Water resource ministers from the Nile River Basin countries, forming the Nile Technical Advisory Committee (Nile TAC), met for four days in Alexandria last week to conclude the Nile Cooperative Framework Agreement, which establishes a permanent body to oversee water allocation along the Nile. However, they delayed signing a water-sharing pact already rejected by Egypt and Sudan, who oppose any reduction in their traditional quotas. Finalising the treaty was put off for six months.
Egyptian Minister of Irrigation and Water Resources Mohammed Nasr Eddin Allam denied rumours that Egypt would withdraw from the Nile Basin Agreement. Egypt would not stand in the way of any project up river, so long as it subtracts nothing from Egypt’s share of Nile water under the agreement, Allam stressed.
During talks last month in Kinshasa, Congo, officials from the ten countries of the Nile basin failed to agree on a new system of water-sharing, a desire of the majority of the members. Other Nile Basin countries, some of which suffer periodic droughts, drafted the Cooperative Framework Agreement (CFA) but omitted mention of Egypt and Sudan’s historic claims.
A 1929 agreement between Egypt and Britain—acting on behalf of what were its then east African colonies—set up the original sharing framework. Crucially, this gave Cairo the right to veto upstream projects. In 1959 an agreement with Sudan allocated 55.5 billion cubic metres of water from the Nile a year for Egypt. This is the largest share of any country along the river, since Egypt depends primarily on the Nile for its water; the country is too dry for [scarce] rain or underground water to be of any significance as water supply. Egypt argues that up-stream countries could make better use of rainfall and have other sources of water. Despite the absence of major dams or hydroelectric projects upstream of it, experts say Egypt can afford to be dismissive of the other states’ concerns since there is little they can do to impede the Nile’s flow.
A report released last week by the Egyptian Cabinet’s Information and Decision Support Centre (IDSC) warned that the country’s water needs would surpass its resources by the year 2017. Roughly 87 per cent of the water Egypt uses comes from the Nile, the IDSC said. Egypt’s rapidly growing population of roughly 76 million people used 64 billion cubic metres of water in 2006, the report said. If consumption and resources continue apace, the IDSC warned, the country would need 86.2 billion cubic metres by 2017, but would have resources of only 71.4 billion cubic metres of water.
Plenty for all
Egypt sought to downplay the differences after the summit, and said it is proposing economic incentives to the countries.
“It’s normal that there are disagreements,” cabinet spokesman Magdi Riyad said at a press conference. “(But) there was a unanimous agreement that the resources of the Nile Basin were more than enough if managed properly.”
He said Egypt proposes widening the scope of the Nile Basin Initiative, the World Bank funded umbrella group of Nile Basin countries, to include other natural resources.
The Nile Basin Initiative was formally launched in 1999 “to develop the Nile Basin water resources in a sustainable and equitable way to ensure prosperity, security, and peace for all its peoples.” Development projects carried out in the Nile Basin countries while the Initiative was in force cost up to one billion dollars, a fact which highlights the significance of joint cooperation to achieve sustainable development in Africa, Allam said.
The countries participating in the Alexandria meeting include Burundi, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Egypt, Ethiopia, Kenya, Rwanda, Sudan, Tanzania and Uganda.