East African nations to challenge colonial Nile treaty

(HornTrade) — Under the 1929 accord, which still stands in international law, none of the other nine countries in the Nile basin can tap the river’s bounty without Cairo’s permission.

And because 95 per cent of Egypt’s water supplies come from the world’s longest river, that approval has rarely been given despite soaring demand for water across Africa.

Now Ethiopia, Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda and Tanzania have agreed a new pact to share the Nile’s waters more fairly and removes Egypt’s veto.

The Democratic Republic of Congo, Burundi and Eritrea are mulling following suit.

But Egypt’s President Hosni Mubarak – who has threatened in the past to go to war with any country tampering with the Nile – has so far refused to sign up, claiming that protecting water supplies is an “issue of national security”.

The 1929 Nile Waters Agreement between Egypt and Britain, representing its East African territories, gave Egypt 55.5 billion cubic metres of the Nile’s 84 billion cubic metres total flow. Sudan got the rest.

At the time, rainfall in countries to the south was regular and heavy enough to support demand. Now, populations there have soared to 200 million, and weather patterns have changed.

“Everyone knows that we are now all faced with climate change,” said Stanislas Kamanzi, Rwanda’s minister for environment and lands.

“Ours is one of the most vulnerable countries, 80 percent of our agriculture relies on rain-fed irrigation. We can no longer predict that we will receive regular rainfall, so we can’t predict our crop production.

“We need to use the resources in our waterways and lakes for irrigation.”

Until now, Egypt has used its diplomatic clout to lobby Western finance institutions to deny loans to any ‘upstream’ Nile nations wanting to build large water-harvesting projects.

But China is now the dominant investor in Africa, and Cairo has less influence there.

Beijing has already funded an Ethiopian hydroelectric dam.

“Egypt in their hearts know they are in a difficult position, but they will try to delay any upstream development as long as they can,” said Ashok Swain, an international water conflict expert at the University of Uppsala in Sweden.

“The China factor has complicated things. Their engagement may have given the upstream countries the confidence to show that their patience with Egypt is running out.”

Source: telegraph.co.uk

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