By Tesfa-Alem Tekle
June 19, 2010 (ADDIS ABABA) — Water Ministers from nine member states of the Nile Basin are scheduled to meet in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa, next week to hold the 18th regular meeting of Council of Ministers of Water Affairs.
Ethiopia Ministry of Water Resources said the ministerial meeting will hear performance report of last fiscal year as well as approve plan and budget for the year 2010/2011.
Some 60 water ministers, development partners, counselors, and invited guests are expected to take part at the meeting which will be preceded by a five-day meeting of the technical committees.
The 1999 Nile-Council of ministers (COM) meeting, held in Addis Ababa, was a major milestone in the history of Nile Basin cooperation.
It was the first time that all Nile Basin Countries (with the exception of Eritrea) participated in the ministerial meeting. Under the chairmanship of Ethiopia, the meeting endorsed the new transitional institutional arrangement, which is known as the Nile Basin Initiative.
Ethiopia currently chairs the Nile Council of Ministers. COOPRATION THROUGH NILE BASIN INITIATIVE
During the past 30 years, a common position was sought among the riparian states concerning cooperation and development through the equitable utilization of the Nile River water. Until the recent creation of a cooperative mechanism, however, those efforts were characterized by setbacks.
In 1998, the Council of Ministers of Water Affairs for the Nile Basin Countries (Nile-COM) established a new, transitional institutional mechanism that involves all riparian countries.
This mechanism has brought about much closer cooperation for the further development of common programs.
Ethiopia played a significant role in the development of the mechanism, known as the Nile Basin Initiative (NBI), a partnership among the Nile riparian states that “seeks to develop the river in a cooperative manner, share substantial socio-economic benefits, and promote regional peace and security”.
The NBI began with a dialogue among the riparian states that resulted in a shared vision to “achieve sustainable socioeconomic development through the equitable utilization of, and benefit from, the common Nile Basin water resources.”
It was formally launched in February 1999 by the water ministers of nine countries that share the river: Egypt, Sudan, Ethiopia, Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania, Burundi, Rwanda, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), as well as Eritrea. Eritrea, which shares only a very small portion of the Nile Basin and which led a war with Ethiopia in 1998-2000, is not participating actively in the Initiative.
NEW MOVE FOR NILE WATER EQUITY
Upstream countries strongly argue that, so far, Egypt and Sudan have kept an unfair water sharing advantage over other Nile basin countries including Ethiopia, which contributes over 80% of the total waters to the Nile basin. Last month, four upstream states signed a cooperative framework agreement to seek more water from the River Nile – a move strongly opposed by Egypt and Sudan.
Ethiopia, Uganda, Rwanda and Tanzania signed the agreement. Kenya, Burundi and the DRC are also expected to sign.
Representatives of upstream countries said they were “tired of first getting permission from Egypt before using river Nile water for any development project like irrigation”, as required by a treaty signed during the colonial era between Egypt and Britain in 1929.The new agreement, once effective, is designed to replace the Nile Basin Initiative.
It should be noted that an agreement signed in 1929 between Egypt and Great Britain, which represented its African colonies along the 5,584 kilometre (3,470 mile) river, gave Egypt veto power over upstream projects.
Another agreement signed in 1959 between Egypt and Sudan allowed Egypt alone to use 55.5 billion cubic meters (87% of the Nile’s flow) and Sudan 18.5 cubic metres of water each year. Ethiopia, the biggest water contributor to the Nile basin, and the rest of the riparian countries has been left out.
According to Report from the Ministry of Water Resources, Ethiopia, with an area of 1.08 million square kilometers, has twelve river basins with a mean annual flow of roughly 120.22 billion cubic meters of water.
Although the country is known as the water tower of Africa, the availability of water and the water resources potential in the eastern and western parts of the country is markedly different.
The underdevelopment of Ethiopia’s water resources is demonstrated by the under utilization of the country’s irrigable land (which is estimated to be about 3.35 million hectares of which only about 4.8 percent has been developed) and its hydropower potential (which is estimated at 60 billion kwhr/year of which only 410 mw is developed to date).
The demand for hydropower is increasing at about 12 percent per annum. In order to accelerate the development of the country’s water resources, a number of coordinated and integrated activities need to be carried out at both the federal and regional levels.