CAIRO: While negotiations over the Nile Cooperative Framework Agreement seem to have reached a dead-end, some experts are still optimistic that a solution is on the horizon.
“I don’t believe there will be a water war. Negotiations are the only solution. It’s a long process, but there is no other solution,” American University in Cairo Associate Professor of Political Science Ibrahim El Nur told Daily News Egypt.
“A win-win situation is foreseeable,” said El Nur.
In 1988, Former UN Secretary-General Boutros Boutros Ghali wrote, "When it comes to Africa, and when it comes to the Nile, Egyptian policy should remain consistent in the pursuit of stability."
But the Nile Cooperative Framework Agreement, signed by five Nile Basin states and opposed by Egypt and Sudan, puts a strain on relations in the Nile Basin. The signatories, Rwanda, Ethiopia, Uganda, and Tanzania, joined by Kenya a week later, now constitute the majority of the riparian states.
“It has to start with cooperation between the three main riparian countries; Ethiopia, the country responsible for 86 percent of the water, and Egypt and Sudan, the two countries with the largest shares,” El Nur said.
The accord, which allows these states to implement projects along the Nile River for irrigation and hydropower benefits, also practically discredits British-sponsored colonial-age agreements that have long allocated the largest shares of the river to Egypt and Sudan, the two downstream states.
“Ethiopia does not have enough arable land for agriculture,” claimed El Nur. “It makes a lot of sense to produce electricity in Ethiopia, and that is one major area of cooperation. Meanwhile, Egypt could specialize its agriculture in crops that demand less water, and Sudan could specialize in crops that depend on rain, of which it has enough.”
El Nur also called for a collective effort to reduce evaporation from the Nile River.
Promoting similar meaningful ties, such as trade relations, would help ensure that future developments in the Nile Basin Initiative do not come at the price of stability. “Broader cooperation would facilitate smoother relations between Egypt, Sudan, and Ethiopia. The rest would be much easier, even if Sudan separates into two,” asserted El Nur.
Egypt’s relations with upstream states are just as important as its relations with Sudan, the only other Arab riparian state, and it must work just as hard to promote unity and cooperation with its African neighbors, he explained.
“There is no way but cooperation, starting with these three main countries. The tactic of alliance between Egypt and Sudan won’t work in the long run. You have to integrate Ethiopia,” added El Nur.
After talks in Sharm El-Sheikh failed to persuade upstream states to recognize the British-sponsored agreements, Moufid Shehab, minister of legal affairs, told parliament “Egypt’s historic rights to Nile waters are a matter of life or death. We will not compromise.”
Mohamed Allam, minister of water resources and irrigation, also stated after the talks that Egypt “will not sign on to any agreement that does not clearly state and acknowledge our historical rights.”
However, El Nur disagrees. “Upstream states did not recognize the agreements,” he said. “But in negotiations, you don’t give up right away. You start by stating your position. It makes sense to have started by using the agreements; to say that international law is on Egypt’s side. But then gradually, you have to start compromising.”
Upstream states, which are seven in total, must tackle problems of food security, growing population and chronic drought and are still far from taking advantage of the Nile River for their development. In the 1980s, severe droughts in Ethiopia caused wide-spread famine in the country, explained El Nur.
The Nile Basin Initiative was established in June 1999 with the aim of achieving, “sustainable socioeconomic development through the equitable utilization of, and benefit from, the common Nile Basin water resources,” as stated on the organization’s website.
Ethiopia acted upon that desire in April of this year when it launched the Tana Beles dam, aided by funding from Italy. President Hosni Mubarak visited Italy on May 18, and met with President Giorgio Napolitano and Prime Minister Silvo Berlusconi during his two-day trip.
In a recent interview with Al-Masry Al-Youm, Roshdy Saeed, an expert on the topic said, “This is one of Egypt’s biggest challenges and requires a lot of attention. The accords giving Egypt and Sudan the largest shares of the Nile were not problematic then because the populations in upstream countries were quite small and were dependent on rain, but the context is different now.
“There is a big disagreement between Egypt and Ethiopia as a result of these accords, which denied Ethiopia its water rights. Meanwhile, Egypt and Sudan are almost entirely dependent on their water shares from the Blue Nile. Around 85 percent of Egypt’s water comes from the Nile.”
“Ethiopia is supported by international law and international organizations, including the World Bank,” revealed Saeed. “I am against any foreign intervention in the negotiations among the Nile Basin countries. Any mediator could ruin bilateral relations and complicate the problem,” he added.
El Nur highlighted the importance of acknowledging the effect of the rise in populations. “The populations in Nile Basin states have more than quadrupled since 1959. Ethiopia went from 20 million to 80 million, Egypt went from 21 million to 90 million, and Sudan went from 10 million to 40 million. Cattle has also multiplied. All this leads to a greater need for resources,” he explained. “And global warming is going to have a serious effect on Africa’s water resources.”
“We really need to look at this issue logically and scientifically, not emotionally as a lot of people have been doing,” stressed El Nur.