How 'neutral' is the World Bank over the Nile River dam?
Letter to the Editor
January 25, 2018
Egyptian Foreign Ministry spokesman Ahmed Abu Zeid contends that Egypt chose the World Bank to act as arbiter in matters concerning the Ethiopian Renaissance Dam, because it is “neutral.” The dictionary definition of neutral is: to be impartial, or someone who does not support or take sides in a quarrel or dispute. The World Bank may be neutral on other world issues. However, unless the spokesman wants to insult the intelligence of his listeners, how neutral is the bank when it comes to the Nile and the building of dams on that river?
In the first place, thanks to Sadat’s insistence and the willingness of President Jimmy Carter to support Sadat, there is a clause in the Camp David Accords of 1979 that prohibits loans to any riparian state which intends to build dams on the Nile River. As a result, the World Bank does not approve the financing of dam construction without prior approval of Egypt. In fact, over the last many years, no Nile dams have been financed by the World Bank over Egypt’s objections. To that end, Egyptian government officials have been placed in high World Bank positions to inspect and to scrutinize matters.
If we go back to history, much of the Nile water was given to Egypt by the British with a view to help expand their cotton plantations there. Any country that dared to touch the Nile waters was met with stern threats by Egypt and its protectors: first England, and then the USA. When Ethiopia sought World Bank financing for a dam in 1987-1988, the United States leaned on the World Bank to say no. Where is the neutrality? The situation has hardly changed even today. Tom Campbell, former Republican Congressman from California, tries to advise the American Government not to be tempted to intervene on the wrong side. He seems to interpret the mind of the policy makers this way: Egypt was at peace with Israel at America’s request, and Cairo demanded America’s help with the Nile question and a two billion dollar a year in return. The calculus was clear. Ethiopia brought us nothing- Egypt brought peace with Israel. We, therefore, did Egypt’s bidding with the World Bank. So where is the neutrality of the bank?
Some 90% of the people of Ethiopia live in darkness. All that is being done is building a hydro-electric dam so that people can get enough light and live a decent life. Is there something wrong with that? The dam is not even an irrigation dam. Once it is filled, the flow of the water will continue without being reduced. How does this affect the flow of water to Egypt? Besides, evaporation loss is only 3% in Ethiopia and 12% in Egypt, with all its implications. How is Ethiopia hurting Egypt?
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