Sunday, April 18, 2010

Framework Agreement on Utilization and Management of the Nile Basin Waters

The countries of the Nile Basin failed for the fifth consecutive time to agree on a Nile Cooperative Framework Agreement. The Nile Basin Initiative (NBI) ministers met in Sharm el-Sheikh in Egypt on Tuesday 13 2010 in another attempt to come to agreement on a water-sharing deal.

Egypt and Sudan are reluctant to renegotiate a British sponsored treaty signed in 1959 that ensures they receive 55.5 billion of the 100 billion cubic meters discharged form Lake Victoria annually. Sudan is allotted 14.5 billion cubic meters by this treaty.

The lower Nile Basin countries (Uganda, Congo, Kenya, Tanzania, Rwanda, Burundi and Ethiopia) are urging for a new allocation regime of the Nile water resources to reflect the demands of growing populations and increased demands for water to meet needs of growing economies.

The sticking point in the negotiation of the Nile Cooperative Framework Agreement is the fact that Sudan and Egypt insist that any agreement must recognize their historic share of Nile water. More significantly, Egypt and Sudan demand a commitment to the early notification mechanism before upstream countries undertake any irrigation or hydropower projects. Egypt and Sudan further insists that these decisions must be unanimous, not through majority voting. Hence, Egypt and Sudan could veto any and all projects if their interests are threatened.

My sense is that water allocation among the so-called Nile Basin countries is a potential powder keg for political tension and virulent conflict. The increased demand for water owing demographic and economic growth in all the nine countries will escalate the potential for political conflagration.

Consider the East African Community (EAC) as an example. At the current rate of expansion of GDP in the EAC,  per capita income will double in the next 14 years (2025). The demand for just about everything, especially water and vital water catchment land will be off the charts. And more significantly, the population that depends directly on the water and land resources of the Lake Victoria Basin will be nearly double by about 2030.

I am sure that both Egypt and Sudan understand these dynamics. I believe they are also concerned about the demographic and socio-economic patterns of otheir own, thus needing significantly more water than the proverbial 55 billion cubic meters.  And there is the possibility of drier climate and hence unsustainably low lake levels, touching of a catastrophic water scarcity.

The reality is that there will never be enough water for all the countries of the Nile Basin. Even if Egypt and Sudan had the entire 100 billion cubic meters of water to themselves, by 2050, per capita availability of water for their populations will be as low as 500 cubic meters. 

The Nile Basin countries have an unprecedented moment in history. They must move beyond the confines of petty egos and antiquated treaties, think creatively and allocate new binding rights and responsibilities among themselves to ensure rational and sustainable management of the Nile Basin water resources.

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