Egypt Ready for Talks On Nile Water Sharing

Egypt is willing to negotiate with other countries sharing the Nile River on the water use.

The Egyptian ambassador to Tanzania, Dr Magdy Hefny, said yesterday in Dar es Salaam that trading blame on the use of the river’s water would not solve the problem.

His remarks show Egypt’s policy shift since it has maintained that it had a “historic right” to use the water uninterruptedly under an agreement signed during the colonial era. Sudan has also been holding a similar position.

Other Nile Basin states have wanted to draw the river water for their projects, sparking disagreements.

Dr Hefny said upstream countries were fearing that they might jeopardise their development potential by conceding the freedom to the use of water without encumbrance while those downstream perceived that their “historic rights and livelihoods” were being compromised.

He was presenting a paper on complexities of water challenges in the Nile Basin at a workshop organised by the University of Dar es Salaam’s Department of Water Resources Engineering as part of the university’s 50th anniversary.

“Ten years of Nile negotiations are mired down in a near zero-sum game. It seems that whatever the outcome, somebody feels defeated.”

Egypt and Sudan rejected a proposed Nile Basin agreement while the other seven members resolved to move forward on a regional water usage treaty without the support of the two countries.

The Cooperative Framework Agreement was supposed to be signed in July last year, but disagreements over the wording and scope of the document caused delays. One point of contention is article 14(b), which addresses water security. Egypt and Sudan want the article’s language to be changed to protect their “historic rights”.

“There are still open questions which need prior notification and consultation, natural and historic right as Egypt is vulnerable for its almost total dependency on the Nile water and the operationalisation of the principle of equitable utilisation,” said Dr Henfy.

Kenya’s vice chair of Commission for Higher Education, Prof Makau Mutua, said it was important for African countries to start sharing resources. He warned that next century’s wars would be about water.

Meanwhile, the acting director for Sewerage and Urban Water Supply, Mr William Uronu, said there are high fluoride content and salinity along the Rift Valley, making water drawn there unfit for human consumption.

“The government is investing heavily in ground water drilling but it is forced to abandon many water wells due to poor quality,” he said.