The Observer (Kampala)

13 November 2012

Uganda: Nile River Basin Potential At Risk

Despite attempts to cooperate, the ten countries that share the Nile river have often disagreed on how this precious and finite resource should be shared. While there is enough water in the Nile basin to support development among the region's some 180 million people, half of whom live below the poverty line and rely on the river for their food and income, small farmers continue to be at risk of being marginalised.

But a new book published by the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR, a global research partnership that unites organizations engaged in research for sustainable development), calls for fair and easy access to the Nile.

The book The Nile River Basin: Water, Agriculture, Governance and Livelihoods, the most comprehensive overview to date of an oft-discussed but persistently misunderstood river and region, was launched this week in Addis Ababa by leading hydrologists, economists, agriculturalists and social scientists.

The book finds that the Nile river, together with its associated tributaries and rainfall, could provide the 11 countries, including the new South Sudan, and the drought-plagued countries of the Horn of Africa--with enough water to support a vibrant agriculture sector, but that the poor in the region who rely on the river for their food and incomes risk missing out on these benefits without effective and inclusive water management policies.

It suggests that the river has enough water to supply dams and irrigate parched agriculture in all ten countries. It, however, cautions that policymakers risk turning the poor into water "have-nots" if they don't enact inclusive water management policies.

The book also argues that better cooperation among the riparian countries is required to share this precious resource. Experts discussing the definitive book on Nile river basin will provide comprehensive analysis of the water, agriculture, governance and poverty challenges facing policymakers in the countries that rely on the world's longest river.

"This book will change the way people think about the world's longest river," said Dr Vladimir Smakhtin, water availability and access theme leader at the International Water Management Institute (IWMI), in a release. Vladimir is one of the book's co-authors.

Agriculture, the economic bedrock of most of the 11 Nile countries, and the most important source of income for the majority of the region's people, is under increased pressure to feed the basin's burgeoning population -- already 180 million people, half of whom live below the poverty line.

According to the book, investing in a set of water management approaches known as Agricultural Water Management (AWM), which include irrigation and rainwater collection, could spur food production in the region.

"It is tempting for these governments to focus on large-scale irrigation schemes, such as existing schemes in Sudan and Egypt, but more attention must also be paid to smaller, on-farm water management approaches that make use of rainwater and stored water resources such as aquifers," said Dr Seleshi Bekele, senior water resources and climate specialist at the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA) and one of the book's co-authors.

"The Nile basin is as long as it is complex--its poverty, productivity, vulnerability, water access and socio-economic conditions vary considerably," said Dr David Molden, IMWI's former director general and one of the book's co-authors.

"We need to look beyond simply using water for crop production if we are to comprehensively address the issues of poverty in the region."

Authors argue that continued in-depth research and local analysis is essential to understand the issues and systems and to design appropriate measures that all countries can sign on to.

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