Ten Hard Facts on Nile Water Suppressed by Egyptian Governments


By-Anteneh Berhanu


A Gunboat Diplomacy tainted with Lies and Deception: Ten Hard Facts on Nile Water Suppressed by Egyptian Governments


Nile has been a bone of contention between Ethiopia and Egypt since time commemorates. In all these times, Egypt’s approach towards Ethiopia has been visibly unfriendly and clandestinely belligerent. In the earliest times, Egypt’s strategy was to control Nile from its source at Lake Tana, Ethiopia. To that end, it invaded Ethiopia in 1875 and 1876, which both wars ended with devastating defeats of the invading army. The events have given Egypt indelible lesson that the idea of controlling Nile with force is preposterous

Thenceforth, Egypt’s strategy has shifted from direct aggression to indirect ways of controlling the river from behind. These proxy strategies mainly take two forms: Sponsoring political destabilizing acts inside Ethiopia; and suffocating international financing for construction projects on the river and its tributaries. However, the commencement of Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) back in 2010 has proved that such conspiracies might only delay, but not obstruct Ethiopia from making use of its God-given natural resource.

Having learnt of Ethiopia’s unwavering commitment on GERD, Egypt has kept intensifying its age old and failed gunboat diplomacy, and robust propaganda anchoring on suppressing, distorting and evading solid facts around Nile River in her favor. The aim of this commentary is to expose such one-sided facts, lies and deceptions that the Egyptian government and its surrogates are messaging to the world; and draws ten bald facts, but suppressed by Egyptians to serve their unfair and unjust cause.

Fact 1: Egypt is the gift of Nile, but Nile is not the gift of Egypt only

The famous Herodotus’s saying goes, “Egypt is the gift of Nile” which is in fact true. Embolden by this, Egypt has long inculcated a wrong sense of ”ownership” of Nile in to its generations to the extent that they do not really know the source of the water, at least up until the issue of GERD came to light. It has been the same wrong notion of “inseparability of Egypt and Nile” that the country has consistently been mirroring to the diplomatic and the international community.

However, the fact is that Ethiopia’s Blue Nile (Abbay), White Nile (Akobo, Gilo and Baro) and black Nile (Atbara, Tekeze) all combined have an annual water flow of 74 Billion Cubic Meter (BCM) accounting for 86% of the annual flow of Nile water. Eight of the remaining 10 Nile basin countries altogether contribute about 14% of the water, whereas Egypt and Sudan have no contribution to the water. So, there would be no ground to lone egyptianize Nile while 9 riparian countries being the origin of the water. Nile had rather to be Ethiopian than Egyptian, should we single out the contribution of countries, as it works in other transboundary rivers of the world.

Fact 2: Egypt is by far the largest user and waster of Nile water, with no contribution to it 

One of the hard facts on Nile water is that Egypt relies much on the water. But, little has been known that Egypt is also largest waster of the water. This is because Egyptian only tell the world their reliance on the river and portray their water problem to the level of ‘catastrophe’, while keeping their mouth shut on their water wastage and water needs of other riparian countries. They did so just to evade the operational sense of ‘equity’ in the use of the water as well.

Numbers tell us that Egypt consumes 75% of the Nile water, but literally has no contribution to the water. According to UNICEF, access to basic water source in Egypt has practically reached universal (98%) in 2015, and their annual water consumption per capita stood at 570 Cubic Meter (CM). Whereas, total domestic water use in Egypt is estimated at about 5.5 billion m³ per year or 8% of total water use. This corresponds to an average of about 200 liter per capita per day (l/c/d). Imagine this is almost twice as much as in Germany. On the problem side too, Egypt loses about 50% of its freshwater through poor maintenance of supplies and distribution problems, and pollution. The amount of water lost to evaporation at Aswan Dam also amounts to be 10 BCM, showing Egypt is actually externalizing her problem while one of the solution lies within own use of water.

Just for comparison, Ethiopia, which generates 86% of the water, has had almost no benefit from the Nile water (GERD still intended for electricity consumption). The per capita water consumption of Ethiopians is 125 CM per year, horribly one of the harshest in the world. Whereas, as per UNICEF only 41% of Ethiopians have access to drinking water in 2019, one of the lowest the in the world. I believe no more statistics could be necessary to show Egypt’s unjust use of water, irresponsible water wastage, and blind insinuation about equitable use of Nile waters.

Fact 3: Egypt has more alternative water reserves than Ethiopia does

It is no wonder that the world largely perceives Egypt as a country that does not exist without Nile. This is merely the result of Egypt’s wrong and misleading propaganda mis-characterizing Nile as the one and only source of life for Egyptians. Compounding this, Egypt intentionally keep their alternative water source under the table, and instead portray Ethiopia to the world as a country with endless water reserves.

Yet again, the reality is far from this. Egypt has 55.5 BCM of water from Nile alone already in use and has huge natural mineral water resources. As found out by a water study by Abdel Shafy et al in 2016, an estimated 200,000 BCM of fresh water are stored in the New Valley’s Oasis aquifer only, and much of this is at the depth of 60-100 m. However, the country is utilizing only 2.1 BCM of it annually. This water could fulfill the water need of the current Egypt population for about 1,300 years. Besides, Egypt’s 1000 KM boarder lines with Mediterranean Sea provides her gigantic access to drinking water through desalinization process, which is becoming cheaper these days.

On the other hand, according to the study by Kidanewold et al in 2014, Ethiopia has about 124.4 billion cubic meter (BCM) river water, 70 BCM lake water, and 30 BCM groundwater resources. Of the total surface water, 2/3rd comes from the Nile basin. The fact that Ethiopia is a landlocked country also denies her access to international water, which could have been source for more water. Hence, the very fact is that Egypt has in deed more water reserves than Ethiopia does, any characterization opposite to this is only deceptive

Fact 4: There is no a single enforceable legal treaty between Ethiopia and Egypt over Nile water

The legal sphere is the other front that Egypt tries to deceive the world. Egyptian governments always act as if they have sufficient legal ground to defend their ‘right’ over Nile water, and never relented from threatening Ethiopia against legal actions. However, the solid fact is that Egypt has no a single enforceable legal instrument with Ethiopia that binds utilization of Nile water.

A closer look at the issue reveals that the legal instrument that Egypt claims to have are either void, inapplicable or non-treaty/ normative principles. To see each case, the treaty signed between English and King Menilik II in 1902 is impractical for the fact that the agreement is “not to stop” the water at all. Whereas, the 1929 (English and Egypt) and 1959 (Egypt and Sudan) treaties are not binding for Ethiopia, simply for the fact that she is not a party in both cases. Besides, the 1993 agreement signed between Ethiopia and Egypt, and the 2015 Declaration of Principles (DoP) signed between Ethiopia, Egypt and Sudan are merely description of normative international legal principles that do not qualify to be binding treaties. Indeed, Egyptian governments well understand that legal battle against Ethiopia will not serve their interest. For that matter, they have never gone for it, evidencing it only forms part of their deception strategy.

Fact 5: There is no any established “water share” quota among Nile countries

This fact can simply flow the absence of any enforceable treaty between Ethiopia and Egypt. However, Egyptians, quoting the 1997 UN water convention, which acknowledged already made water agreements, claim that the 1959 agreement with Sudan and their 55.5 BCM quota is already guaranteed by the convention. For that matter, the very basis to oppose any construction over Nile has been up roaring it would affect their ‘water share’ from the river.

However, this is part of Egypt’s endless lies and deceptions. According to the UN’s Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties of 1969, any international agreement shall only bind its parties, and has no effect on third parties unless they give expressed permission to abide by it. For that matter, let alone non-parties, countries, which were ‘represented’ by their colonial masters are not to be obliged by colonial era treaties. Hence, in the first place there is no way that Ethiopia could be bound by the 1959 agreement. Secondly, what the 1997 UN water convention maintained are water treaties, impliedly only for parties of the treaty, in this case Egypt and Sudan. What follows is there is no legal ground for Egypt to claim any fixed amount of water from the Nile and their “water share” narration is simply a false pretense.

Fact 6: There is no such thing as “Historical right” in international water law

To support their pretension of legal ownership, Egyptian governments have gone to the extent of introducing new legal concept in to the international legal discipline called, a ‘historical right. Probably, ‘historical right’ is the most used and abused term by Egyptians politicians and academicians along with their “water share” narration.

However, ‘historical right’ is a legal hoax Egyptians fabricated to fill the legal loophole in the Anglo-Egyptians agreements, automatically invalidated the treaty due to non-participation of Ethiopia in the agreements. One cannot find any such concept or legal principle in the international water law including in UN’s Convention on the Law of the Non-navigational Uses of International Watercourses adopted in 1997. Egyptian coined this term in relation to the legal concept of “res communes” which has to do with ownership of property, which does not belong to anyone, and international customary law. However, both justifications do not hold water in the legal sphere for the fact that the case of Nile is totally in applicable and no customary law provides basis for a country to expropriate a resource of another sovereign nation.

Fact 7: Egypt has never consulted Ethiopia while building dams in her territory and beyond

According to international legal principles, countries have obligation to notify other riparian countries of any actions that would affect the use of shared water. Egypt has so far constructed/ enlarged at least 8 dams on the Nile, with Aswan high dam being the largest. It has also gone to the extent of extending the water over Sinai. However, Egypt has never informed Ethiopia while doing any of these constructions, and Ethiopia had filed formal complaints to the UN and other pertinent regional bodies in each cases

Egypt’s failure to inform Ethiopia and other riparian countries of her construction projects on Nile is a clear violation of international law. These construction projects by Egypt have notable effects on the use of the water in that they have enabled Egypt to go beyond her ‘fair share” in the use of the water. In that sense, it can be taken that Egypt is harming the other riparian countries. Given this, Egypt should have been accountable for her action, or the situation could have entitled upper riparian countries for counter actions to the level of the damage, be it molar or material. However, Ethiopia without applying the law of reciprocity, has kept informing Egypt of the GERD as of its inception. It is thus clear that Egypt is pushing Ethiopia to abide by one of the legal principles of international water convention (informing unilateral actions on a common river) which she herself has not lived up to, clearly evidencing Egypt’s double standard and its position of ‘free rider” on Nile issues.

Fact 8: GERD primarily aims to electrify 65% Ethiopians who live in darkness, not for export’s sake


All of Egyptian media and Egyptians writing for international media presents GERD as a construction project primarily aimed at making the country the largest power exporter in Africa. This is another evidence Egyptian mendacity to evade the very first purpose of the dam, which is electrification of Ethiopian families denied of access to power in this 21st century.

According to official statistics, 65% of Ethiopians still live in darkness without access to power source. The per capita electricity consumption in Ethiopia also stood at only 65 KWH. In both parameters, Ethiopia remains one of the least electrified countries in the globe, even lower than the SSA average. To see this in comparison, Egypt has already achieved the 100% milestone of access to electricity for all its citizens as of 2017, and its per capita electricity consumption is 1510 KWH.

Indeed, Egyptians should rather have been concerned with the environmental damage caused due to the heavy reliance of these 65% Ethiopians over natural resource; and what electricity access to them would bring to the ecology of the basin and water flow of the Nile. This mere fact, as the late Ethiopian Premier once said, would have made GERD an Egyptian project. However, Egyptian governments have continued to shortsightedly portray Nile a matter of luxury for Ethiopians, and a matter of survival for them.

Fact 9: Ethiopia’s GERD holds water that is only half of Egypt’s Lake Nassir

Egyptians portray GERD as a mammoth dam, which would have massive effect in downstream countries. To that end, they usually do not go without mentioning the power generation capacity, budget and the height of the dam, intriguing to magnify their ill-conceived threat on the dam. However, the fact is that Egypt still stores far more water from the Nile than Ethiopia will.

To support the fact with figures, Lake Nassir, the lake created by Aswan Dam, holds 132 Billion Cubic Meter (BCM), doubling the capacity of GERD, which is 74 BCM. The water of Aswan also stretches back up to 550 KM, which is double of GERD’s maximum length of 250 KM. Besides, Lake Aswan is located at 147 m Above Sea Level (ASL) while GERD being at 640 m ASL. Due to this, about 10 BCM is lost to evaporation at Lake Nassir, nearly seven-fold of the water loss at the Ethiopian GERD, which lose only 1.5 BCM to evaporation. This entails that Egypt has already benefited and will continue to benefit from larger reservoir of Nile water than Ethiopia will. Egypt also lose considerable amount of water at Aswan, which could otherwise be saved, if stored at GERD in Ethiopia.

Fact 10: GERD is located at the very end of Ethiopia’s border, denying the country potential use in time of drought

The blessing of the two countries from Nile water goes beyond their water storage capacity, and is more evident when the location and purpose of their respective dams come in to play. However, Egypt does not want to expose to the world the location and purpose of GERD fearing it would downplay its persistent propaganda of picturing it as their existential threat. They also often present GERD as a project that has covert purpose of irrigation.

The fact is that GERD is located 20 KM away from Ethiopia’s border with Sudan, and has only purpose of power generation. On the other hand, Lake Nassir is located in the upper edge of Egypt’s border with Sudan and is multipurpose dam. It is hence clear that the Aswan dam offers Egypt the opportunity to make use of the water for drought response, among other purposes. The Ethiopian GERD, however, denies potential use of the water in time of drought and Egypt’s accusation of the hidden motive of the dam is seemingly unrealistic as it is located in arid desert and gorges less suitable for agriculture.

In conclusion, Egyptian governments have left no stone unturned to keep their self-claimed hegemony over Nile water. From the direct invasion of 1880s, they have tried all possible options to deprive Ethiopia of its right to make use of own water resource. What is central to their strategies are deceptive informational techniques, and these take mainly forms of distortion of general facts, legal hoaxing and mischaracterization of GERD,

Egyptian politicians, academicians, journalists and ordinary citizens are one and the same on the issue of Nile, and are relentlessly propagandizing for their false cause. Seemingly, this has given Egypt the upper hand, and left Ethiopia at the defense side. I think Ethiopia must be the only upper riparian country in the world having lion’s share of a river water, but fighting to secure its fair share, if not its ownership, of its God-given water resources.

Egyptian false propaganda can only be tackled by counter actions on the Ethiopian side. Hence, Ethiopians from all walks of life needs echo our true cause and firm stand to international community and the diplomatic world. I hope the above underlined points could hint the key messages that Ethiopians need to focus on to refute Egypt’s wolf crying on the matter.