Home | Comment & Analysis    Wednesday 27 March 2019

Nile Basin: Putting Water at the heart of regional transformation

By Deo-Guide Rurema

World Water Day, on March 22 every year is about focusing attention on the importance of water. This year’s celebration coincides with The Year of the Nile Basin, as declared by the Nile Basin Initiative (NBI) Member States on January 27, 2019. The declaration is in relation to the 20th anniversary of the NBI, which was established on February 22, 1999. The motto for the year is ‘Putting Water at the Heart of Regional Transformation’.

The NBI started off as a partnership of nine countries - Burundi, DR Congo, Egypt, Ethiopia, Kenya, Rwanda, Sudan, Tanzania and Uganda. In 2012 this included a tenth country as South Sudan joined the group after voting for independence in 2010. They believed the partnership would provide a platform to discuss ways in which to utilise water resources of the River Nile more efficiently and effectively.

Along the way, the journey of cooperation has been peppered with victories and challenges, as well as opportunities, both those seized and those missed. Lessons have been learnt and some challenges addressed and tackled. Where previously, countries operated independently, as though seeing each other through glass doors, today, they sit together and discuss ideas and solutions to challenges in the Basin – doors and windows are both wide open. It hasn’t been a smooth journey, though. Of course, there have been highs and lows and in-betweens. But, the countries have increasingly recognised that there is an urgent need to pool resources and work together for their own good – and for the good of the basin environment. They realise that water is at the heart of transformations taking place in both societies and economies and want to ensure future sustainable and equitable development pathways.

An example of such cooperation has been witnessed in the Regional Rusumo Falls Hydroelectric Project, involving Burundi, Rwanda and Tanzania. Communities in the three countries each stand to benefit from 27MW of hydropower when the project is completed. This will be part of a broader programme to support sustainable management of the Kagera River Ba¬sin and promote growth and poverty reduction in these countries.

Based on the powerful logic of cooperation, the President of Uganda, H.E. Yoweri Kaguta Museveni, called for a Heads of State Summit on June 22, 2017. At the Summit, Nile Basin Heads of State agreed to deal with strategic issues of regional development and reversing environmental degradation, an implicit and unprecedented endorsement of the work the NBI undertakes.

By declaring 2019 ‘The Year of the Nile Basin’, the Nile Basin community recognises that the River Nile plays an integral part in achieving not only water security but also food and energy security as well as eradicating poverty for the people of the Nile Basin region.

The year provides the opportunity to highlight the role that cooperation on the Nile waters does and must play in the conversations Nile Basin countries have about the present and future development of the region.

It is with such insight that the Nile Basin countries realise that managing the Nile collectively as one system is crucial to preserving water resources, protecting the environment and ensuring positive futures for all the Nile’s peoples. This ties in well with the 2019 World Water Day theme ‘Leaving No One Behind.’

Dr Rurema is the Chairman of the Nile Council of Ministers (Nile-COM) and also Burundi Minister of Environment, Agriculture and Livestock