Egyptian politicians are said to be lobbying the government to negotiate with Juba to resume the digging of the controversial Jonglei Canal in South Sudan as an alternative plan as discussions on the use of the Nile waters aborted.
Sudan’s Foreign Minister Ibrahim Ghandour on Friday announced suspension of the tripartite talks between Sudan, Egypt and Ethiopia without reaching a consensual solution regarding the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD).
Samir Faraj, former governor of Luxor region along River Nile is among those pushing for the revival of Jonglei Canal project, arguing that the canal would enable Egypt to get additional 4.7 billion cubic metres of water annually from the White Nile.
Egypt is embroiled in a dispute with Ethiopia over the Renaissance dam, which Cairo maintains is a threat to the flow of the 50 billion cubic metres of water the country receives annually from the Nile.
Cairo is worried that it will interfere with the flow of water to the Aswan High Dam, given that Blue Nile contributes 80 per cent of the waters to Egypt. But Ethiopia remains adamant, saying that the $4.8 billion dam that is expected to generate electrical power of up to 6,000MW, is for the benefit of its people.
This week, talks on the tripartite agreement on the utilisation of Nile waters and the impact of the GERD, resumed in Khartoum.
According to the Declaration of Principles signed in 2015, the three countries must reach consensus on the environmental impact assessment studies before Ethiopia can fill up the dam’s reservoirs with the capacity of 74 billion cubic metres.
Fluid bilateral relations
The last time the issue of Jonglei Canal came up between South Sudan and Egypt was in 2008, when the then Sudan vice-president and now South Sudan President Salva Kiir visited Cairo and discussed the prospects of resuming work on the canal after Juba’s Independence.
The then Egyptian prime minister Ahmed Nazeef, told the media that the project was on the agenda of the Supreme Committee between the two countries.
Juba has not issued any statement on the issue as it remains emotive. But a diplomatic source in Juba told The EastAfrican that Cairo has dropped interest in the Jonglei Canal project due to the current political instability in South Sudan, and the fluid bilateral relations between Juba and Khartoum.
Egypt was the financier of the project, with loans from its development partners, and had hired the Bucket Wheel used for excavation from the French government.
Egypt wanted the additional water from Jonglei to help grow food for its burgeoning population. Since the mid-1970s, however, water has become the limiting factor for agricultural expansion in many parts of northern Sudan, since new irrigation projects need more water.
Research had shown that the digging of Jonglei Canal would have serious repercussions on the delicate ecosystem of the Sudd region that include negative effects on the aquatic, wild, domestic plants and animals, and interference of the farming activities of the people in the region including displacement.
Other negative impact include reduction of rainfall as the region will dry up after the canal takes water to Egypt and Northern Sudan, because the Sudd moisture contributes to the formation of rain in the region.
Despite the environmental concerns, former director of water resources in Kenya, John Nyaoro, told The EastAfrican, Egypt would gain up to additional 10 billion cubic metres from the project.
“While the waters that leave Lake Victoria through the White Nile is 40 billion cubic metres, only 20 billion arrives in Khartoum where it meets the Blue Nile from Ethiopia. If the Jonglei channels are opened to allow quick flow water, it would solve the problem of stagnation which results into loses through evaporation,” said Mr Nyaoro.
But the GERD remains a big concern to Egypt and President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi has been crisscrossing the Nile basin countries trying to lobby against the dam and amendments to the 2011 Nile Treaty that allowed greater use of the waters by riparian states.
Egypt considers damming and major irrigation projects by the riparian states on the Nile waters as a major threat to the flow of water it receives.
-Additional Reporting by Joseph Oduha