Ten years of negotiations over a new pact governing the use of the Nile River have come to a halt, due to Egyptian and Sudanese reluctance to relinquish their near-total control over the distribution of water resources. “The technocrats had worked out all the paper work for a good protocol but the politicians have thrown a clean piece of cloth in the mud,” Professor Afuna Aduula, chair of the Nile Basin Discourse Forum, told IPS News. “Since Egypt must consent to other nations’ use of the Nile’s water, most of the other basin countries have not developed projects that use it extensively. Not surprisingly, over the years other basin countries have contested the validity of these treaties and demanded their revocation to make way for a more equitable system of management,” explains Patricia Kameri-Mbote in “Water, Conflict, and Cooperation: Lessons From the Nile River Basin.” Decreasing water levels in Lake Victoria, the Nile’s source, have also added to upstream countries’ concerns about water allocation.
Despite the political tensions between many of the 10 Nile Basin riparians—which also include Burundi, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania, and Uganda—and the critical importance of water to agriculture, health, and economic growth, analysts think it is unlikely that tensions over water will lead to war. All 10 countries belong to the Nile Basin Initiative, a ministerial-level body that has conducted the negotiations, as well as other cooperative and confidence-building measures. “While formally framed as a development enterprise, these efforts also implicitly serve as a means to prevent conflict predicated on environmental interdependence,” notes ECSP Director Geoff Dabelko in “An Uncommon Peace: Environment, Development, and the Global Security Agenda.”
Photo: Satellite image of the northern Nile River. Courtesy of Flickr user thevoyager.