Egypt stands firm on Nile rights

Posted by: Saving Water SA (Cape Town, South Africa) – partnered with Water Rhapsody conservation systems – 13 May 2010

Egypt is refusing to relinquish a drop of its legal right to the lion’s share of Nile River water, despite demands from other African countries for a more equitable sharing agreement.

Source of Nile at Bujagali Falls, Jinja town, Uganda. Photo by 'kanyima'.

Following years of barren negotiations, seven upstream African countries – Ethiopia, Tanzania, Uganda, Kenya, DR Congo, Rwanda and Burundi – are on Friday expected to push forward with a new water-sharing deal to replace an agreement that gives Egypt and Sudan majority control of the water flow.

Egypt has repeatedly cited its “historical” rights to the river, which provides the country of 80 million people with 90 percent of its water needs.

The upstream countries want to be able to implement projects, in consultation with Egypt and Sudan, but without Egypt being able to exercise the veto power it was given by a 1929 colonial-era treaty with Britain.

A 1959 agreement between Egypt and Sudan – following Sudan’s independence in 1956 – allocated 55.5billion cubic metres of the Nile to Egypt, and 18.5 billion to Sudan, a combined total of 87 percent of the Nile flow.

Egypt’s water needs are expected to exceed its supply by 2017, according to a government report last year.

“Egypt is exerting efforts with leaders of the upstream countries to persuade them to delay the agreement,” said Hani Raslan, a Nile expert with the Ahram Centre for Political and Strategic Studies. “The only way out of the problem is co-operation.”

Raslan said the Nile Basin Initiative – a basin countries umbrella group funded by the World Bank – had studied 22 projects including energy schemes, saving lost water, and irrigation. “Unilateral signing will abort these projects. And Egypt will object to any project that affects its share.”

Egypt says it is still hoping to negotiate. Failing that, it has threatened legal action. “If certain countries of the Nile Basin sign an agreement without consensus, Egypt will insist that all countries respect international law,” Foreign Minister Ahmed Abul Gheit told a local newspaper.

The outcome of the next meeting could unravel the 10-year-old Nile Basin Initiative, which the World Bank credits with helping to keep the countries talking with each other on quotas.

Raslan said an agreement on May 14 that excluded Egypt and Sudan would bring an end to the initiative, a message Abul Gheit says has been delivered to the basin countries. “Egypt has been careful to affirm to the Nile Basin countries and donors that opening the door to signing the agreement means the end of negotiations and an announcement that the Nile Basin Initiative has failed,” he said.

Egypt has proposed helping manage its African partners’ water resources, and vowed to better make use of its own. But some observers say Egypt is not serious about negotiating.

– Sapa
Related article: Egypt declares Nile water an historic right

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