By Nader Noureddin
Four upriver Nile countries, namely, Ethiopia, Uganda, Tanzania and Rawanda moved ahead with their plans and signed on Friday 14th a framework agreement in Entebbe, Uganda that would allow them a more liberal management of the Nile waters for irrigation and other developmental projects. The move came as negotiations with other stream river countries; Egypt and Sudan have come to a standstill. In objection, both countries did not send any delegations to last Friday’s meeting but used active diplomacy to convince Kenya, Burundi, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Eriterea not to sign.
Egypt has made it clear that the Nile river countries should cooperate to get the maximum benefits of its water, particularly as significant water loss occurs along its path.
Extending along 6,860 kilometres, the River Nile is the longest in the world. It is fed by two main river systems, the first being the White Nile, with sources in the equatorial Lake Plateau. This area covers Burundi, Rwanda, Tanzania, Kenya, Congo and Uganda. The second is the Blue Nile, with sources in the Ethiopian highlands and Eritrea. The Nile Basin also includes Sudan and Egypt as lower stream countries that receive most of their water resources from beyond their borders — with Sudan receiving 77 per cent and Egypt more than 97.5 per cent.
The seven upstream countries are located in humid areas, with average rainfall ranging from 1,250 to 1,500 millimetres each year. Rainfall drops to 500 millimetres in Eritrea and Sudan while in Egypt it does not exceed 15 millimetres annually. Moreover, the hyperarid climate in Egypt coupled with high temperatures causes significant losses to Egyptian water resources, as a result of evaporation and high evapo-transpiration from the plants.
Ironically, in spite of its significant area share in the basin — standing at 11 per cent of the whole — Egypt has the lowest water per capita share of the Nile waters, at 860 cubic metres per year. By contrast, Congo’s share is at 23,500 cubic metres per year while the country covers 0.7 per cent of the basin’s area. Similarly, Tanzania, Uganda and Burundi share 2,500 cubic metres per year per capita, while they cover areas ranging between 2.7, 7.4 and 0.4 per cent of the basin respectively. Sudan and Eritrea’s water share per capita stands at 1,500 cubic metres per year, for areas covering 63.6 and 0.8 per cent respectively.
It is important to note that the upstream Nile Basin countries receive a total precipitation ranging between 1,200 and 1,600 cubic billion metres each year. Of this wealth of rainfall, some 500 to 750 billion cubic metres fall on the Ethiopian highlands, while about 700 to 800 billion cubic metres corresponds to the equatorial Lake Plateau countries. Notably, Egypt and Sudan’s total share of water is estimated at approximately 84 billion cubic metres a year, an amount that does not exceed five to seven per cent of the total water resources of the basin.
This fact is particularly important in light of the ongoing dispute among the Nile Basin countries on how the water resources should be distributed. Clearly, there are plenty of water resources to cover the needs of the upstream Nile Basin countries. It is also true that these countries make precious little use of the bountiful resources.
The loss the Nile waters incur is immense. Technically, more than 50 per cent of the total Nile water resources are lost. The loss suffered in Uganda is a good example. It is a humid country with numerous lakes, wetlands and internal renewable water resources estimated at 40 billion cubic metres. Half of these water resources are lost within the country through evaporation and evapo-transpiration from the lakes, wetlands and swamps.
Moreover, the river loses 30 billion cubic metres in south Sudan as a direct result of the area’s topographic features, which allow water to disperse and create wetlands and swamps with broad surface areas that increase evaporation. As a matter of fact, less than half of the water entering this Sudanese region flows out of it into the White Nile. Consequently, the Jonglei Canal was established to cut water loss. Although only 80 per cent of the canal has been completed, it has already helped save about 17 billion cubic metres of water for Egypt and Sudan.
Historically, the 1929 agreement between Egypt and Britain, acting on behalf of Britain’s African colonies, gave Egypt veto power over upstream projects. The 1959 Egypt- Sudan Agreement granted Egypt 55.5 billion cubic metres of water each year, and Sudan 18.5 billion cubic metres a year.
But the seven upstream Nile Basin countries now consider these treaties illegitimate and unfair. They demand what they call an equitable water-sharing agreement that would allow for more irrigation and power projects. On their part, Egypt and Sudan are still the Nile Basin’s most arid and heavily dependent to satisfy the bulk of their water needs. They argue that upstream countries could make better use of rainfall and other Nile tributaries.
Recently upstream countries have threatened to sign a new agreement on 15 May that aims to exclude Egypt and Sudan and redistribute the River Nile waters. The announcement is considered by the majority of Egyptians as a death sentence to a nation that has long been described as “the gift of the Nile”. Egypt and Sudan must declare their position and take whatever action they believe suitable to safeguard their share of the Nile water. After all, it is every country’s right and duty to preserve its national security.