Tuesday, July 2, 2013

The struggle for control of the world's longest river

Elissa Jobson in AllAfrica.com via Africa In Fact: Strong emotions rise to the surface when discussions turn to the Nile, the world’s longest river. Most debate swirls around control of its basin which is shared by 11 African nations. Politicians and others have pondered the chances of a war over its life-giving waters: slim but increasing given the escalating tensions over Ethiopia’s plan to build a massive hydropower dam on the river.

“For Egypt the Nile equals life,” affirms Mohamed Edrees, Egypt’s ambassador to Ethiopia. “It is almost the only source of water for Egypt and that means that it is the only source of life. So it’s obvious that this issue, for Egyptians, is of vital importance and of high sensitivity. It is an issue of existence.”

The Nile basin covers almost 10% of Africa’s landmass (3.1m km2) and supports over 200m people, more than half living below the poverty line and dependent on rainfed agriculture for their survival. The twin pressures of energy and food security—through hydroelectric generation and irrigation schemes—are placing ever-greater demands on the Nile. In addition, land degradation, rising temperatures and possible changes in rainfall patterns, as a result of climate change, are threatening to alter the river’s flow.

Egypt is implementing large new irrigation projects that will draw additional water from the Nile. It is especially anxious about increased usage by the other ten Nile basin states south of its border: Burundi, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Ethiopia, Eritrea, Kenya, Rwanda, South Sudan, Sudan, Tanzania and Uganda.

The Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam, a massive hydroelectric installation 40km east of Sudan, is one of the new projects worrying the downstream nations of Egypt and Sudan. Standing at 145m high and 1,800m long with a reservoir holding 63 billion cubic metres of water, this dam will be one of Africa’s largest. It has the potential to generate 6,000 megawatts of electricity—three times Ethiopia’s existing capacity—and is expected to turn the country into a regional power hub....

Landsat photo of the Nile Delta from space

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