Dialogue the only way to secure Nile water supply

Ahmed Eleiba, Sunday 2 Jan 2011

The general coordinator for Nile Basin affairs in Egypt's foreign ministry identifies cooperation with other Nile Basin countries as the way to any resolution on how to share the river's water


Ambassador Reda Bebars, the general coordinator for Nile Basin affairs in Egypt's foreign ministry, has likened Nile waters to a large pie with Egypt and Sudan having a small slice.

Egypt's permanent quota of Nile water is estimated at 55.5 billion square metres, and there are concerns that population growth in the coming two decades will create a crisis. After 2030, the population of Egypt is expected to reach 100 million. Under current climatic conditions it appears that increasing the water quota is not a possibility.

The dispute between Egypt and Sudan on the one hand and the rest of the Nile Basin countries on the other revolves around the fact that these countries want to create a Nile Basin Commission.

Egypt rejects the idea of the proposed format, known as the Cooperative Framework Agreement (CFA) signed in Entebbe, Uganda in May last year. Four countries (Ethiopia, Uganda, Tanzania and Rwanda) signed the CFA while Kenya joined signed up later.

Egypt and Sudan have refused to join. Other countries which did not sign are Burundi and Democratic Congo.

While the CFA does not specify exact water quotas for Nile Basin countries, it voids the agreements of 1929 and 1959 and allows each Nile Basin country to meet its needs for river water without harming other states.

The agreement also allows the commission, headquartered in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, and comprised of representatives from all nine Nile Basin countries, to approve or reject proposals for water projects on the Nile.

Bebars said that there are agreements dating back to the 1890s which were amended since, and Egypt still upholds. These are agreements which are backed by international law and precedent, most notably the agreements of 1929 and 1959.

In a lecture at the annual conference of the Egyptian Foreign Affairs Council under the title 'Water Security: the reality and future', Bebars stated that by signing the CFA these countries have created a complicated political situation, and now these states feel they have made a mistake.

"Currently, we are preparing a long-term development initiative which will be launched soon," he revealed. "Trade and economic cooperation are important and we will pursue it."

Ambassador Bebars noted that Egypt is aware of foreign interference in the issue of the Nile Basin. "We do not and will not allow any outside party to manipulate the current situation and spoil relations; we are very conscious of this," he said

Discussing Egypt's strategy, Bebars noted that an international river cannot be managed by one country alone. "Accordingly, we will protect our quota and our water security," he insisted.

Many of the Nile Basin states which disagree with Egypt, especially Ethiopia, threaten the looming prospect of projects funded by the World Bank such as the construction of dams which could affect Egypt's quota of Nile water.

"The World Bank has rules about pre-notification," he explained. "Accordingly, all the countries must approve any project related to the river, and all the banks in the world, as well as economic and investment funds practice the same rules.

"Egypt is closely following developments on this issue everywhere in the world, and we have no objection to investments. In fact, we encourage them, participate and talk to donors candidly. We are adamant that relations with these countries continue on the right path."

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