UGANDA and six other countries have agreed to sign a the Nile Agreement within a year but Egypt backed by Sudan has warned that its historical rights on the Nile should not be ignored. Gerald Tenywa explores the implications of the treaty
Esther Abasomi, 33, of Kabimbiri village in western Uganda lives a world apart from Rand Abdul, the bureau chief of Arabiya TV Channel in Cairo, Egypt.
While Kabasomi is a peasant who lives on hand outs, Abdul is gainfully employed.
However, the two have something in common, they both have benefited from the Nile Basin Initiative (NBI),
The initiative is a multi-donor funded programme to inspire people to better their livelihoods.
In the last few years, NBI has assisted people and governments to undertake interventions such as irrigation in Egypt, power generation, trade, and tree planting.
â€œI do not know anything about the Nile Basin Initiative. The main concern of the women in this village is stopping River Semliki from displacing people and helping them increase yields for their land,â€ Kabasomi told The New Vision in an interview over the weekend.
River Semliki has in the past eroded its banks due to global warming and displaced people in the Semliki region of Bundibugyo.
Unlike Kabasomi, Abdul says NBI should be elevated to a permanent river basin.
She adds that this will bring more programmes and inspire more action in Kabasomiâ€™s village, which is being eaten away by River Semliki.
A decade ago, NBI was created to deliver two outcomes: the Nile Cooperative Framework and the Nile Basin Commission.
The latter will be established under the provisions of the Nile Cooperative Framework Agreement and it will help to manage water and negotiate water policies in the region.
Benefits of the agreement
â€œAfter signing the agreement, Uganda will benefit from the River Nile,â€ the water and environment minister, Maria Mutagamba said recently.
The minister cited funding and expertise to improve irrigation as some of the benefits from the agreement.
â€œWe need to commit more water. We do not want this programme to be hampered by colonial agreements,â€ she added.
Ugandaâ€™s irrigation plan
Mutagamba said the country has engaged a consultant to design an irrigation plan.
â€œWe have to establish how much water and its demand in order to address water shortages in the country. Irrigation is a key alternative if food security is to be improved,â€ she said.
Although the country has a lot of water resources, Mutagamba said frequent droughts have been ravaging parts of Nakasongola and Kamuli.
â€œThe country is coming up
with an irrigation plan and soon a consultation with ministries of water, environment, and agriculture will be undertaken,â€ she said.
The minister said other countries in the region, particularly Kenya and Tanzania, are already ahead of Uganda.
â€œTanzania has channeled water from Lake Victoria into the Shinyanga region. Kenya is planning to do the same,â€ she said.
Cooperation with other countries
After negotiations in Sharm El Sheikh in Egypt, Mutagamba said the Government has been cooperating with Egypt.
In a decade-long funding relationship, Uganda has dealt with the water hyacinth, which hadbecome a menace on the countryâ€™s lakes.
She also pointed out that the Egypt had embraced rainwater harvesting.
Severe water scarcity looms
Uganda is only a decade away from becoming a water-stressed country, according to Mutagamba. Water stress is expected to hit Uganda by 2020. The available water will have dropped from 2,000 cubic metres to 1,480 cubic metres.
According to the minister, water scarcity will follow and it is likely to affect the country by 2035. The per capita water availability will drop to 896 cubic metres per year.
Ugandaâ€™s neighbours are likely to cross the water poverty line much earlier than Uganda.
This is also a source of concern because much of the water comes from Rwanda, Burundi, Kenya, Tanzania and the DR Congo.
Mutagamba said the countries need to manage the catchment of the rivers and lakes. Without this, she says, the vision of the countries will collapse sooner than expected. For instance, in Uganda exhausted rivers, falling water levels particularly in the cattle corridor districts of Karamoja, Teso, Nakasongola, Sembabule, Rakai, Kiruhuura and Mbabara and Lake Victoria testify to the abuse of the countryâ€™s water resources.
Politics shape negotiations
Egypt and Sudan dominate the Nile Basin water allocation policy.
This is partly because both countries are signatory to the 1959 Nile Waters Agreement, which apportions the rivers flow to the two countries.
In 1929, Britain made an agreement with Egypt. The agreement gave Egypt full powers to control the Nile.
This has been strongly resisted by the Upper Nile countries, but donors such as the World Bank, helped Egypt to enforce the agreement.
Following disagreements at the Sharm El Sheikh meeting, Egypt warned the Upper Nile countries against signing the agreement.
The local population protested in Cairo during the final weeks of the meeting.
â€œThe countries are not going to be deterred by mere threats, they should respect state sovereignty. You canâ€™t become someoneâ€™s slave because of money,â€ one of the delegates said.
The director of Advocates Coalition for Development and Environment, Godber Tumushabe, said the agreement will bind only those countries that have signed and ratified.
â€œEgypt will be the losers if they do not sign the agreement. Countries need to pressurise Egypt to act on what they have agreed,â€ he said. As the former UN Secretary General Boutros Ghali put it, â€œthe next war in the region will be over the water, not politicsâ€.
The quote rings a bell as the upper Nile countries come closer to the day of signing the agreement.
Civil societyâ€™s role
Prof. Oweyegha-Afunaduula, the chairperson of the Nile Basin Discourse, a network of civil society organisations in 10 countries including Uganda said civil society organisations prefer an-all inclusive agreement. â€œCountries in the Nile Basin are at different levels of development. In the negotiations all parties want to gain and not to lose,â€ noted Afunaduula. â€œEgypt and Sudan should be at the centre of the Nile agreement since they are more at risk,â€ Afunaduula said as he promised the organisation would work towards creating more awareness on the implications of the treaty across the Nile states.
As Afunaduulaâ€™s team stresses the need for cooperation, people like Kabasomi are likely to learn more about the benefits of the Nile.