Monday, October 18, 2010

On Egypt and the Nile

John Waterbury, who is an expert on the political economy of water in Egypt, had this to say about Heba Montaser's article "Egypt’s conundrum over food security and the Nile’s water which I linked to a couple of posts ago. (I post with his permission)

"I am sure the Egyptians are facing a short term shock, but, contrary to what the article says, I don’t believe Egypt has exported wheat since the Ptolomies! On average Egypt imports 20 bcms in virual water every year, or the equivalent of nearly half of the water allotted to it under the 1959 Agreement with the Sudan (55.5 bcms).
The Upper basin states have long been unhappy with the 1959 Agreement which totally excludes them from any share in the Nile. Egypt and the Sudan have always argued that the Upper basin states must meet their water needs out of new sources, more efficient use of rain-fed agriculture, watershed management, aforestation, etc.
It make sense for Egypt to invest in agriculture in the Sudan and Ethiopia, although the agricultural challenges are much more difficult in Ethiopia, with its mountainous and fractured landscape, than in the Sudan with huge tracts of alluvial plain between the two Niles. If Egypt actually does invest in the Sudan (I am skeptical that fully irrigated wheat production in the scorching climate of the Sudan makes good economic sense) it may give the Sudan and Ethiopia a green light to develop water storage and power facilities on the Blue Nile (projects that Egypt has long opposed) because the irrigation water can be delivered to the tracts of land between the Blue and While Niles by gravity flow, greatly reducing costs."

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