One of the most important developments in the drive towards an integrated approach to dealing comprehensively with water issue was the outcome of the Nine Ministers Meeting of the ministers of foreign affairs, water resources and irrigation and the heads of the General Intelligence Services of Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia held in Addis Ababa on 15 May 2018.
The meeting renewed hopes of promoting joint cooperation in accordance with the commitment of the three countries to the Declaration of Principles on the River Nile signed in Khartoum in March 2015.
This proved the soundness of a vision based on a comprehensive and integrated view of cooperation in the Nile Basin and away from confrontation and conflict.
The outcomes of the meeting showed a belief in dealing with the Nile as one unit that must be developed for the benefit of the peoples living close to it.
This comprehensive framework for cooperation is not only a development project, but it is also an optimal way of managing the river and taking into consideration its geographical and environmental unity, preserving it and maximising its resources for the common benefit of the countries through which it flows.
It is important to emphasise that the outcomes of the above-mentioned meeting included mechanisms that, if formulated in a legal framework, would lead to an integrated regional project through the establishment of the Blue Nile Management Authority (BNMA).
The suggested technical mechanism, consisting of the ministers of water resources and irrigation in the three countries concerned, would be part of this, in addition to an implementation arm represented by the infrastructure funds of the ministries of water resources and irrigation that would build infrastructure such as electrical, land and rail links, and a research and scientific arm represented by independent national studies.
These mechanisms should now be written into the framework of a comprehensive legal treaty between the three countries that should set out the goals and principles of their cooperation in its first chapter.
It should deal with technical aspects and the establishment of a joint authority for managing water resources and development projects in its second section.
It should include provisions to supervise these projects jointly and control their outcomes, as well as managing the technical and legal relationship between the Nile Basin countries.
Missions should be established at dams on the Nile so that coordination can take place according to storage rates and time periods.
It should also include accompanying projects linking roads, railways and electrical connections between the three countries that could be implemented through the infrastructure funds proposed by President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi to the leaders of the three countries on the sidelines of the Sharm El-Sheikh Summit in 2016, confirmed at the Trilateral Summit on 26 January 2018 in Addis Ababa, and referred to in the outcome document of the Ministers Meeting in Addis Ababa on 15 May 2018.
The launch of such comprehensive development projects, which would be supervised politically, technically, and economically by the BNMA, would yield significant economic gains and a relaxation of the political tensions and risk of confrontation between the three countries.
In addition to the geographical gains, a geographically land-locked country such as Ethiopia could find outlets via the Nile through sea ports on the Mediterranean, making cooperation even more attractive to Ethiopia and to Sudan.
Through this system of cooperation, water would become part of a multi-faceted cooperation system. An Eastern Development Corridor Project would include many fields of cooperation, including electricity, land and sea transport, and the movement of individuals and goods within a broader area based on mutual profit and cooperation instead of division.
The importance of developing the concepts and mechanisms contained in the final outcome document of the Meeting promoting the establishment of the BNMA is to deal with all aspects of the relations between these three countries in accordance with a comprehensive and stable agreement.
The River Nile is an integrated system that must be treated as one geographical, natural and environmental unit. Its water resources must be managed in a harmonious manner, as should the development of its agricultural, industrial, and social, human and cultural resources.
The integrated development of international river basins has become a necessity for conserving such rivers’ resources, protecting the environment and creating a development process in which such rivers become tools of communication and cooperation and not tension and confrontation.
Water is made part of a comprehensive development plan coordinated between river basin states so that all benefit from sustainable development and the international support necessary to finance projects serving several countries and multiple purposes.
Indeed, the strategy of managing water resources through integrated and comprehensive planning is the only way in which such river systems can be preserved.
They help all concerned to be more aware of the need to protect such rivers and help to realise the interests of all river basin countries, helping to prevent conflict or confrontation.
* The writer is former assistant foreign minister.
* A version of this article appears in print in the 10 January, 2018 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly under the headline: An integrated approach to the Nile