Regarding the dam – Mahmoud Salem

For the past few weeks Egyptian society and media have been hysterical over Ethiopia’s construction of its Renaissance Dam.  The public was suddenly bombarded with the notion that Ethiopia will turn off the water faucet on Egypt and that this is an issue that threatens both our national security and survival as a nation. The government couldn’t stick to a position between assuring the public that this is not a threat and between citing this as a threat that requires one of Morsi’s famous “National Unity dialogues”, which always ends in a photo-op and no results.

The opposition was divided by some attending the meeting citing “national security” as their excuse to partake in what can only be described as political mess. While others, like Hamdeen Sabahy, gave out laughable recommendations such as stopping ships from countries that are helping build that dam (China, Italy, Israel) from passing through the Suez Canal. Personally, I would love to see the Egyptian government just try and stop any of those countries from getting their ships through, especially China. This should be hilarious. Nowhere to be found: A single statement from any party outlining the policy options that they would implement if they were in charge.

All the while, many talking heads started spouting nonsensical crap about an Egyptian military strike on Ethiopia, while seemingly screaming in all of their interviews that “We are too strong and powerful for Ethiopia to mess with”. Never mind that Ethiopia was never conquered in any war and that our military never fought in the south and cannot protect its soldiers within our borders, and that there is zero evidence that the Ethiopian military- which is not weak- will kneel in front of our military might. I am chalking this up to temporary insanity caused by over-heating of the brain due to lack of consistent air conditioning in the middle of the horrible heat-wave we are currently experiencing. Let’s assess the situation, shall we?

Let’s start with the fact that Ethiopia is a sovereign nation and is well within its right to build any dam it pleases on its land, as long as it doesn’t violate the international agreements governing the water share of downstream nations, and it likely will not. Then let’s talk about water loss: from the share of water we receive, we lose about 12% of it due to evaporation while the water is stored in Lake Nasser for 10 months between the flood time and irrigation needs. Ethiopia has a lesser evaporation rate (almost half of Egypt), and the electrical dam will slow down the rate of water we receive, thus making sure that the water that gets stored in Lake Nasser arrives in stages and thus decrease our evaporation rate considerably. This will lead to an actual reduction in lost water and an increase in actual water by 5%. Believe it or not, storing the water in Ethiopia before it reaches Egypt will actually lead to an increase in our water supply.  So why the hysteria?

We used to get more than our agreed upon share of water, and we are the reigning champions of wasting drinkable water in the world. We naturally don’t have strict guidelines or enforceable laws or plans to maximise the benefits of our water resources, and we don’t really feel like doing the work or empowering capable people to do it. Here is a helpful hint: Our current hapless prime minister was the minister of water resources and irrigation. This is the guy that was in charge of that. Are you getting the picture?

Here is what Egypt should do: 1) Given our experience at building and maintaining the Aswan High Dam, we should be the people helping Ethiopia build and manage their dam, thus ensuring that it doesn’t hurt our interests; 2) Start negotiations between Ethiopia, Sudan and Egypt to renegotiate respective shares of the extra wasted waters, thus ensuring that we don’t lose all of it; 3) Having that dam will leave Ethiopia with almost 4,000 megawatts of electricity for export purposes only, at a time where we need the electricity.  If we play ball now, we could get a long term deal that is beneficial to the needs of the Egyptian public and isn’t affected by the prices of fossil fuels; 4) Ethiopia has seriously ambitious agricultural plans, and we have about 10 million farmers without actual land to farm, so we can reach an agreement, decrease our unemployment and boost our food security;  and finally 5) Egypt needs to seriously reconsider its water policies, and create an infrastructural investment plan in desalinisation and extracting ground water from now.

Naturally, we will not do any of this.

We will not do any of this because we have a fistful of misanthropes and imbeciles running our governments and our parties, which is not a new phenomenon. Proof in point: Our own High Dam. If we ignore the environmental disaster that it is for a second, we should note that it was 60 years ago that we thought of using a renewable source of clean energy (hydro-electric power) to successfully meet our power needs, and somehow that didn’t translate into a desire to replicate the idea via other sources of clean energy (solar, wind) that we have in abundance. Instead we rely on fossil-fuel powered power plants while we lack the fossil fuels necessary to operate them, and actually have to pay for it in hard currency. The natural conclusion is what we have now: a government unable to meet our energy needs because it lacks the hard currency to purchase it, all the while complaining about the high financial burden on our budgets that is our energy subsidies, and also not doing anything about it.

Dear Egypt, take heed of this. The world is moving forward all around you, with plans of development and infrastructure to meet its future needs, with the Ethiopian dam being the ultimate proof of that, while you are going nowhere fast and talking about delusional past  glories that have nothing to do with current day realities. Ethiopia is not the problem or the enemy; our laziness, stupidity, incompetence and lack of sound planning are, and it simply cannot be allowed to continue. It’s time for you to wake up.