While Ethiopians defend the use of the Blue Nile for its hydro-electric dam – the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam [GERD] – there have been loud complaints from downstream nations. They say it will either flood their farms (Sudan) or deprive it of vital water (Egypt).
Their concerns are legitimate. Ethiopia should agree not to release water so violently that Sudanese farmers are swept away. And Egypt’s worries about droughts need to be considered.
But there is another aspect of this story that is often ignored.
Egypt’s ambitious agricultural schemes
If Egypt was just using the Nile to provide its people with drinking water (and was doing something to control the growth rate of its population of 102 million) that would be one thing.
If Egypt was trying to simply continue irrigating its traditional farms along the Nile and in the Nile delta that would be a need Ethiopians should be sympathetic towards.
But it is not.
Little is said about Egypt’s plans to increase its agricultural production far from its traditional farmlands.
The Aswan High Dam or Nasser Dam already irrigates large areas of the desert in the Toshka depression.
In 2019 it was reported that:
“Tens of thousands of cubic metres of Nile and treated water are being pumped into Northern Sinai for farmland irrigation, part of an Egyptian national plan for development in the region, the Egyptian Ministry of Irrigation said.
The ministry said the water delivery aims to create farming communities, increase cultivable space and attract agricultural investments.
Water delivery to North Sinai is an old Egyptian dream. The idea of pumping Nile River water into Sinai emerged in the late 1970s after Egypt made peace with Israel.
In 1979, Egyptian President Anwar Sadat ordered a canal dug to carry water from the Damietta branch of the Nile, near Egypt’s Mediterranean coast, into Sinai. Water flowed into the canal and then into Sinai in 2001.
The Sheikh Jaber al-Sabah Canal was created to move water from the western Sinai to North Sinai. The canal siphons water into a major plant in Bir al-Abd, which distributes the water to farmland across North Sinai.”
Watering the Sinai
In recent weeks Egypt’s President el-Sisi has gone further.
He has ambitious plans to increase the irrigation in the Sinai. Ethiopians need to pay attention.
Egypt’s Sisi directs government to increase agricultural plots in central, northern Sinai
Mon, 26 Apr 2021 – 06:45 GMT
President Abdel Fattah El Sisi meets with the Cabinet on April 26, 2021- press photo
CAIRO – 26 April 2021: President Abdel Fattah directed the government to increase agricultural land plots in central and northern Sinai, said the Presidential Spokesperson Bassam Radi in a statement on Monday.
In a cabinet meeting, the President was briefed on the national project for agriculture and land reclamation in central and north Sinai, within the framework of the State’s comprehensive strategy to expand integrated agriculture and land reclamation at the level of the Republic, Radi added.
“These efforts are exerted in complementarity with other similar projects, especially in the New Delta in northwest of the country, Toshka and East Owainat in the South Valley,” Radi continued.
“The President also directed that the latest equipment and machinery be provided to reclaim the targeted lands in Sinai, explore the best agricultural activities, and apply the cutting-edge irrigation methods to make optimum economic use of water and double production in quantity and quality,” he said.
The spokesperson said that the inventory and study of data on the surveying and nature of the soil were further highlighted, alongside the achievement rates already made in the previously-allocated lands.