Nile Water Agreement

Name ID 1799

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Guardian (UK)
Extract Author: Jeevan Vasagar,
Extract Date: February 13, 2004

Storms lie ahead over future of Nile

A battle for control over the Nile has broken out between Egypt, which regards the world's longest river as its lifeblood, and the countries of sub-Saharan Africa, which complain that they are denied a fair share of its water.

In the latest escalation in the dispute, which some observers believe could lead to a new conflict in east Africa, Tanzania has announced plans to build a 105-mile pipeline drawing water from Lake Victoria, which feeds the Nile. The project flouts a treaty giving Egypt a right of veto over any work which might threaten the flow of the river.

The Nile Water Agreement of 1929, granting Egypt the lion's share of the Nile waters, has been criticised by east African countries as a colonial relic. Under the treaty, Egypt is guaranteed access to 55.5bn cubic metres of water, out of a total of 84bn cubic metres.

The Egyptian water minister, Mahmoud Abu-Zeid, recently described Kenya's intention to withdraw from the agreement as an "act of war". Boutros Boutros-Ghali, the former secretary-general of the UN, has predicted that the next war in the region will be over water.

The Nile treaty, which Britain signed on behalf of its east African colonies, forbids any projects that could threaten the volume of water reaching Egypt. The agreement also gives Cairo the right to inspect the entire length of the Nile.

It has been gravely resented by east African countries since they won their independence. Kenya and Tanzania suffer recurrent droughts caused by inadequate rainfall, deforestation and soil erosion. The proposed Lake Victoria pipeline is expected to benefit more than 400,000 people in towns and villages in the arid north-west of Tanzania.

"These are people with no water," said the Tanzanian water minister, Edward Lowasa. "How can we do nothing when we have this lake just sitting there?"

The Nile, which is over 4,000 miles long, is fed by the White Nile, flowing from Lake Victoria, and the Blue Nile, flowing from Ethiopia.

An estimated 160 million people in 10 countries depend on the river and its tributaries for their livelihoods. Within the next 25 years, the population in the Nile basin is expected to double, and there is a growing demand to harness the river for agricultural and industrial development.

The Ugandan commentator Charles Onyango-Obbo wrote recently: "Egypt can't enjoy the benefits of having access to the sea, while blocking a landlocked country like Uganda from profiting from the fact that it sits at the source of the Nile."

While east African countries are eager to make greater use of the river, Egypt fears any threat to its lifeblood. Most of Egypt's population lives in the Nile valley - on 4% of the country's land - and any fall in the water level could be disastrous.


The Nile treaty was drawn up at a time when Egypt was a British satellite, regarded as strategically crucial by London because of the Suez canal, which controlled access to India.

The agreement is now in effect enforced by international donors, who are reluctant to advance funds for major river projects that will upset Egypt, a key Arab ally of the US in the Middle East.

Sub-Saharan countries cannot match Egypt's diplomatic clout, but they face a dilemma as a major untapped resource rolls through their territories.

"We have reached a stage where all the Nile basin countries are confronted by domestic development challenges," said Halifa Drammeh, a deputy director of the United Nations environment programme. "How many people have access to safe water? How many have access to sanitation?

"There is a tremendous pressure on these governments to sustain the needs of their populations, and to raise their standard of living.

"After all, there is nothing we can do in life without water. Wherever there is sharing, there is potential for conflict."

Work is due to begin on Tanzania's pipeline project next month, and it is due to be finished late next year.

The Tanzanian government has said the pipeline is not intended for irrigation, which requires large quantities of water, but for domestic use and livestock. It will initially benefit more than 400,000 people, but this number is expected to rise above 900,000 in the next two decades.

Kenya plans a conference of the Nile basin countries in March to seek a peaceful solution to the dispute.

Extract ID: 4692

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Extract Author: Faustine Rwambali
Extract Date: February 9, 2004

Tanzania Ignores Nile Treaty, Starts Victoria Water Project

The East African (Nairobi)

TANZANIA LAST week launched a Tsh27.6 billion ($27.6 million) project to draw water from Lake Victoria to supply Kahama in Shinyanga region, in contravention of two treaties colonial Britain signed with Egypt and Sudan controlling the use of water from the lake. The Agreements restrict riparian countries from initiating projects that would affect the volume of Nile waters without the permission of Egypt.

The contract for the laying of a 170-kilometre inland pipe was awarded to the China Civil Engineering Construction Corporation, and signifies Tanzania's loss of patience with talks involving Kenya, Uganda and Egypt over the validity of the two agreements signed in 1929 and 1959 respectively, stipulating how water from Lake Victoria and the River Nile was to be shared out.

Despite engaging in lengthy negotiations over the use of waters from Lake Victoria and the Nile, Tanzania has maintained that the two agreements were illegal, said the Deputy Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Water and Livestock Development, Dr C. Nyamurunda, in Dar es Salaam last week.

The second phase of the contract, said to be worth about Tsh57.5 billion ($57.5 million), is expected to commence in July 2004, and will be completed next year. The total cost of the water project is estimated at Tsh85.1 billion ($85.1 million).

The water will be mainly used for domestic purposes, said the official, indicating that the government was still sensitive to concerns from Egypt about the widescale use of water from the lake without consulting Cairo.

The water project will initially benefit 420,000 people, but this number is expected to soar to 940,000 in the next 20 years.

Apart from Shinyanga and Kahama towns, some 54 villages situated along the pipeline will benefit from the project, said Edward Lowassa, the Minister for Water and Livestock Development.

To cut down on the costs involved in maintaining the pipeline, the government says it will set up an independent body to manage the project.

Dr Nyamurunda said that Tanzania's sentiments about the legality of the agreements were shared by other Nile Basin countries. "Other countries also believe that the treaties were illegal, but they are ready to co-operate in negotiations although they are not restricted from using the waters of the Nile," he said. The Nile Basin initiative is made up of 10 countries.

"In the Draft Agreement on Nile River Basin Co-operative Framework, Section 15, all countries, except Egypt and Sudan take the position that the treaties in question are illegal," he said.

At independence, Dr Nyamurunda says, Tanganyika made its position on the agreements clear to the UN, Egypt and Britain.

The controversial 1929 Nile Waters Agreement was concluded between Egypt and Great Britain, which represented Uganda, Kenya, Tanganyika (now Tanzania) and the Sudan. It was concluded by an exchange of letters between the Egyptian Prime Minister and the British Ambassador in Egypt on May 7, 1929, in Cairo.

It stated that no works would be undertaken on the Nile, its tributaries and the Lake Basin, that would reduce the volume of the water reaching Egypt. It also gave Egypt the right to inspect and investigate the whole length of the Nile up to the remote sources of its tributaries in these territories.

The agreement also allocated Egypt 48 billion cubic metres per year of Nile water as its acquired right, while that of the Sudan was four billion cubic metres per year. This was based on the report of a commission appointed by Cairo in 1925 providing a technical basis for the 1929 Agreement.

But Sudan and Egypt renegotiated the 1929 agreement in 1956, coming up with the 1959 "Full Utilisation of the Nile Waters" agreement, which was signed on November 8, 1959, allowing the construction of the Aswan High Dam as the major element in the control of the Nile waters for the benefit of the two countries.

Egypt and, to a lesser extent, Sudan, depend almost entirely on the Nile for their agricultural production and are major users of the 6,700 km river's waters. Its basin area is about three million sq km.

According to the UN Economic Commission for Africa (ECA), by 1995, Egypt had three million hectares under irrigation, using 62 billion cubic metres of water annually, while Sudan had developed 1.26 million hectares, requiring 16 billion cubic metres of water per year.

Although the treaty was first signed in 1929 by the Egyptian Prime Minister and the British High Commissioner in Egypt, it bound seven other countries, including Ethiopia, Sudan, Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi and the Democratic Republic of Congo. Apart from Ethiopia, which had a government in place, the treaty was made before these countries gained their independence.

The treaty, a culmination of previous agreements made in 1889, 1891 and 1902 between the British and Italian governments and later the Ethiopian Government, merely acknowledged Egypt's natural and historical "right" to the Nile's waters.

A section of the treaty says, "Without the consent of the Egyptian Government, no irrigation or hydroelectric works can be established on the tributaries of the Nile or their lakes if such works can cause a drop in water level harmful to Egypt."

Dissatisfied with its share of the waters, Sudan withdrew from the treaty when President Gamal Abdel Nasser of Egypt commissioned the Aswan High Dam in 1950s.

Around the same time, the country experienced a military coup in circumstances widely seen as suspicious, especially after the new government renegotiated the treaty. This resulted in the 1959 Agreement, which increased Egypt's share to 55.5 billion cubic metres while Sudan's share was increased to 18.5 billion cubic metres.

Kenya and the rest of the East African countries' water needs were ignored in the agreements as the two sole beneficiaries went ahead to irrigate six million hectares (Egypt) and 2.75 million acres (Sudan).

Since the signing of the agreements, Egypt and Sudan have used force or the threat of force to sustain them. For instance, in June 1980, Egypt nearly went to war with Ethiopia after Addis Ababa opposed attempts by the late President Anwar Sadat to divert the Nile waters to the Sinai Desert.

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Sadat had promised Israel that he would irrigate the desert after the historical peace agreements made in Camp David brokered by the US government. Ethiopia then threatened to obstruct the Blue Nile, prompting Egypt to prepare for war.

By the end of last week, Egypt had yet to react to the Tanzanian move.

Extract ID: 4693