14 April 2017

Africa: Egypt Should Join the Consensus On Shared Use of Nile Waters

Photo: Daily Monitor
River Nile is shared by 10 countries and because of this shared basin, an initiative was set up to monitor activities along the river.

There are eleven countries that have a legitimate claim to the waters of River Nile, namely Ethiopia, Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, DR Congo, Rwanda, Burundi, Eritrea, South Sudan, Sudan and Egypt. The first nine are the riparian countries, which generate the waters flowing along this ancient river, whose source for thousands of years remained a mystery. The Sudan and Egypt are the countries that benefit most from the Nile.

To Egypt, in particular, the Nile is its life blood. Without it, Egypt would be a barren and desolate desert. It is not surprising that it has "threatened to go to war" if its entitlement to 85 per cent of the Nile waters, as per 1929 and 1952 colonial agreements with Britain, was tampered with or varied in any way.

In accordance with the agreements, Egypt was given what was tantamount to "veto powers" over developments along the Nile by the riparian states, so as to ensure that the volume of water going to Egypt remains the same.

The situation has become untenable for these upstream states who rightly felt that these were unfair agreements which tied their hands over a natural resource over which they had an equal right; Egypt's special needs not with-standing. Like Egypt they had needs for hydro-electric dams, water for irrigation, domestic and industrial usage. The bone of contention now is striking a balance between competing interests.

This can only be addressed through a new agreement between all states. The Co-operative Framework Agreement (CFA), which sought to replace the colonial agreements, was a step in the right direction but Egypt has not signed it even though others did. Unless Egypt agrees to a negotiated approach, the alternative will be unilateral actions like Ethiopia's decision to build a 6,000 megawatts dam, without first consulting Egypt.

Mr Frederic Musisi in a recent special report on CFA, published in Daily Monitor, observed that, according to experts, the massive dam did not affect volume of water flowing through the Blue Nile to Sudan and Egypt. It was wise for Egypt to 'retreat' from its threat to blow up the dam during construction, a decision which would have had catastrophic consequences beyond Ethiopia and Egypt, and most likely engulf the region.

Egypt knows that such an adventure would have been seen as a declaration of war on all countries upstream, and would definitely avoid taking that path.

It is high time it realises that the dynamics have changed over the years as the populations have more than quadrupled in most Nile Basin countries.

Ethiopia has a population of 100 million, making it the second most populous country in Africa (after Nigeria), Egypt has 90 million, Uganda 38 million, Kenya 48 million, Tanzania 51 million.

Population growth has adversely impacted on the climate at a time when demand for water for agriculture, power generation, domestic use and industries has increased exponentially in all countries, Egypt included.

The problem is that population is set to almost double over 50 years in most of Nile Basin countries, further exasperating the water situation.

All the countries must address environmental degradation, whose impact on rainfall is already beginning to show. It is in Egypt's interest and countries of the Nile Basin to invest in reversal of this dangerous phenomenon, which threatens to spread the Sahara Desert down south.

Only through collective action can we save the Nile from 'drying up' and ensure that there is enough water for both down-stream and up-stream countries. Bickering over 'ancient' rights will do us no good.

Ambassador Naggaga is an economist, administrator and retired Ambassador.

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