Egypt PM plans first trip abroad to neighbor Sudan

Reuters News
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Posted: Mar 23, 2011 9:55 AM

CAIRO (Reuters) - Egyptian Prime Minister Essam Sharaf will make his first trip abroad next week to Sudan, where he is expected to discuss River Nile water sharing deals and south Sudan's secession, the cabinet said on Wednesday.

Egypt is in dispute with upstream Nile nations which have signed an agreement to alter historic water sharing pacts, presenting a major diplomatic challenge for Egypt's interim military rulers.

Egypt, already threatened by climate change, is almost entirely dependent on the Nile for its water and has been nervously watching hydro-power dam projects in upriver nations. It has repeatedly said it is opposed to the new deal.

This month, Burundi was the sixth upriver country to sign the accord, joining Kenya, Uganda, Ethiopia, Tanzania and Rwanda. Democratic Republic of Congo has not signed, but Kenya said last year that it expected Congo to come on board.

Sudan, which gets the second biggest share of Nile water under the original treaties, has also backed Egypt, but analysts say an independent south might be less likely to do the same.

The Egyptian government has said the break-up of southern neighbor Sudan will not reduce Egypt's share of Nile water.

South Sudan voted in January to secede.

Sharaf will be accompanied by the foreign, international cooperation and water resources and irrigation ministers during his two-day trip to Khartoum and to Juba in south Sudan.

The new agreement replaces one signed in 1929 and another in 1955, creating a permanent commission to manage the water, with the aim of guaranteeing the equitable use of the resources.

Under the original deal, Egypt is entitled to 55.5 billion cubic meters of water a year, the lion's share of the Nile's total flow of around 84 billion cubic meters.

Egypt says the river's waters feed a farming sector accounting for a third of all jobs. Cairo fears a reduction in its water flow will bring closer the date on which population growth will outstrip water resources, now thought possible as early as 2017.

(Reporting by Dina Zayed and Ashraf Badr; editing by Tim Pearce)