Monday, June 28, 2010

Water Wars Coming to the Nile?

Has there ever been a river so famous in history as the Nile? It made the land of the Pharoahs possible. Ancient Egypt thrived on the bounty yielded by the Nile in its annual flood. It made the delta fertile and rich.

Today the Nile is important not so much for immense bounty as for national survival. Egypt and Sudan are dangerously dependent on the Nile's waters and it's putting them at odds with the nations of the Nile headwaters, Ethiopia, Uganda, Tanzania, Rwanda and Kenya.

The sticking point between the two groups is a question going back to colonial times: who owns the Nile's water? Kitra's answer – "It is for all of us" – might seem obvious. But Egypt and Sudan claim to have the law on their side. Treaties in 1929 and 1959, when Britain controlled much of the region, granted the two states "full utilisation of the Nile waters" – and the power to veto any water development projects in the catchment area in east Africa. The upstream states, including Ethiopia, source of the Blue Nile, which merges with the White Nile at Khartoum, and supplies 86% of the river's eventual flow, were allocated nothing.

...Opposition by the upstream states to the colonial treaties is not new. Ethiopia was never colonised, and rejected the 1959 bilateral agreement that gave Egypt three-quarters of the Nile's annual flow (55.5bn cubic metres) and Sudan a quarter, even before it was signed. Most of the east African states also refused to recognise it, and earlier Nile treaties agreed by Britain on their behalf, when they became independent in the 1960s.

Population growth among the upper and lower Nile countries is expected to be enormous and to place even greater pressures on the Nile waters for irrigation and power. Egypt and Sudan see the reasonable expectations of the upper Nile states to be an infringement of their entitlement to all of the Nile water. What compounds Egypt's dilemma is the steady salination of the Nile delta caused by rising Mediterranean sea levels and the potential decline of Nile river flows. Egypt is literally between a rock and a hard place.

Once again we're running headlong into an unbearable problem with no easy solutions. Welcome to the 21st century.

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