Egypt and Sudan have rejected the proposed Nile Basin agreement as it stands, while the other seven members vow to press on.
A majority of the Nile basin nations have resolved to move forward on a regional water usage treaty without the support of Egypt and Sudan, the East African reports.
After last month’s negotiations failed to make progress on the accord, seven of the nine countries–Burundi, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia, Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania and Uganda–agreed to establish a one-year window to sign the current treaty starting May 14, according to the Nile Basin Initiative (NBI). Meanwhile Egypt and Sudan would like to form a Nile commission to continue discussing the details of the agreement.
NBI was formed in 1999 to increase dialogue among the basin countries to cooperatively develop the river. One of the primary goals of the organization was to sign a treaty by 2009 that would create a permanent Nile Basin Commission with legal authority to control the development and allocation of the river and enforce its decisions.
In breaking off negotiations, the seven countries risk creating a powerless body, some local leaders argue. A commission formed without two of the most powerful countries in the basin would be a hollow institution that’s less effective than the current system, Tanzanian Water Affairs Minister Mark Mwandosya told the East African.
The treaty, called the Cooperative Framework Agreement, was supposed to be signed in July, but disagreements over the wording and scope of the document caused delays–one point of contention in the CFA is Article 14(b), which addresses water security. Egypt and Sudan want the article’s language changed to protect their historic rights.
“Egypt’s share of the Nile’s water is a historic right that Egypt has defended throughout its history,” Mohammed Allam, minister of water resources and irrigation, told parliament, according to AFP. “Egypt reserves the right to take whatever course it sees suitable to safeguard its share.”
Yet the raison d’être for the Nile Basin Initiative is to redress historical inequities in the Nile’s allocation.
The current water-sharing formula is based on a treaty signed by Egypt and Sudan in 1959 that split the water between the two. Under that treaty, which assumed an annual water flow of 84 billion cubic meters, Egypt receives 55.5 BCM and Sudan 18.5 BCM, with the remainder chalked up as evaporative loss.
Countries along the upper reaches of the river want to use more of the water for irrigation and hydroelectric development. These projects often need to secure external funding, but the World Bank–a main donor to the NBI–will not sign off on loans unless Egypt agrees, the Guardian reports.
And current political problems with allocations may get even trickier.
A new commission will have to deal with the prospect of an independent South Sudan after its 2011 referendum. The creation of a new country will add another development interest upstream of the two downstream powers.
Brett writes about agriculture, energy, infrastructure, and the politics and economics of water in the United States. He also writes the Federal Water Tap, Circle of Blue’s weekly digest of U.S. government water news. He is the winner of two Society of Environmental Journalists reporting awards, one of the top honors in American environmental journalism: first place for explanatory reporting for a series on septic system pollution in the United States(2016) and third place for beat reporting in a small market (2014). He received the Sierra Club’s Distinguished Service Award in 2018. Brett lives in Seattle, where he hikes the mountains and bakes pies. Contact Brett Walton