Nile Basin countries need to engage in a meaningful discourse aimed at finding solutions to shared regional challenges such as poverty, the Rwandan Minister for Environment has said.
Dr Vincent Biruta was speaking on Monday as he officiated at the opening of the 5th Nile Basin Development Forum (NBDF) in Kigali.
This year's theme is, "Investing in Nile Cooperation for a Water Secure Future."
More than 500 participants, including ministers in charge of water and other government officials in Nile Basin countries, Members of Parliament, water resource managers, environmentalists, economists, development planners, academia and researchers, are attending the meeting to deliberate on opportunities and challenges of Nile cooperation.
Its aim, according to organisers, is to create communities of people who are well informed, are actively engaged in promoting Nile cooperation as the only means of achieving sustainable management and development of the shared Nile Basin water resources as well as addressing shared risks, threats and challenges across the Basin.
"Water security is one of the key challenges of our time, and we have to work together and manage this precious and shared resource," Biruta said.
"The development challenges we face are similar, and regional in nature. Isolated and uncoordinated responses may not provide sustainable solutions. Indeed, shared challenges need shared solutions," he noted.
The minister said that, from time to time, upstream and downstream water users might have different and conflicting needs, but such diversity should provide ideal ground and reason for cooperation.
"Cooperation is less expensive and only viable solution to these challenges and issues. Investing in Nile cooperation is not an option, but a must if we are to properly and sustainably address the issue of water security within the Nile Basin," he observed.
Abdulkarim H. Seid, the head of Water Resources Management Department at Nile Basin Initiative, said the population of the Nile Basin countries increased from around 100 million to more than 400 million from 1960 to 2010, according to the United Nations population indicators.
The demand for food, energy and water has been escalating, and per capita water availability has been declining as the population has grown exponentially, according to the Nile Basin Water Resources Atlas launched in July 2016.
Going by the UN population projections, Seid noted, the population of the Basin countries is expected to reach more than 1 billion by 2050.
The average annual population growth rates between 2010 and 2015 were 3.2 per cent in Burundi, 2.7 per cent in DR Congo, 1.6 per cent in Egypt, 2.6 per cent in Ethiopia, 2.7 per cent in Kenya, 2.7 per cent in Rwanda, 2.1 per cent in Sudan, 3.0 per cent in Tanzania, and 3.3 per cent in Uganda, as per statistics from Human Development Report 2015, by United Nations Development Fund (UNDP).
"What does this mean? More water is needed for the production of food and energy production at the same time. So, this is a concern of all the countries of the Nile Basin. Water security in one country is linked or dependent on water security of another country," Seid said, noting that ensuring water security requires innovative solutions and cooperation.
Innocent Ntabana, the Executive Director of Nile Basin Initiative (NBI), said no doubt the challenge of water security is growing.
However, he said there are a wide range of options available to the Nile states seeking to meet these growing demands by investing in cooperative solutions in an integrated and equitable manner.
The high level NBI event, due to close today, was first held in 2006, and it is the second time Rwanda is hosting it.