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In most of the country it never rains and 90 per cent of the water on which the civilisation that built the pyramids depends comes from the river.
Two treaties signed more than half a century ago gave Egypt the lion's share of the water from the Nile.Egypt's arable land stretches out over the map of North Africa like a green kite on a desert background.The string uncoils northwards from the Aswan high dam until it reaches the Nile Delta, where it opens into a triangle to meet the Mediterranean Sea.This narrow fertile strip, fed by the world's longest river, is where Egypt lives.Eighty million people are crammed into less than five per cent of the land.But those deals, so crucial to one country, also set up an epic imbalance of resources that has led analysts to look to this river system as the likely theatre for the first of the long-heralded water wars.
Now a fresh crisis has emerged to threaten Cairo's hegemony of this most political of rivers as five of the 10 Nile basin countries have signed up to a new agreement that would give them a greater share of the waters and has been greeted in the Egyptian press as a "death sentence".
The White Nile rises in East Africa in Lake Victoria and drains through Uganda into Sudan where it meets in Khartoum with the Blue Nile flowing from Ethiopia's Lake Tana.
An exchange of letters in the Egyptian capital between the British ambassador and the Prime Minister of Egypt on 7 May, 1929 was sufficient to conclude the Nile Water agreement.
It read: "No irrigation or power works are to be constructed on the River Nile or its tributaries, or on the lakes from which it flows...
which would entail prejudice to the interests of Egypt." In other words Egypt had monopoly of the waters.
On behalf of its colonial possessions – Sudan, Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda – Britain, which was primarily concerned with the Suez Canal and the passage to India, had just signed away their most precious resource.