The Nile, 6,671 kilometres long, rises in East Africa – partly south of the Equator – and flows into the Mediterranean after crossing two Arab countries, the Sudan and Egypt. 80% of its waters originate in Ethiopia. Only one third of the waters it collects in the upper part of its basin flow into the Mediterranean because of depletion or evaporation. The average annual flow in Egypt is 84 billion m³.

Unlike the Tigris and the Euphrates, an agreement between the countries of the Nile basin (except Ethiopia) since 1929 regulates these countries’ exact use of the river’s waters. This agreement was drawn up on the initiative of the United Kingdom, the colonial power at the time. A review of the agreement in 1959 gave the Sudan the right to 18.5 billion m³ a year, and Egypt an annual minimum of 55.5 billion m³. Internal political stability permitting, the Sudan – which currently uses only 14 billion m³ a year – could renew its interest in the major schemes it has undertaken and demand that its quota is reviewed upwards. As for Ethiopia, it is interested in taking part in the agreement (it plans on using at least 12 billion m³ in the long term) and to build a series of dams on the parts of the Nile it irrigates.

Egypt uses about 60% of the water available to it to irrigate arable land which represents about 3.2 million hectares today. Some 1 million hectares of this is former desert land which is now being cultivated. The flow of the Nile’s waters was regulated by the construction between 1958 and 1970 of the High Aswan Dam (Lake Nasser) which holds 157 billion cubic metres of water, or nearly two years of the Nile’s total flow in Egypt. The natural depression of Tochka, located south-west of the dam, was equipped at the end of the 1970s to act as an overflow for Lake Nasser.

Since then, Egypt has undertaken the huge « New Valley » scheme (see also Amir Al Waleed) which was officially inaugurated on 9 January 1997 by President Moubarak. This project aims to deviate 5 billion m³ of water a year from Lake Nasser through a canal (the Sheikh Zayed canal) being dug in the direction of oases located in the western desert (the Khaerfa, Dakhla and Farafra oases). The canal will follow a series of depressions and should allow about 420,000 hectares of desert land to be irrigated, and finally be cultivated by private operators according to Egyptian government plans. If all goes according to plan and on the basis of the most optimistic forecasts, the surface area of the country’s arable land should increase by 28%. The cost of the project is estimated at $30 billion per year, of which $6 billion are financed by Egypt and the rest is awaiting investors. However, many experts have expressed serious doubts about the scientific validity and the economic viability of the project.

The Saudi company KADCO, headed by Prince Al-Waleed, purchased 350,000 acres of land in the « New Valley development zone ». The plan of KADCO is to give over more than 50 per cent of its area to wheat and cotton but the bulk of its revenues are supposed to come from the export of grapes (30%) and citrus (20%) which could hit the international market earlier than other producers because the region is so far south. The KADCO scheme is the largest and most advanced in the Toshka project and is the major asset to the whole project’s credibility.