Ending the Nile water dispute
CAIRO: Over the weekend, Congolese President Joseph Kabila and Kenyan Prime Minister Raila Odinga visited Egypt in an attempt to resolve Nile Basin Initiative (NBI) fractures after four upstream countries signed a new agreement without Egypt, the country that receives the lion’s share of water from the world’s longest river.
The resulting outrage from Egypt has left the NBI in doubt, with officials and observers questioning the viability of the decade-old 9-nation initiative.
Odinga and Kabila believe that their visit has pushed Cairo back to the table, after Egypt initially said it would have no contact with the upstream countries who had signed the new agreement.
Both African leaders affirmed their intention of not depriving Egypt of its water resources, but it has done little to quell worries that the geo-partnership is facing its stiffest test.
On May 14, Ethiopia, Uganda, Rwanda and Tanzania signed a new Cooperative Framework Agreement in Uganda, despite opposition from Egypt and Sudan. Kenya joined the new pact on May 19.
Last week, Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi said on that the bullying of Egypt over the construction of dams along the Nile River must end as upstream nations attempt to implement a number of water projects despite Cairo’s opposition. He rejected threats by Egypt to prevent the erection of projects along the world’s longest river.
In an interview with Al Jazeera, Zenawi argued that a new era in the Nile basin has begun. His statements came less than one week after the new treaty on water-sharing along the Nile was inked.
Egypt and Sudan, the two countries with the most to lose, have shown massive opposition to the new agreement, which is expected to see the other three Nile Basin Initiative (NBI) countries Burundi, Nigeria and the Democratic Republic of Congo ink the deal later this year.
The new agreement gives upstream nations the right to develop the river and implement a number of strategies to increase their own development and irrigation along the Nile.
It could mark the beginning of a fracture within the NBI and a new commission formed without Egypt and Sudan.
“Some people in Egypt have old-fashioned ideas based on the assumption that the Nile water belongs to Egypt, and that Egypt has a right to decide who gets what, and that the upper [Nile basin] countries are unable to use the Nile water because they will be unstable and they will be poor,” the Prime Minister said.
“These circumstances have changed and changed forever.
“Ethiopia is not unstable. Ethiopia is still poor, but it is able to cover the necessary resources to build whatever infrastructure and dams it wants on the Nile water,” he added.
Egypt is already pushing international donor bodies, such as the World Bank – the main financier of the NBI – to cut funding to the signatories.
According to World Bank officials last July in Alexandria, they would not fund any new project without the approval of Egypt.
“Egypt is the leading country in this consortium and the World Bank will not get behind any initiative that leaves them out,” a World Bank official said at the time on the sidelines of the NBI conference in the Egyptian port city.
The Nile Basin Initiative (NBI) ministers had met in Sharm el-Sheikh on April 13 in another attempt to come to agreement on a water-sharing deal, but Egypt again refused to renegotiate an 80-year-old treaty that ensures they receive the lion’s share of water from the Nile River.
According to the country’s MENA state news agency, the 10 nations failed to agree on a new deal, instead saying they will look for closer cooperation instead. This all changed on Saturday as the upstream nations apparently said enough is enough.
Burundi’s Environment Minister was disturbed at the proceedings, blaming Egypt for the lack of a new agreement that would give upstream nations, including his, a larger proportion of water for irrigation and development.
“Egypt is continuing to act as if they can do whatever they want, but the time is soon coming where they will not be able to dictate our water consumption, especially if they treat us this way,” said Minister Degratias N’Duimana.
Ugandan Minister of Water and Environment Maria Mutagamba, in her opening speech at the meeting in the Red Sea resort town of Sharm al-Sheikh called on her counterparts to sign the agreement without further delay.
Egypt’s Minister of Water Resources and Irrigation Mohamed Nasr el-din Allam refused, saying his nation required the treaty to remain the same with expected water shortages coming in the near future.
In February, a senior Egyptian water ministry official said that the Nile Basin nations do not suffer from these shortages and if they do it is because of misuse of the resource.
Saad Nassar, an advisor to the Egyptian agriculture minister, said the Nile Basin countries, in fact, “enjoy huge water resources.”
He said the quantity of rain water received by the upstream countries hits 1,800 billion cubic meters and that the quota of downstream countries (Egypt and Sudan) hits 73 billion cubic meters annually, 55 billion of which goes to Egypt and 18 billion goes to Sudan.
However, an NBI official told Bikya Masr in a phone conversation at the time that the Egyptian minister is “delusional if he honestly believes there are no problems and that if there are problems it arises from misuse by other countries along the river.”
The official, who asked not to be named, was irate over the official’s comments, adding that Egypt has been “continuing to push a new agreement to the backburner for months now because they know that they are taking way too much of the water and leaving other nations in a position where they cannot develop or even get enough water to their people. It is arrogance that these things are said.”
Nassar said that much of the water resources in the Nile Basin countries are excessively wasted, underlining his county’s keenness to make the best use of water for the benefit of both upstream and downstream countries.
The NBI nations met last summer in Kinshasa and Alexandria to hammer out a new agreement, but nothing came from those negotiations, as Egypt’s water ministry wouldn’t budge on its position to maintain its current water consumption.
Cairo refused to sign onto any convention without assurances by other members that the country would not lose the 55.5 billion cubic meters of Nile water they are allowed to use and demanded a veto power over any projects implemented upstream in southern Nile nations. Republished With Permission From Bikya Masr