Dornadula Chandrasekharam
Former Chair Professor I I T Bombay, India

Egypt-Ethiopia and the Nile

“”Thus if Egypt’s al-Sisi feels he has Trump’s backing, he may be tempted to go to war over the Nile. On paper, Egypt has a much stronger military than Ethiopia.”   Read a recent news item. As I said in many of my blogs, future wars will be fought for water and food. The political and scientific analysis was made in a paper published by the author…..””Geothermal energy for sustainable water resources management D. Chandrasekharam et al.,  2019,  INTERNATIONAL JOURNAL OF GREEN ENERGY,”.

The gist of the paper is………… With ever-increasing population and steep declining freshwater supply, the future concern of MENA and Sub-Saharan countries is food security. Egypt is more vulnerable to food security due to the increased water rights being exercised by the countries sharing the Nile River. Assuming that Egypt by 2025 will achieve 1000 m3/y per capita consumption of water, with the population growing beyond 109 million, the water available by 2025 would be around 106 billion m3/y. With increasing pressure from the Nile River basin riparian countries, Egypt may not be able to manage with the current 58 billion m3 of water from the Aswan dam to achieve per capita goal. To maintain the current per capita water consumption of 636 m3/y Egypt may need about 1200 desalination plants and 200 × 106 kWh electricity is required to operate these plants and the CO2 emissions due to this process will be around 80–160 million tones. Electricity generated from hydrothermal sources can supply 659 billion  m3/year of desalinated water while the EGS can generate 58,400 billion  m3/y of desalinated water from the Red Sea. This will help the country to meet the current fresh water deficit of 48 billion  m3/y. By the year 2025, the demand for fresh water will be of the order of 106 billion  m3/y to maintain 1000 m3/y per capita water consumption. Egypt can set an example to MENA and Sub-Saharan countries by using geothermal energy for sustainable development and future water and food security”.

Waging a military war against Ethiopia is like using a missile to kill a sparrow!!! Egypt may intimidate Ethiopia, but the Nile is shared by 11 countries. Will Egypt wage a war against all these countries?.

Country Area km2 Area within Nile basin km2 Percent area in the Nile basin
Burundi 27835 13260 48
DR Congo 2345410 22143 0.9
Egypt 1001450 326751 33
Eritrea 121320 24921 20
Ethiopia 1127127 365117 32
Kenya 826505 46229 8
Rwanda 26340 19876 75
Sudan 2505810 1978506 79
Tanzania 945090 84200 9
Uganda 236040 231366 98


All these countries have equal rights on the Nile. The Nile water scenario is fast changing. Ethiopia may not be using all the water saved from Blue Nile or from Awash river  but may allow other countries to use this water to grow food and supply to other food scare countries under VWT that is being in practice by many countries like China (Soya production in Brazil by China). Similar situation may happen with other countries like Uganda or Rwanda that occupies large area within the Nile River basin.  Thus, the water resources scenario for Egypt is not green like in the past. Egypt is already facing such water and food shortage issues and currently, due to expanding population and insufficient water and land for irrigation, 40% of Egypt’s population is below the poverty line and a large percentage of them live in rural areas with per capita water below 1000 m3 against the world average of 6000 m3. To meet the growing water demand, Egypt has commissioned several desalination plants, sourcing seawater from the Red Sea, the Mediterranean Sea, saline groundwater from the coastal aquifers and irrigation return water. Egypt is the second-largest country among the Sub-Saharan countries generating large volumes of desalinated water from the Red Sea next only to Saudi Arabia. The capacity of the plants varies from 500 to 10,000 m3/day. Most of the desalination plants use RO technology (Reverse Osmosis). Using fossil fuel for desalination is not a cost-effective solution to solve this water problem. Neither waging war against neighbouring countries is a solution. For every small problem the country can not seek external help. If it does then besides food, it has to depend completely on external source for logistics. Adopting geothermal energy to generate desalinated water will benefit these countries in terms of cost and environment. The cost of supplying 20,000 m3/day of desalinated water using oil (fossil fuels) as the energy source would cost about 200 million US $ while this will be about US$ 91 million for RO systems using seawater as the main feed. Between oil and coal, using coal as an energy source will be cheaper compared to oil, however using renewable sources like geothermal energy that can support baseload power and has >90% efficiency can solve the above cost and environmental issues. Energy requirement, CO2 emissions and unit cost of desalination plants using conventional and renewable energy sources is shown below.

Coal Oil Gas Nuclear Solar Wind Geothermal
Energy input kWh/m3 6.09 6.09 6.09 6.09 6.09 6.09 6.09
CO2 emissions kg/m3 5.5 3.8 2.3 0.02 0 0 0.41
Unit cost US$/m3 3 21 4 2 15 8 1.61


Instead of fighting for water and food security, initiating a system that will provide permanent security for water and food is better. Geothermal technology is ripe and can be bought off the shelf.

About the Author
I am a Retired chair professor from Indian Institute of Technology Bombay and currently teach at IIT Hyderabad. I have 200 publications in the above fields and have supervised 25 Ph D students.