Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Nile Basin nations get impatient with Egypt's refusal to renegotiate water sharing agreement

 Confluence of the Blue and White Nile rivers at Khartoum in Sudan.

Seven upstream member countries of the Nile Basin Inititiative (NBI) have decided to go it alone. On Saturday, despite strong Egyptian and Sudanese opposition, Tanzania, Uganda, Rwanda and Ethiopia signed a new water-sharing agreement. The other three countries, Kenya, Burundi and the Democratic Republic of Congo are expected to sign the new deal within the next 12 months as allowed by the accord, NBI officials said on Sunday.
However, despite a new agreement being signed, little is likely to change. 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.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.

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