DUBAI: With Ethiopia signalling it may start filling its towering US$4 billion (RM15.6 billion) Grand Renaissance Dam this year, safeguarding scarce Nile water resources has surged to the top of Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi’s policy agenda as he begins a second term.
The two countries have been locked in contentious negotiations for years and have yet to come to a comprehensive water-sharing agreement.
Egypt, which relies almost exclusively on the Nile for farming, industry, and drinking water, has sought assurances that the dam will not significantly cut the river’s flow to its rapidly growing population.
Ethiopia, the source of the Blue Nile which joins the White Nile in Khartoum and runs on to Egypt, has said the dam will not disrupt the flow and hopes the project will transform it into a power hub for the electricity-hungry region.
The 1929 Nile Waters Agreement was signed between Egypt and the United Kingdom, which represented at the time Uganda, Kenya, Tanganyika (now Tanzania), and Sudan. The document gave Cairo the right to veto projects higher up the Nile that would affect its water share.
A 1959 agreement between Egypt and Sudan, supplementing the previous agreement, gave Egypt the right to 55.5 billion cubic metres of Nile water a year and Sudan 18.5 billion cubic metres per year.
Both the 1929 and 1959 agreements have created resentment among other Nile states and calls for changes to the pact, resisted by Egypt.
Formed in 1999, the Nile Basin Initiative brought together the then nine Nile Basin countries to develop the river in a cooperative manner, share substantial socioeconomic benefits, and promote regional peace and security.
The nine Nile Basin Initiative countries were Burundi, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Egypt, Ethiopia, Kenya, Sudan, Rwanda, Tanzania, and Uganda. Since then, South Sudan has been added to the initiative.
Egypt froze its membership in the Nile Basin Initiative in 2010 after some upstream countries signed the Cooperative Framework Agreement (CFA). Egypt has argued that the deal reallocated water shares without its approval.
The CFA, also known as the Entebbe Agreement, has been signed by six out of the 10 Nile Basin Initiative states. The signatories are Uganda, Ethiopia, Rwanda, Tanzania, Kenya, and Burundi.
Egypt wants an alternative to the agreement, which now allows other Nile basin countries to conduct projects along the river without its prior consent.
Leaders from Egypt, Ethiopia, and Sudan signed the Declaration of Principles in 2015 over the Grand Renaissance Dam in a bid to ease tensions. The deal was meant to pave the way for further diplomatic cooperation. The main principles in the agreement include giving priority to downstream countries for electricity generated by the dam, a mechanism for resolving conflicts, and providing compensation for damages.