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Egypt seeks food and water security in Sudan

by Staff Writers
Khartoum (AFP) March 27, 2011
Egypt will make the completion of a partially-built canal spanning an unnavigable section of the river Nile in south Sudan a top priority, a cabinet spokesman said on Sunday.

As Prime Minister Essam Sharaf visited Egypt's soon-to-be partitioned southern neighbour, cabinet spokesman Magdi Radi told a news conference in Khartoum: "We want to start the building of the Jonglei Canal, because it is a top priority. It offers to provide four billion cubic metres of Nile water (annually)."

The 360-kilometre (220-mile) canal project, which would drain the swamps in south Sudan's Jonglei state and carry the water into the White Nile, was begun in 1978 but abandoned just six years later after a raid by southern rebels.

Radi was speaking after a joint ministerial meeting on the first day of a two-day visit to Sudan by an Egyptian delegation led by Sharaf, which also includes the foreign, agriculture and irrigation ministers.

It is their first such foreign trip since the new government was appointed by the army after weeks of nationwide protests toppled veteran Egyptian leader Hosni Mubarak last month.

Foreign Minister Nabil al-Arabi said his country would be the second, after Sudan, to recognise an independent south, when it splits from the north in July, following January's landmark referendum.

Sudan is an important ally for Egypt both in terms of its agricultural potential and in Cairo's efforts to secure an acceptable agreement with upstream Nile countries about the future of its vital water supplies.

Sharaf said Egypt was the third largest investor in Sudan, with current investments amounting to $5.4 billion, and that he wanted to see this rise.

The Egyptian premier highlighted an agreement by the joint ministerial committee to develop food security through different agricultural projects in Sudan.

"The first strategic project for us is meat production and ethanol production. We will also have a contractual partnership in the Gezira scheme," he said, referring to Sudan's vast but neglected farming project on land between the Blue and White Nile, south of Khartoum.

Sudanese officials said that 41,000 feddan (17,000 hectares) of land in White Nile state had been set aside for the meat project.

Egypt's Minister of Agriculture, Ayman Abu Hadid, described some of the food projects as urgent, saying that the production of meat and sugar could start within six months.

Egypt is particularly keen to develop closer ties with south Sudan as it fears its vital water supplies could be dangerously reduced if upstream countries are able to divert the Nile's flow without consultation.

Radi said Egypt wanted to help Africa's newest nation-to-be and was already developing electricity and education projects in the impoverished region.

The Egyptian delegation will travel to Juba on Monday.

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