflected on the water management policies in Egypt.”

Sharaki added, “During the filling operations carried out by Ethiopia over the past three years, Egypt lost more than 18 billion cubic meters of water. Egyptian citizens may not feel this loss, since the Egyptian state has absorbed this damage through several projects that compensate for the shortage of Nile water, but they cost the state treasury billions.”

During the past five years, the Irrigation Ministry has been implementing a strategic plan to confront water scarcity and compensate for the gap between the available water resources and the domestic water needs. This plan included several major projects to raise water use efficiency, such as al-Mahsamma wastewater treatment plant, which cost 3.5 billion Egyptian pounds ($182.7 million), and the Bahr el-Baqar water treatment plant, which was built at a cost of $739 million.

Water expert Ahmed Fawzy Diab told Al-Monitor, “According to environmental phenomena related to climate change in the eastern Nile Basin, rainfall rates in the area are likely to increase. But this does not mean that the rates of water flow into the river are especially high. Some obstacles have been impeding water flow since storage operations in the GERD began, which undoubtedly affects the rates of the Nile River water revenue expected to reach Egypt.”

He said, “Still, the quantities of water stored in Lake Nasser can compensate for any shortfall in the river's revenue as a result of storage in the GERD. But Egypt is experiencing a water deficit of up to 40 billion cubic meters annually, which has forced the state to resort to unconventional water projects.”

Diab noted, “Egypt is currently witnessing a relatively safe water year in light of the water poverty. This does not mean, however, that the state has the luxury and abundance to meet the growing needs for water, as many sectors, especially agriculture, are still experiencing severe challenges in providing sustainable sources of water. This requires establishing flexible water and agricultural policies if the state is exposed to any emergency climate shocks, not to mention the fait accompli policy imposed by Ethiopia by filling and operating the GERD.”

With the beginning of the water year in Egypt, the Irrigation Ministry is adopting a comprehensive campaign, starting in September, to protect the Nile from pollution and plastic waste.

Diab explained, “There are great challenges in maintaining the quality of water in the course of the Nile River inside Egypt if the water levels are low; cleaning the Nile and displacing the polluted water to the northern lakes and the Mediterranean will not succeed if the water levels are low.”

Mostafa Habib, co-founder of the VeryNile initiative to clean the Nile of plastic waste, told Al-Monitor, “Volunteers involved in the initiative have succeeded in collecting 230 tons of waste within four years in the Nile islands in Cairo and other governorates. However, this is not enough, as sustainable policies and raising public awareness are required.”

He stressed, “We aim to work with fishermen and encourage them to collect waste in order to improve the water quality in the Nile and thus facilitate fishing operations. Indeed, fishermen are now helping us collect, sell and recycle waste.”

The Ministry of Water Resources remains on high alert amid very complex challenges, despite the positive high rates of rainfall in the Ethiopian plateau, which leads to a rise in the rates of Nile revenue during the current flood season.

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