East Africa: Ethiopia Warns States Over River Nile Waters

26 February 2018

ADDIS ABABA — Ethiopian president Mulatu Teshome has warned countries sharing the River Nile of the tough times ahead as urbanisation and populations rapidly grow, hence putting enormous pressure on the waters amid climate change.

Dr Teshome, who was speaking at the 22nd Nile Day celebrations at the United Nations Conference Centre in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa last Friday, said the 10 River Nile riparian countries had enough problems to deal with than to continue feuding over sharing waters of the world's longest river.

Serious work

"Nile Basin cooperation is not an option and managing a common pooled resource is not an easy undertaking," Dr Teshome said.

He added: "We should be having a basin-wide planning perspective to synergise and make good use of water when it is getting scarcer per-capita."

Projections indicate that demand for energy, food and freshwater will increase significantly over the next decades under the pressure of, among others, population growth, economic development and other factors. Currently, agriculture uses 80 per cent of the Nile waters.

The Ethiopian leader reminded about 500 delegates gathered, including donors and other international actors and researchers, that while the River Nile is the longest trans-boundary river in the world with an estimated length of 6,695km from Lake Victoria to the Mediterranean Sea, it has less volume, which calls for close collaboration to prepare for the tough times ahead.

River Amazon in South America, River Congo in neighbouring DR Congo and the Mississippi river in the United States rank in the first, second and third places, respectively in terms of the annual water discharges.

The Nile comes in the fourth place with annual flow of 84 billion cubic metres.

The River Nile's catchment area spreads through territory of 10 countries including Rwanda, Uganda, Burundi, Tanzania, DR Congo, Ethiopia, Egypt, Kenya, South Sudan and Sudan, which 18 years ago agreed to the idea of establishing the Nile Basin Initiative (NBI), as an inter-government body through which to forge cooperation.

However, years down the road, the cooperation has been beset by endless squabbles, especially between Ethiopia, Sudan, and Egypt on how the river's waters should be used.

The Nile is formed by two major tributaries, the White Nile that flows from Lake Victoria to Sudan near the Sudan capital Khartoum where it intersects with the Blue Nile that flows from the Ethiopian highlands, near Lake Tana.

Egypt, which mainly relies on the river for its fresh water supply is opposed to major developments on the river for fear that the water flow would be affected.

As a result, Egypt froze its participation in the NBI insisting on the colonial agreements that grants it 75 per cent share (55.5 billion cubic metres) and 25 per cent (18.5 billion cubic metres) to Sudan of the Nile waters.

This has also stalled a new framework, the Cooperative Framework Agreement (CFA), that seeks to replace the 1929 and 1959 agreements. The CFA was midwifed in Entebbe in 2010, and was signed by all countries except Egypt and Sudan. For it to take effect at least six countries must ratify it and so far only Rwanda, Tanzania and Ethiopia have ratified it.

The Water and Environment minister, Mr Sam Cheptoris, said Uganda had delayed to ratify the CFA with the view of trying to mediate between Egypt and Ethiopia.

"We shall eventually ratify, but what we want[ed] is not for Egypt to feel like marginalised," he said.

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