Page 24 - Respond 2018 Magazine
P. 24


       Egypt faces water

       insecurity as Ethiopian

       mega-dam rumours swirl

       By Aya Nader in Cairo

       Farmers along the lower Nile have little information to guide them as upriver barrage
       threatens to compound the impacts of global warming

       “The land has become very dry,” observes Mahmoud Abo   professor of agricultural development at Ain Shams University.
       Khokha, a farmer from Al Monofeyya governorate, in Egypt’s   “Adding the pressure of a dam puts Egypt on the verge of
       Nile delta. “Drought is no longer predictable; it used to hit   catastrophe. Soon enough we won’t [find food to] eat.”
       a certain 15 winter days. The whole year’s crops could be
       destroyed because of one week’s drought.”            The challenges for farmers are myriad: new diseases and
                                                            insects, unprecedented humidity, rising seas contaminating
       Like most farmers round here, he blames Ethiopia. They are   groundwater with salt. Indeed, when Abo Khokha tried
       under the impression that a massive hydropower dam being   pumping underground water to make up for reduced river
       built upriver is already affecting their water supply.  flow, he found only half the usual volume, with a higher level
                                                            of salinity.
       In fact, the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam is only half
       way to completion. In July, officials denied the reservoir had   A study recently published in Nature found that climate
       started filling after satellite photos circulated online of a   change is bringing greater variability in the Nile River flow
       lake behind the dam, which they said was simply the result   this century compared to the last. In the Nile’s seven-year
       of flooding.                                         cycle of flood and drought, the former is becoming heavier,
                                                            and the latter more extreme.
       The water scarcity farmers have experienced to date has
       other causes: climate change and the demands of a growing   Egypt’s five million feddans (21,000 square kilometres)
       population.                                          of crops consume more than 85% of the country’s share
                                                            of Nile water. With an annual supply of 600 cubic metres
       But during the 5-15 years it is expected to take to fill the   per person, the country is approaching the UN’s “absolute
       reservoir behind the 1,800 metre-wide barrage, the Nile’s   water scarcity” threshold, as the population closes in on 100
       fresh water flow to Egypt may be cut by up to 25%.   million. Water is a sensitive subject.

       “Nobody is telling farmers how to mitigate and adapt to   Although Ethiopia claims to have taken climate change into
       climate change,” says Magda Ghoneim, a socio-economist and   consideration in the dam’s design, the government did
                                                            everything at the same time: construction and civil works,
                                                            financing, and social and environmental impact studies,
                                                            explains Emanuele Fantini, a researcher at IHE Delft Institute
                                                            for Water Education. “So by the time these studies are
                                                            concluded, we are already in front of the fait accompli”.

                Grand Ethiopian                             Building was under way when the governments of Ethiopia,
                Renaissance Dam                             Egypt and Sudan – sandwiched between the two – in 2016
                                                            agreed to commission an independent study from Artelia,
                                                            a French consultancy. “We are not sure if and when the
                                                            results will be made public,” says Fantini. “They should be
                                                            made public so that the accuracy can be checked by the
                                                            international scientific community”.

                                                            So far, though, there has been little attempt to explain the
                                                            risks to those at the mercy of the weather and geopolitics.
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