The broadcast of a secret meeting between the previous president and other political parties on how to deal with Ethiopia›s announcement that they would divert the Nile to begin building the Nahda dam was one of the main reasons behind the escalating popular anger towards Muslim Brotherhood rule. It revealed how recklessly the head of state dealt with a matter of national security as important as the Nile and represented the biggest diplomatic gaffe in Egyptian history.
The Minister of Water Resources and Irrigation for the al-Beblawi government, Dr. Mohamed Abdul Muttalib, ruled out escalation with Ethiopia as a means to solve the Nahda Dam crisis.
«The ministry is considering plans and projects to find alternatives to supply water since Egypt›s water deficit has reached 23 billion cubic meters. This deficit will be compensated through treating agricultural waste water and reusing it for agricultural purposes,” he told Al-Borsa.
«Egypt is prepared to help administrate the electricity produced by the Nahda Dam, connect it to the national electrical grid, and participate in administrating the dam. Egypt will also provide expertise in health care, education, agricultural development and increase the size of Egyptian investments in Ethiopia in exchange for the implementation of the technical council’s suggestions regarding the dam, specifically reducing its storage capacity and increasing the filling period so as not to affect Egypt›s share of the water.»
Egypt suffers from a water shortage of more than 23 billion cubic meters a year. Egypt receives 55.5 billion cubic meters from the Nile, which represents more than 95% of the country›s water resources, and consumes nearly 78.5 billion cubic meters. Egypt will reduce this gap by reusing irrigation water more than once after mixing it with irrigation waste water.
According to the minister, the Irrigation Ministry is currently examining increasing Egypt›s share of the Nile through implementing projects to utilize water losses upstream such as the Baro-Akobo project on the Blue Nile in Ethiopia. This would provide 12 billion cubic meters of water to be split between Ethiopia, Egypt, and Sudan, and the Jonglei canal project. The latter would also provide 7 billion cubic meters to be split between Egypt and North and South Sudan.
The minister has also formed a technical committee to re-evaluate the investments needed to execute the West Delta projects to establish an agriculture canal from the al-Nasery water channel to the lower Bahiri water channel and the railroad. This project would irrigate 425 feddans west of the Cairo-Alexandria desert road, 100,000 feddans on both sides of the Wadi Natroun-al-Alamein road, 70,000 feddans west of Sadat city, and 255,000 feddans on both sides of the Cairo-Alexandria desert road.
A total of 73% of the area that will be served by the planned irrigation canal is part of small farms (less than 50 feddans) while 17% is held by medium farms (between 50 and 250 feddans) and 5% by large farms (exceeding 250 feddans). This represents 93,000 feddans which equates to 53% of the land area targeted under these projects.
The water resources ministry obtained permission from the World Bank to apply for loans equaling US$145 million in addition to US$35 million in loans from the French Development Agency to implement the project. However, the World Bank withdrew the loans due to the reluctance of construction companies to bid on the project. Only one company submitted a bid for the project, however, meaning it could not be awarded as this violated Egyptian laws regarding bids and auctions.
Dr. Abdul Muttalib said that «the current economic revenue from this region is valued at EGP 3 billion every year, EGP 2 million of which comes from agricultural exports in addition to providing 250,000 jobs and another 250,000 seasonal jobs.»
Dr. Abdul Muttalib pointed to a major ongoing project to build a new Assiut barrage in Upper Egypt. The ministry will spend EGP 800 million each year until its opening upon which the installation will produce 32 megawatts of electricity, representing a yearly return of EGP 100 million, in addition to raising the load capacity from 20 tons to 70 tons.
The consortium that controls Orascom Construction Industries (OCI), the French company Vinci, and the Arab Contractors Company got a $300 million contract for the civil works on the new barrage and the 32 megawatt hydro-electric power station in Assiut.
The project will help increase the gross national product and agricultural production in 20% of the national agricultural lands, an area of 1.650 million feddans. It will also provide clean energy through a 32 megawatt hydroelectric power station and boost commercial shipping via the construction of a 4-lane 70 ton capacity bridge over the new Assiut Barrage, connecting the west and east banks of the Nile. The new barrage is expected to help increase economic returns from Egyptian crop yields by EGP 12 billion in addition to supplying electricity for industrial production.
Set to open in 2017, the barrage will support Nile river transport, tourism, and commercial and tourist traffic on the Nile through two state of the art navigational locks. So far, 30% of the construction has been completed. Currently a drainage system is being worked on, 39 pumps are being installed and 71 of 112 ground wells have been dug.
The Water Resources and Irrigation Ministry also hopes to put an end to violations that occur on the Nile. The ministry has opened bids to public and private sector companies for a beautification project along the western bank of the Nile between km 11.8 and km 12.75 from al-Rouda to Warraq al-Hadar. The project would cover 19.5 feddans and cost EGP 17 million. The project has yet to be rewarded to a company.
«We in the ministry intend to depend on the ministry›s 2013/2014 budget of EGP 3.5 billion to execute the irrigation projects and limit the reliance on foreign loans. A number of stations have been established for mixing irrigation and waste water under the control of the mechanical and electric authority. There are eight such stations throughout the country. Instead of opening the project for bids to other companies, the authority will oversee these installations in exchange for 25% of revenues as incentives to their workers,» Dr. Abdul Muttalib said.
The ministry is currently considering feasibility studies from the governorates to determine priority irrigation projects, specifically the construction of pumping stations and drilling ground wells. This will allow the governorates to obtain the necessary loans to implement irrigation projects in their respective areas.
The Water Resources and Irrigation Ministry also plans to dig a number of wells in the New Valley Governorate in the south-west region of the country by 2014 at a cost of EGP 40 million. This would include eight wells on external oases costing EGP 7 million to be executed by the Arab Contracting Drilling Company. The ministry also hopes to finish work lining the waterways from oases in the Bahari region at a cost of EGP 3 million as well as waterways in the Dakhla Oasis and Farafra at a cost of EGP 16 million by mid-2014. They are currently completing the digging of 10 production wells in the Dakhla Oasis, Farafra, and Sharq Al-Owainat, at a cost of EGP 14 million.