Nile Basin Initiative celebrates 10 years with stalemate
|Sunday, December 13,2009 19:15|
The Nile Basin Initiative looks to a third meeting of ministers this year to end an ongoing dispute with Cairo over water sharing, but as they celebrate a decade of the initiative, prospects of resolving the infighting are doubtful. Egypt remains unmovable over restructuring the agreement that ensures it receives a lion’s share of water from the Nile River.
If this week’s Tanzania meeting fails to reach a new agreement, hope for a renewed sense of stability along the Nile River seems in doubt.
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.
The ministers at the Alexandria conference said they would give it six months before reconvening to discuss new possibilities to a water-sharing agreement. The hope is the 9 nations can agree to a new treaty that establishes a new foundation for the use of the Nile River.
“Six months was allocated to solve the problem,” Ethiopian Minister of Water Resources Asfaw Dingamo told a group of reporters after the final meetings.
Hammou Laamrani, Project Coordinator at the International Development Research Center in Cairo, says that without Egypt and Sudan’s cooperation on a new Nile deal, the likelihood of a new treaty is doubtful.
“Egypt and Sudan enjoy the vast majority of water from the Nile and any efforts to change this will likely be met with opposition, so it was not surprising that the Kinshasa talks failed,” he argued.
“What will be interesting to watch is what happens now that Egypt has put forward its stance on their water consumption. We all know that Egypt needs as much water as they can in order to serve its fast growing population,” added Laamrani in reference to the upcoming Alexandria meeting.
The NBI was established in 1999 by the water ministers of Egypt, Sudan, Ethiopia, Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania, Burundi, Rwanda, the Democratic Republic of Congo in order to “achieve sustainable socioeconomic development through the equitable utilization of, and benefit from, the common Nile Basin water resources.”
Eritrea, which is home to a small portion of the basin and led a war against Ethiopia from 1998 through 2000, is not an active participate in the initiative.
According to the official website, the NBI seeks to “develop the river in a cooperative manner, share substantial socioeconomic benefits and promote regional peace and security. Cooperative water resources management is complex in any international river basin. In the Nile Basin, which is characterized by water scarcity, poverty, a long history of dispute and insecurity and rapidly growing populations and demand for water.”
The NBI’s main supporter is the World Bank.
The NBI’s other 7 nations, excluding Egypt and Sudan, want to establish a commission that would change water consumption among the basin nations, but Egypt’s ministry of water and irrigation have other ideas.
Egypt’s Water and Irrigation Minister Mohamed Nasr El Din Allam remained defiant.
“It doesn’t matter if they are convinced … it matters that we are convinced,” he said on the sidelines of that conference, referring to Cairo’s veto power on any new developments on the river.
After Egypt and Sudan take their water, approximately 15 billion cubic meters of water remain. Due to burgeoning populations in the Nile Basin, the other 7 nations feel they deserve more than is currently being given.
In the end, the ministers left Alexandria much as they left Kinshasa two months earlier: saddened and frustrated.
Burundi’s Environment and Water Minister Degratias N’Duimana said he was disappointed in the outcome, but hoped that the progress in intense negotiations can continue and that in the end “we all must be responsible for our own water consumption, Egypt included, so we are not worried about what happened. In the end, it is a money issue for most countries, which is why we hope Egypt will get on board so we can develop our nations.”
They are now looking to Tanzania and any possibility Egypt will move slightly on its hardline stance on water in the region. Not likely, say experts.