KAMPALA: Egypt is set to lose its veto power on rights to Nile waters after Burundi signed a deal paving the way for the ratification of a new treaty on the great river, an official said Tuesday.
"After Burundi signed (Monday), now the agreement can come into force," Daniel Meboya, regional spokesman at the Entebbe-based Nile Basin Initiative (NBI) that led the negotiations, told AFP in Kampala.
Burundi has now joined Uganda, Rwanda, Tanzania, Ethiopia and Kenya in agreeing to the deal, which seeks to strip Egypt of its long-held rights to the Nile.
Now that six Nile countries have signed on to the accord, the country’s parliaments can move forward with ratification of the deal, Meboya said.
All six parliaments are expected to ratify the Cooperative Framework Agreement, which is then expected to create the Nile Basin Commission, a body that will decide on river projects in the region.
Last year, after a decade of talks, four Nile nations inked a deal that allowed upstream countries to implement irrigation and hydropower projects without first seeking Egypt’s approval.
For decades, Egypt held veto rights over all upstream projects, following powers granted by a 1929 colonial-era treaty with Britain.
Egypt’s subsequent 1959 deal with Sudan gave the two downstream countries more than 90 percent control of Nile waters.
Egypt and Sudan boycotted the ceremony where the new treaty was unveiled, and vowed not to recognize any deal agreed without their consent.
At the May 2010 ceremony, Uganda, Rwanda, Tanzania and Ethiopia agreed to scrap both Egypt’s veto rights and the 90 percent control provision.
The signing ceremony marked the close of negotiations, and the other affected countries, including Kenya, Burundi and the Democratic Republic of Congo were given one year to ink the deal.
Kenya signed shortly after the ceremony and Burundi signed Monday, the last possible day for signature.
"Now it is for the six individual legislatures to ratify the treaty," Meboya said.
Egypt and Sudan have argued their water supply would be dangerously reduced if upstream countries are able to divert the river flow without multilateral consultation.
While the upstream nations refused to reopen negotiations, as Egypt requested, the NBI had scheduled an extraordinary meeting in January to help ease Egypt’s concerns about the pact.
That meeting, according to Meboya, was cancelled due to the uprising in Egypt, but is slated to take place in Nairobi later this month.
Eritrea and south Sudan were allowed to observe the protracted Nile Basin process, but were not recognized as negotiating parties.
The 6,700-kilomete Nile River is a confluence of the White Nile, whose source is Lake Victoria in east Africa, and the Blue Nile that springs from the Ethiopian highlands.
Egypt’s 80 million inhabitants draw about 90 percent of their water needs from the Nile. Cairo maintains that, even by the favorable terms of current agreements, its water needs cannot be met by the Nile alone after 2017.