Home | News    Saturday 20 March 2004

A new treaty on the Nile said to be imminent

By Joyce Mulama

NAIROBI, Mar 19, 2004 (IPS) — Water resource ministers and other government representatives from ten African countries within the Nile Basin met in Kenya this week to discuss a new agreement on sharing the Nile waters.

When complete, the framework will replace the 1929 and 1959 Nile treaties, which the officials described as obsolete. Burundi, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Egypt, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Rwanda, Sudan, Tanzania and Uganda where amongst the countries which attended the five day meeting in Nairobi.

The conference got underway Monday (Mar. 15) under the auspices of the Nile Basin Intiative (NBI), an organisation that promotes sustainable use of the Nile for development.

"We are.living in a.world where trans-boundary waters have to be shared," Kenya’s Water Resources Minister, Martha Karua, told IPS, adding "Because of this, we are negotiating a framework that fits the present reality."

Her Tanzanian counterpart, Edward Lowassa, agreed: "We do not recognise what happened in the past. We want equitable and reasonable use of the Nile waters for mutual benefits in all the riparian states," he said.

The 1929 accord, signed between Britain (on behalf of Sudan) and Egypt, bars other countries within the Nile basin from undertaking activities that might interfere with the volume of water reaching the two states, unless they give the go-ahead. Although the agreement was revised 30 years later, it remains weighted in favour of Egypt and Sudan.

Egypt’s economy depends extensively on water from the Nile.

But, Kenyan Vice President Moody Awori summed up the mood of the conference when he told ministers that "The Nile is the most important single asset that is shared by all the ten countries that lie within its basin. As such, the Nile river is not the property of any one state."

Nile basin countries say the new treaty could be used to alleviate poverty and hunger within the region, enhancing the living standards of 300 million people who live in the basin.

"The framework will facilitate the empowerment of the riparian states in order to overcome food insecurity constraints, and increase socio-economic co-operation towards poverty eradication," observed Lowassa.

Certain countries are already embarking on Nile-related projects to boost development.

Kenya has started a water management project worth millions of Kenyan shillings near Lake Victoria (which supplies water to the Nile), to improve agriculture in the region.

In addition, Tanzania launched a 27.6 million dollar project last month to supply water to the famine-stricken Shinyanga region in the north. "Will it be right for the people of Shinyanga to continue walking for over 25 kilometres looking for water when the Nile is just a step away?" asked Lowassa.

According to the Tanzanian minister, the new treaty will be in place "soon".

While previous talk of this nature has drawn fire from Egypt, it became apparent this week that Cairo was prepared to soften its stance on the matter.

"Whatever decisions that are spelt out in the framework, Egypt will accept," the country’s Minister for Water Resources and Irrigation, Mahmoud Abu-Zeid, told IPS.

Another ministerial meeting on sharing the Nile’s waters will take place in the Ugandan capital, Kampala, in May. It is hoped that the details of the accord will be agreed on then.