Home | Comment & Analysis    Thursday 20 April 2017

The Nile Basin In Transformation: research uptake and what’s at stake?

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Mohamed s. M. Yassin (Ph.D)

The Nile basin territories have witnessed huge transformation since prehistoric era and continue to be subjected to enormous transformations. The transformations along the Nile basin territory constitute substantial challenges and are governed by significant constraints and thus triggering the potential opportunities that directly affect the livelihood of the Nile basin growing and urbanizing population. The multiplicity and the complexity of the transformational and developmental pathways pose imperative transboundary cooperation in order to address the current and future pathways presenting and needed for the prosperity of the Nile Basin population; that requires innovative cooperative and collaborative platforms and fora which should engage multi-stakeholders, without exclusion of interested parties, including policy-and-decision-makers, academics, public and private sector actors, civil and community-based organizations, local and regional governments and institutions from the Nile Basin and beyond the Basin. These physical and virtual gatherings should frankly, critically and analytically tackle the issues at stake of the Nile Basin in transparent and scientific manners aiming to a real shared benefit for the collective communities of the Nile Basin. The Nile basin policies, programs and projects must be subject to consensual deliberations by the vast majorities of the Nile Basin communities to ensure equitable and sustainable prosperity for all those who are entitled to equal rights on sustainable development and mutually beneficial relations with the Nile Basin territorial capital. The Nile Basin community will increasingly face challenges of food and nutrition security for its expected billion inhabitants, coupled with environmental and ecological challenges due to the progressive socio-economic development and infrastructural erections, particularly the macro-hydropower plants and numerous dams expected along all the Nile Basin without transboundary shared visions especially when dealing with the post-interventional stages, challenges associated with the food wastages, urban solid and liquid waste and sewerage and its recycling and treatment, challenges associated with the internal displacements and regional migrations stimulated by man-made conflicts and natural hazards and disasters, challenges tied to political instability and competition over the scarce resources of the Basin especially on the ecological foundation which is basically land and water, challenges of the ever-growing climate fluctuations, variations and change almost affecting the entire planet and consequently impacting the entire Nile Basin, challenges linked to the progressive pace and race on ensuring renewable energy and water security efforts by single states and foreign exploitative investors, challenges of non-sustainable patterns of productions and consumptions of resources and obsolete forms of colluded managements, challenges related to the missed opportunities of achieving the millennium development goals and the currently running sustainable development goals, challenges associated with the lack of financing a Nile-Basin-wide sustainable development and lack of reliable financial institutions to stimulate bankable projects and programs, challenges due to the absence of modern shared compacts and legal framework for a Nile Basin communities governance systems regarding the transboundary river systems. The Nile Basin can develop collective, collaborative and cooperative approaches to seek common investments to minimise costs and optimise expected benefits from the outsourced finance needed for its sustainable development and infrastructural developments. The Nile Basin community need to approach the international development financing institutions as a smart, united and compact community to stimulate and attract foreign investment and the Nile Basin riparian should turn-off the ignited conflicts in order to encourage the international and responsible investors to come to the region, but that need strong will and determination. Deep, appropriate, technological and knowledge-and-science-based governance systems should be researched, developed to be enacted in transboundary and regional frameworks and contexts.

In summary, this contribution intends to highlight and bring insights and research findings regarding multiplicity of interconnected and interdependent challenges and potential opportunities concerning the current and future generations of the Nile Basin Communities illustrated through different methodologies ranging from conventional data collection and literature review to the innovative documentary digital semi-structured interviews and direct observations from the Nile Basin territories. It stresses that the Nile Basin is mainly water, but not merely. It brings critical issues to the resources management, human rights and the right to development along the Nile Basin characterised with a diversity of approaches and policy orientations. It poses the question on what will be the scenario when the Nile Basin and its river systems become coordinated and not any more natural systems and how can the reconciliations between nature and the sustainable development paths be shaped or cooperatively governed especially on a perspective of urban growing agriculture and trends of industrialisation. Lastly but not least, it emphasises the importance of the Nile Basin heritage conservation coupled with the socio-economic and infrastructural development.

One of the main stakes for the Nile Basin community is the water availability and its scarcity constitutes one of the major growing challenges. The Nile Basin increasingly growing populations needs the water for their food and nutrition security above all for the realisation of the inspired sustainable development and prosperity. The water is available from diverse sources, mainly rainwater, river water, underground water and to some extends desalinated water from the sea, in addition to the option of restoring the wastewater. These sources should be safeguarded and maintained renewable. The suitable and freshwater is an essential for the survival of the human, living organisms fauna and flora, the forests lakes, wetlands, agro-ecological systems, and ecosystems in general. The Nile Basin Ecosystems, wetlands, watersheds and Sudds should be given the due attention and preserved due to its vital importance for the ecological balance and resilience sustenance. Its essentiality is bounded with other resources such as the land, the biodiversity, the climate and other supporting resources which combined together guarantee the sustainability of the living and future generations. With the demographic growth and increasing, socio-economic development and growth water and land consumption will be more challenged and needs more viable and wise policies. In the Nile Basin, the expected socio-economic growth and up scaling of the living standards, increasing demography, nutritional transitions and intensification of climate change and variability generate complexity and render the scenario more challenging. The consumption of water occurs in various format and uses. The major user of water in the Nile Basin is the Agricultural and Animal production, the residential uses are modest in comparison and the expected industrialisation will require more withdrawal of freshwater for more irrigated agriculture and animal production facilities. The nutrition patterns are indicators of the quantity of water used in the eating and drinking. The water used for eating and feeding animals is far much than the water consumed in drinking and others residential uses. Actually, the international standards currently estimating that on average, a person needs between 2000 to 5000 litres of water for his/her sustainment on daily basis. The type of crops and animals raised play a role in the determination of the quantities and magnitude of water needed for the produce, for example the leguminous crops require less water than other crops and the consumption of meat for protein production puts more pressure for the water needed in comparison to the proteins obtainable from the legumes. The increase in temperature expected due to the occurring climate change makes it more pressuring to find sustainable water consumption and adaptive crops and plants, additionally, it will be wise to strengthen climate resilient varieties and boost the resilience of the Nile Basin community. The Nile Basin Authorities can develop shared mechanisms and tools to measure the consumption footprints related to the diverse produced food and feed products and can also consider the virtual water (green, blue, grey water) export embedded in the forage and other crops, vegetables, fruits, living animals, just to be aware about its consumption of the available and scarce water. As the Nile Basin is currently sustaining around the 42% of the total African population estimated around half billion persons expected to reach one billion people by 2050, this puts more pressure on the need for water and lands as well as on the other resources. The expected surge in the Nile Basin population if not taken seriously by the policy-and-decision-makers, bearing in mind comprehensive vision, one can simply expect endless conflicts and instability, we are expecting population equivalent to the all the population of Europe to inhibit the Nile Basin with its limited and scare resources, dilapidated infrastructures and ignited instabilities. Most of the Nile Basin countries might become water-scarce or hydro-stressed countries if right policies are not set in place. Food loss and waste along the value change in the Nile Basin constitute another attended challenge and little attention is paid to that wastage, which in fact is wastage of water, lands, nutritive elements and minerals, loss of biodiversity and embedded climate needed for the production of that food. The amount of lost water and food in the Nile Basin occurs due to inadequacy in the productions patterns, harvesting methods, post-harvest packaging, storage, transport, more than the considerable loss, which occurs during and after the household consumption along the value chain. The Nile Basin authorities should work co-ordinately to ensure that water and connected resources are used in equitably, efficiently, effectively productive, economically and environmentally friendly. There are huge experiences and good practices available and that needs to be transferred, adapted and adopted to help to track and address these challenges. The current severe hunger, successive and excessive drought, frequent floods, repeated crop failures and pandemic animal diseases, other natural hazards, advancing desertification, increasing deforestation are alarming and should draw the attention to the current production and consumption patterns prevailing along the Nile Basin, communities stricken by these catastrophic events and phenomenon need assistance to bounce back, fully recover and ameliorate their coping strategies, and consolidate their resilience. Most of the Nile Basin riparian states are working on singular, sub-regional or sub-basin plans and have many dams in their national pipelines, all in all about 25 new hydropower dams are expected along the Nile Basin riparian states, mainly for the energy security, food and water security, climate change adaptation and mitigation, sustainable development achievements, industrialization, stability, and comprehensive prosperity. To mention but a few as example, South Sudan which has no any source of reliable and viable source of renewable energy has about four major bankable dams at Bedden, Fula, Lakki, and Shukoli, while Sudan is planning dams at lower Dal, Upper Dal, Kagbar, Dagash, Sabaloka and most recently it has built the Merowe Dam, the dams along the Northern Nile River of Sudan are highly contested due to its clash with the civilization and existing cultural heritage along that territories, and Aswan high Dam and Merowe dams are striking examples and lessons learned. Even Egypt has an important planned new dam to add at Assyout. On the Ethiopian side, a significant evolution is occurring in transforming the potential of Hydropower favoured by the topography and availability of stream water and highland rainwater fall. In fact Ethiopia is expected to be a hydropower hub for the region and that is boosted by the construction recently of the Border Dam, then known as the Millennium Dam and currently under realization as the Great Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) intended to be the biggest Ethiopian Hydropower Dam, other than that mega hydropower plant, Ethiopia has many other plants in the pipeline. The recently started construction of Rusumo Hydropower Dam to serve the trans-boundary supply of energy to Rwanda, Burundi, and Tanzania and the annexed interconnection rid of the Equatorial region is a good example of the transboundary cooperation. Uganda is building Bujagali and has plans to advance the construction of Karuma dam among other dams. All in all, the River Nile Basin matters for all the riparian countries and all the multiplicity of stakeholders are deserving to get the maximum benefits out of it in terms of food and nutrition security, water security, energy security (Availability, Accessibility, Utility, and Stability) and all the other forms of beneficial relations, that competitive relations and race to self-assurance should be motivating factor and incentive to explore cooperative pathways and sustainable management and mechanisms to mitigate potential conflicts over the scarce resources of the Nile Basin and the world as well as singular Nile Basin riparian countries are rich in good and appropriate practices which can be adapted and adopted to the Nile Basin community. The transboundary cooperation can boost and accelerate the achievement of the sustainable development if a good political will is steered in the right tracks. Agricultural and arable lands suitable for rain-fed agriculture as well as for artificial and smart irrigation are abundant and available for the Nile Basin population, but in reality it will be diminishing for major reasons associated with the increasing demography, the expanding foreign direct investments in large-scale agricultural projects principally export-oriented in addition to other natural factors such as the excessive soil erosion, desertification, deforestation and climate change associated factors. Adding to this the occurring urbanization is consuming huge arable and agricultural lands, it will be enough to note that on the banks of the River Nile where most of the fertile lands are available and people continue to build residential complexes and housing agglomerations, in the long run, we will face arable lands scarcity and that consumed lands can not be returned back and the restoration and claiming lands in the desserts far from the water resources such as the Nile River and Tributaries will not help too much due to excessively high costs and other factors. The Nile Basin countries should work in regional prospective to enhance, promote and optimise the productivity, augment the efficiency of the resources uses and the benefits from the incoming responsible investments catering for the trade-offs and address the spill-overs which might arise when acting in multi-and-cross-sectors and regional dimensions. The Scenarios change with the change in time, space and actions of human and nature.

Given the huge and shareable stakes, we cannot wait to apologise for our future generation if we do not preserve our nature and reconcile that with our sustainable development policies and plans, we will need to set think tanks, stocktake positive experiences, develop and sustain research with disciplinary, interdisciplinary, multidisciplinary, cross-disciplinary and trans- disciplinary innovative approaches. The Nile Basin community is witnessing economic, social, environmental, technological, political, ecological, and territorial and developmental transformation. Therefore, regional integration, regional cooperation, trans-boundary coordination, solidarity economies and mutual sustainable development can be the safety nets if genuine political will prevail.

* The University of Udine, Department of Agro-Food, Environmental and Animal Sciences, Via delle Scienze, 33100 Udine, Italy. E-mail: yassintowers@gmail.com



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