Ameliorating the Conflict Over Water in the Nile River Basin

Christopher Hurtado —  November 29, 2008
Ameliorating the Conflict Over Water in the Nile River Basin | Christopher Hurtado


The total available water supply in the Nile River Basin is about 74 billion m3, but demand has risen to about 90-142 billion m3. Egypt’s demand is about 70-75 billion m3 and Sudan’s is about 32 billion m3. Egypt is willing to allocate 2 billion m3 to Ethiopia, but Ethiopia’s demand is about 5 billion m3. Demand from the equatorial states is about 5 billion m3. Thus, there is a deficit of 16-68 billion m3 (Soffer 69-70). Rogers and Lydon (308) predict that Egypt and the Sudan will exceed their own water resource bases by 2025.

This deficit is clearly a problem. Furthermore, faced with water shortages, Egypt and Sudan oppose any change in the status quo of the division of Nile water. Egypt’s average annual population growth rate is 1.682% (2008 est.) and the Sudan’s is 2.134% (2008 est.) (CIA – The World Fact Book). Most experts agree that Egypt and Sudan will be forced to cooperate. However, Egypt has very little incentive to change the status quo and Sudan lacks the power to do so (Soffer 71).

Unless water is redistributed, there is a possibility of war between the upstream and downstream states. However, this scenario is unlikely owing to the imbalance of power between a strong Egypt and its weaker upstream counterparts. Nevertheless, Egypt and Sudan may face further water shortages even if water is not redistributed (Soffer 71). In order to prevent future wars in the Middle East, Entrepreneurs for Peace should focus its attention on ameliorating the conflict over water in the Nile River Basin.

Why this river basin is important and why there are tensions

There are a number of factors that determine the fair division of Nile River water. Following are some of these factors and the manner in which they contribute to the problem:

Geography of the drainage basin

Much of the river lies in Egypt and Sudan, yet Egypt and Sudan contribute no water to it. Other states, especially Ethiopia, contribute most of the water (Soffer 67).

Climate and hydrology

Egypt’s climate is arid. Sudan’s is also arid and features savannahs. The other riparian states enjoy tropical or savannah climates and ample rainfall. However, the climate of northern Ethiopia has become arid in recent years. Therefore, Egypt, Sudan, and now Ethiopia, are most dependent on river water (Soffer 67).

Past and present use of basin water (historical rights)

Egypt has been using Nile water since the dawn of civilization. Sudan has historical rights to a lesser degree than Egypt, but more so than upstream states, which only recently began using Nile water (Soffer 67).

Economic and social needs of basin riparians

The economies of all the basin states are highly dependent on agriculture. Their principal source of income is agriculture, which contributes 21 percent or more of their GNP (as opposed to 3-5 percent of GNP in the West). Nevertheless, as developing countries, they are not able to match their high growth rate with agricultural development, wherefore they all import much of their food (Soffer 66-67).

Degree of dependency on the river water

Egypt’s other sources of income make it less dependent on agriculture than the others, but it is still more dependent on river water than the others (Soffer 67).

Cost of alternative projects for water use

Increased recycling of sewage water, increased use of groundwater in the Nile valley and its environs, and desalination are possibilities. However, the recycling of sewage water has met with great opposition in these countries, Egypt being the only one to have overcome it to a degree, and the use of groundwater and desalination have been deemed cost prohibitive (Soffer 67). 

Existence of resources other than water

As mentioned above, Egypt, the one country that is less dependent on agriculture than the others is more dependent on river water than the others (Soffer 67).

How the conflict might be ameliorated, including what in particular Entrepreneurs for Peace might do to help solve the problem

Given the above factors for determining the fair division of Nile River water, how can it be fairly divided? Development projects in southern Sudan and on the plateaus of Ethiopia are two alternatives. However, this would require cooperation among countries involved. The problem for Egypt is one of national security and prestige. Egypt will not likely overlook these issues and become dependent on Ethiopia as its water reservoir. Another alternative is the careful use of water within countries (Soffer 70).

Entrepreneurs for Peace proposes the following innovative entrepreneurial solutions, some striking in simplicity, none requiring large capital-intensive projects, multinational corporations, or cooperation among Nile River Basin riparian states, to ameliorate the conflict over water in the Nile River Basin:

Increasing the Supply

Most desalination plants today use reverse osmosis, or RO, a process that pushes water through a membrane at high pressure, letting through freshwater, but blocking salt and contaminants. The average cost of 1 cubic meter of water desalinated by RO is $1-1.50 compared to 20 cents per cubic meter of water drawn from a reservoir or a well. NanoH20 offers a nanocomposite membrane for RO that is twice as efficient as membranes currently in use, desalinating twice as much water with the same amount of energy. This solution offers a potential total cost of desalination reduction of 25 percent (Bluestein XXX).

Treating It

MIOX manufactures compact generators used by water treatment facilities to produce liquid chlorine on-site, using only water, salt, and electricity, for a fraction of the cost of the alternative of transporting and storing hazardous chemicals. MIOX’s generators can produce a “mixed oxidant” that uses less chlorine to disinfect water, resulting in less chemical taste and odor, and less biofilm algae buildup in the treatment system (Bluestein 121).

MIOX’s system offers further savings when used in self-contained commercial water recycling systems to disinfect water before reusing it rather than treating it in one place, pumping it, living with losses and degradation, and moving someplace else to dispose of it (Bluestein 121).

Storing It

Water can spend up to 100 days in the distribution system between treatment and end user. The problem with this is that water sitting in a tank this long tends to stagnate and settle into thermal layers, as it does in lakes. The warmer layers closer to the top tend to burn off the disinfectants used in treatment, thus increasing contamination potential (Bluestein 122).

This problem is usually solved by adding disinfectant chemicals to the holding system, but this has its own costs, both environmental and economical and the potential for chemical byproduct formation. Water agencies pump moving water from tank to tank, or even release water at the end of the line to draw in fresh water to the stagnating system. This process is energy-intensive, and thus costly (Bluestein 122).

PAX Water offers an energy-efficient, inexpensive, and elegant solution called the Lily impeller. It is a spiral propeller which, when installed at the bottom of a storage tank, can mix up to seven million gallons of water using the same amount of energy as three 100-watt bulbs. The mixer mimics natural convection currents evenly circulating the water in the tank, thus reducing or eliminating the need for added disinfectants (Bluestein 122).

Conserving It

In the U.S., utilities have been able to reliably and cost-effectively curb water use by offering customers rebates for water-saving devices such as low-flow showerheads and toilets and efficient front-loading clothes washers. Per capita water use in the U.S. has declined from 1,950 gallons per day in 1977 to 1,480 gallons per day in 2000, according to nonprofit research group, the Pacific Institute (Bluestein 123).

WaterSaver Tehnologies offers a water-recycling system that takes used water from the bathroom sink, disinfects it, and reroutes it to the toilet tank for flushing. The system, dubbed AQUS, uses standard plumbing parts and can be installed by a professional plumber in about two hours. It costs $395 (before rebates), and can save up to 6,000 gallons of water per year in a two-person household (Bluestein 124).

Falcon Waterfree Technologies manufactures an easy-to-clean porcelain or metal urinal with a stainless-steel housing providing a perfect seal between the opening and a patented cartridge containing a biodegradable liquid with a specific gravity lighter than water that covers the cartridge once urine passes through it, creating an airtight seal that prevents the escape of urine odor and sewer gases. By reducing water use by 100 percent, this solution saves about 40,000 gallons of water yearly per urinal (Bluestein 124).

Hydropoint offers a system called WeatherTRAK that uses live weather data, rather than preset timers, to tell sprinklers when and how much to water crops, cutting water use up to 59 percent. Most of Hydropoint’s clients in the U.S. are commercial and institutional since farmers in the U.S. have long-term contracts for low-cost water, and therefore lack incentive to implement water conservation measures. HydroPoint’s 15,000 customers saved a combined 6.7 billion gallons of water in 2007. (Bluestein 126).


In order to prevent future wars in the Middle East, Entrepreneurs for Peace should focus its attention on ameliorating the conflict over water in the Nile River Basin. Agricultural loss reduction, industrial recycling, reduction of urban leakage, wastewater recycling, and demand management radically expand supply options and reduce supply costs (Rogers and Lydon 298-301). With focus, investment and innovation, small companies with intellectual property, significant know-how, and a product that’s scalable can make a difference. Although acceptance of new ideas may be a challenge, in time, the challenge may become competition. Competition in turn can take these ideas from fringe to mainstream (Bluestein 126).

Works Cited

Bluestein, Adam. “Blue is the New Green.” Inc. Magazine Nov 2008: 116-128.
“CIA – The World Fact Book — Egypt.” CIA – The World Fact Book. 20 Nov 2008. Central Intelligence Agency. 29 Nov 2008 <>.
Rogers, Peter, and Peter Lydon. Water in the Arab World: Perspectives and Prognoses. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1994.
Soffer, Arnon, Rivers of Fire: The Conflict Over Water in the Middle East. New York: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc., 1999.

Christopher Hurtado

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Christopher Hurtado is President and CEO of Linguistic Solutions and Adjunct Instructor of Philosophy and Political Science at Utah Valley University. He holds a BA in Middle East Studies/Arabic and Philosophy and an MA in Nonproliferation and Terrorism Studies. He coauthored Vacation Spanish: A Survival Guide for Mexico, the Caribbean, Central & South America. He is married to children's book author and homeschool mom, Alysia Gonzalez. Together they have nine children. They are active in their church and in their community.