Calmer waters

Traditional sailing boats called feluccs on the Egyptian Nile.

Frans Lemmens / Still Pictures /

THE threat that the wars of the 21st century will be fought over water may be receding, at least in East Africa.

The abundant waters of the longest river in the world, the Nile, could be about to be shared more equitably among the 10 African countries within its Basin: Burundi, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Egypt, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya, Rwanda, Sudan, Tanzania and Uganda.

A March conference in Kenya under the auspices of the Nile Basin Initiative, an organization that promotes sustainable use of the Nile for development, is to be followed by an accord in the Ugandan capital of Kampala in May.

‘We are living in a world where transboundary waters have to be shared,’ said Kenya’s Water Resources Minister, Martha Karua. Her Tanzanian counterpart, Edward Lowassa, agreed: ‘We do not recognize what happened in the past. We want equitable and reasonable use of the Nile waters for mutual benefits in all the riparian states.’ Previous accords were weighted in favour of Sudan and Egypt and the latter’s economy depends extensively on water from the Nile. Cairo now appears to have softened its stance: ‘Whatever decisions that are spelt out in the framework, Egypt will accept,’ said the country’s Minister for Water Resources and Irrigation, Mahmoud Abu-Zeid.

Kenyan Vice-President Moody Awori summed up the new co-operative mood thus: ‘The Nile is the most important single asset that is shared by all the 10 countries that lie within its basin. As such, the Nile river is not the property of any one state.’

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. Nilerelated projects are already underway. Kenya has started a water management project near Lake Victoria, which supplies water to the Nile, to improve agriculture in the region. Tanzania has launched a $27.6 million project 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.

New Internationalist issue 376 magazine cover This article is from the March 2005 issue of New Internationalist.
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