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The Ground Water Potential of the North African Region and the Nile Issue

Asmamaw Temesgen was a native of Lake Tana Region, source of the Abay River, April 7, 2014.

This article was designed to provide a brief overview on the Geo-scientific information and the economic potential of the enormous natural water reserves in the North African Region. Focus was made to the growing water resource demands of the region, particularly on the “Nile River Saga”. The writer has a Geo-scientific back ground and aims to draw more attention to some of the relevant information about the ground water potential of the region that has not been covered from the Egyptian’s standpoint. He also tries to connect the information gap and aspects that has to be dealt with, when dealing the Nile Issue. Furthermore, it is to allow the readers to understand the importance of a massive water potential in the North African Region. A map entitled “Plumbing The Sahara” from “The Economist Magazine” and “Estimation of Groundwater Storage in Nubian Aquifer System of the North Africa” by “UNESCO, 2006” are used as the central themes for the argument of this article. This piece of writing on the other hand tries to weight on the current misguided anxiety over the Great Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD).

Africa is rising and transforming in unprecedented scale. In the year 2013 alone the infrastructural boom in Africa seen an investment of 322 Mega Projects that cost 222.7 billions of dollars, [3] Ethiopia , as part of the pack, is racing very rapidly in an extraordinary manner to benefit from its natural resources and geographical position to be the Power House of Africa. However, Egypt, one of the pioneers of civilization, the pride of African History, a country with a home for more educated people than any other African or Middle Eastern Countries, and a country that has represented Africa in the world body is not moving in favor of the continent’s developmental objectives and ambitions. During the present global geopolitical atmosphere, the only adversary Africa has ever wrestled is “poverty” not one African country against another. For decades, the downstream Nile Basin countries (especially Egypt) have disputed over the use of the Nile River on the question of its population growth and scarcity of rain fall. Nevertheless, other countries located around the same geographical region, with less annual rainfall precipitation, or none at all, have used their natural resources as it should be used and registered one of the many wonders of the world. Even other countries, far beyond the horizon, have flourished by exploiting their natural resources for their common objectives through bilateral agreements. An example of a bilateral agreement is both China and India negotiating the details over the Brahmaputra Dam and both benefiting from the resource. These two countries have billions of people to be concerned about yet they are putting aside their differences to take advantage of The Brahmaputra Dam developmental project. Both countries are focused on the River Brahmaputra or Yarlung Zangbo for possible potential developments and the positive aspects of its use. The reason, China the upstream country wanted the dam to be built on the Tibetan stretch of the river to ease the power shortage for the people in that region. India, the downstream country agreed that they would make sure that the flow of the river and the people’s lives will not be affected by the dam. On the other hand, in Africa, Ethiopia has done as well as China and India and has strived to persuade Egypt that the power source will be built by the international standards and with all environmental considerations to benefit all countries in the region. In spite of the facts, the issue has not been perceived with the right intentions by some Egyptian politicians and quite a few irrigation scientists. And there is also a gratuitous and relentless diplomatic drift that has misled the reality. This reminded me of wise philosophical statement by Mohandas Gandhi (1869-1948). He said, “An error does not become truth by reason of multiplied propagation, nor does truth become error because nobody sees it”. Ethiopia has done its best and should do what it has to do for its inherent rights. With this perspective in mind, showing the reality with facts and figures is an obligation to the scientific community. Although this is not the sole responsibility of the Ethiopian local and foreign lesion offices to respond to the propagation, however all, who are concerned and share the genuineness are also diplomats to their country of their origin and must challenge the deceit and the relentlessness in their capacity.

Source: Adapted from The Economist, Plumbing the Sahara. [4]

 Aquifer Reserves of the Northern Africa:

In 1953, while drilling for oil in the Southern Libya, workers found huge fresh water sea beneath the sands. This vast underground ocean is called “the Nubian Sandston Aquifer System” (NSAS). It stretches beneath Libya, Egypt, Chad, and The Sudan (see map above). The water was accumulated during the last ice ages and the reserve is estimated to be the equivalent of about 500years of The Nile River flow and is expected to last for thousands of years. [1] This Nubian Sand Stone Aquifer System stretching out beneath the four African countries is the world’s largest aquifer system and covers about two million square kilometers of area with an estimate of 150,000 cubic kilometers of ground water. [2]

Countries that Benefited from NSAS Massive Resource:

The economic potential of this water resource for the region is enormous. It is believed to meet the growing national demands and developmental aspirations of many countries in the region for an indefinite period of time. However, to the record, only one country Libya effectively developed this natural resource for its developmental requirements. The Libyan mega project is called “The Great Man Made River of the World”. This project was put into operation since the 1990’s with the expertise help from Spain, Italy (Italy also annoyed for assisting Ethiopia on GERD Project), Germany, Japan, and South Korea. It supplies about 6,500,000 cubic meters of fresh water a day with eighty percent allocated for agricultural activities and the remaining used for municipal and industrial purposes. This consumption is virtually equivalent to Egypt’s annual demand of water and much greater than the net consumption. Libya, located in the middle of the Sahara Desert gets about the smallest rainfall in the region. Not by option, it developed this enormous underground resource and constructed a 5000 kms of pipe lines net work from 1000 desert wells. As a result, it exceeded  the region in hydrological engineering technology and also acquired the know how it desires to transfer to other African and Middle-Eastern countries. Currently, the project is more or less wholly managed by the local experts.

Table 1. Estimation of Groundwater Storage in Nubian Aquifer of North Africa

Source: UNESCO, 2006. [5]


The Facts:

There are no pressing water crises at present in Egypt but there will be essential needs to be addressed in the foreseeable future. So Egypt’s irrigation scientists need scientifically guided and targeted proper water management and planning. For any country, the alternative solutions are clear and vivid. If the country’s water potential is not addressed properly both in the technological and scientific terms, attention is diverted in to the wrong path. The viable and alternative solutions are obvious and include the following:

1. The massive underground freshwater sea potential (NSAS) that stretches for about 331,862 sq km (see map), with 832 meters aquifer thickness (see Table 1), storage capacity of 52,299 cubic kms, should not be disregarded as none option or the third option. This potential could generate up to 6.5 million cubic meters of water a day and can meet the future and immediate demands of water for generations to come.

2. Identify the surface and underground water potentials and reserves of the country. Execute a national water resource plan, tackle priorities, and set up short and long term goals.

3. Advance and initiate national practice of education on water conservation and management to the nation. Focus on water evaporation from the lakes and modernize the old-fashioned irrigational systems.

4. A substantial quantity of The Nile River is wasted due to uncontrolled pollution by the industries and municipal outlets. Encourage green technology and promote water efficiency to help decrease the amount of water wasted.

5. Adopt and share technological transfer available on resource development and management in the areas of NSAS (Nubian Sandstone Aquifer System), flowing rivers—The Nile, and waste water treatment, and desalination from countries with technological know-how.

6. Be a real partner in the water issues with the region. Conduct effective communications and do scientific and technical conferences with upstream countries. Address mutual concerns humbly and make use of the surplus water resources jointly.

To do this, it needs courage, change of course, and above all paradigm. Egypt’s intellectual action is monumental for the long term mutual growth of the Northern and Sub Saharan African Region. They can make a difference not only by bridging out their national issues to work with other countries but they can also play a constructive and genuine role in any shortcomings the region needs to address. For this I pass on my final quote from Henry Ford, he said “Coming together is beginning; keeping together is progress; working together is success”. Let us go for the big success together as brothers.



[1]. Jura, Jaclie, “ www.orwelltoday”. Online posting 30 Nov. 2010<http://www.orwelltoday.com/librivemanmadegaddafi.shtml>

[2]. Antonelli, Tiana. “Libya: water emerges as hidden weapon”Goumbook” Online posting.30 May, 2011<http:// www.goummbook.com/Libya- water-emerges-as hidden weapon.

[3]. Venter, Irma. Creamer Media’s Engineering News.

<www.engineeringnews.co.za/.megaprojects...deloitte.../rep_id:3182?...Cre..>. Online posting 27 Nov, 2013.

[4]. The Economist Magazine. “Plumbing the Sahara” Online Magazine. 11 March 2011


[5]. Omar Salem and Philippe Pallas. “The Nubian Sandstone Aquifer System (NSAS)” UNESCO, 2006