Meeting to finalize the Nile Basin Initiative postponed to Sept.
CAIRO: A meeting scheduled this month to bring together the ministers of water resources from each of the 10 Nile Basin countries to finalize the seven-year-old Nile Basin Initiative (NBI) has been postponed to mid-September.
The postponement was agreed upon by member countries because of expected hot weather during August and for no other reason, said Mahmoud Abou Zeid, minister of irrigation and water resources. The minister dismissed claims there might still be differences between the Egyptian and Ethiopian positions on the amount of water allocated to each country.
Ayman Abd El-Wahab, environmental analyst at Al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies, says its unlikely tensions have flared once again between the two countries.
The relationship has developed much more, says Abd El-Wahab. The Ethiopian side has come to understand better the importance of the Nile to projects in Egypt, and the Egyptian side now understands the Ethiopian needs can be met without lowering its share.
If all goes well, Abd El-Wahab says he expects NBI to finally be ratified by all member countries in their September meeting.
Although strong public rhetoric about possible conflict over Nile water has calmed down over recent years, statements made by Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi as recently as Feb. 2005 suggest old tensions still persist.
While Egypt is taking the Nile water to transform the Sahara into something green, we in Ethiopia, which is the source of 85 percent of that water, are denied the possibility of using it to feed ourselves, and we are being forced to beg for food every year, Zenawi told BBC.
And from time to time Egyptian presidents have threatened countries with military action if they move, he claimed. While I cannot completely discount the saber-rattling I do not think it is a feasible option. If Egypt were to plan to stop Ethiopia from utilizing the Nile waters it would have to occupy Ethiopia, and no country on earth has done that in the past.
Under a series of agreements, the most recent of which was signed in 1959, Egypt has fought strongly to maintain its quota of at least 55.5 billion cubic meters per year. Egyptians have long feared dam construction at Nile sources in Ethiopia and Uganda would affect the amount of water reaching them.
In late July, Ethiopia announced the beginning of construction on a 1,870 megawatt hydroelectric project on the Omo-Gibe River. The project, which will allow Ethiopia to harness enough power to satisfy national demand and export to neighboring countries is scheduled for completion in 2011.
Abd El-Wahab says recent studies have proven Egyptian fears of a decrease in water supply unjustified.
Studies have shown the impact of building Ethiopian dams on the Egyptian water supply is expected to be very minimal, says Abd El-Wahab.
In the last three years, there has been an increase in communication from the Egyptian side all levels up to the president to build trust and insure cooperation [on NBI], he adds.
Work on the NBI began in 1992 but was not formalized until 1999. Under the initiative, member countries were each required to submit their own projects aiming to increase the efficiency of Nile water use to better benefit the group. Work on eight projects located mostly in Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan has already begun.
In the long run, the initiative aims to increase power output in countries where the river originates such as Ethiopia and Uganda which would allow agriculture to flourish in Sudan and industry to grow in Egypt. In the end, NBI relies on sharing these products in order to benefit the whole region.
I think it s a very balanced initiative, says Abd El-Wahab. The nature of the initiative itself is based on raising the amount of water available by lessening the wasting of water, and any project proposed has to benefit more than one country. So there s new thinking of cooperative work. The main problem that governed this issue for a long time were political. Now there s a sense that this matter has nothing to do with politics and cooperation is the only solution.