Egypt spat fuels water tension in Nile Basin

Tue Apr 27, 2010 11:45am GMT

By Dina Zayed

CAIRO (Reuters) - In arid Egypt, officials have long angered fellow Nile Basin countries by clinging to colonial-era water treaties giving it rights to the lion's share of water flowing down the world's longest river.

But upstream nations desperate for development are hoping to break with the past, threatening to shut regional heavyweight Egypt out of a new pact and potentially deepening an already bitter struggle for water resources across this parched region.

"This is a crisis in Egypt's relations with Nile Basin countries," said Gamal Soltan, head of the Al-Ahram Centre for Political and Strategic Studies.

The feud could also upset the balance between poor upstream nations and Egypt, the Arab world's most populous nation, where climate change threatens a fragile farm sector and population growth may outstrip water resources as early as 2017.

The latest chapter in the long-running feud over waters from the Nile, worshipped as a deity in ancient Egypt, came when upstream countries declared after a water meeting in Sharm El-Sheikh this month that they would launch separate talks since Egypt and Sudan refused to revise water pacts dating to 1929.

"Egypt's historic rights to Nile waters are a matter of life and death. We will not compromise them," Moufid Shehab, minister of legal and assembly affairs, told parliament after the talks.

The 1929 deal, brokered on one side by British colonial powers in Africa, gives Egypt 55.5 billion cubic metres a year, the biggest share of a flow of some 84 billion cubic meters.

It also gives Cairo the power to veto dams and other water projects in upstream countries that include six of the world's poorest nations.   Continued...

<p>A boat is pictured on the Nile River in the southern Egyptian town of Nagaa Hamady in Qena, some 700 km (435 miles) south of Cairo, January 10, 2010. REUTERS/Asmaa Waguih</p>
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