By Eng. Gerson Lwenge
The second half of 2015 brought with it a surge in natural disasters for the Nile Basin countries. In Egypt, a heat-wave with temperatures soaring to 50 degrees Celsius reportedly left more than 100 people dead. Ethiopia is grappling with a severe drought, which caused successive harvest failures and widespread livestock deaths.
According to media reports, at least 50,000 children face certain death and millions are in need of food assistance. East Africa was not spared either, with months-long El-Nino rains causing death and untold damage to livelihoods and property.
Besides external challenges caused by Mother Nature, all the 11 Nile Basin countries: Burundi, DR Congo, Egypt, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya, Rwanda, South Sudan, Sudan, Tanzania and Uganda face economic challenges that have everything to do with water (energy and agriculture production). Indeed water is the most critical input into a sustainable livelihood for the combined basin population of over 430 million people.
It was in recognition of the above that 10 of the Nile Basin States came together and established the Nile Basin Initiative (NBI) on 22 February, 1999 (Eritrea participates as an observer). NBI provides the only and all-inclusive regional platform for the Member States to discuss and understand interests, positions and expectations of individual countries and chart ways forward to ensure the efficient and sustainable management and use of the Basin’s water and related resources.
First, one has to understand the hydrology of the Nile. It is a complex and highly variable river with significant asymmetries in economic, social and environmental dimensions between countries upstream and downstream, particularly in terms of water utilization and the scientific, technical and institutional capacities at hand to develop basin resources.
In terms of the foregoing parameters, NBI cooperation had to start, more or less, from scratch. The hydrology of the river, indeed the science of the river, was least understood, and is still not fully understood. There was no data and information sharing mechanism. There were no joint studies, much less joint, cooperative investments.
For proper planning and to ensure all Member States’ current and future water needs are accommodated, a good understanding of the Nile Basin hydrology and related water resources systems, the shared risks and how to manage them in order to optimize mutual benefits is critical. And without basin-wide and systematic analysis, there is a risk that water resources development and management based on national level considerations alone would not be optimal but can also lead to undesired consequences elsewhere in the basin.
NBI has already made strides in promoting joint investment planning whereby water resources development interventions are regionally optimized; examples are the NELSAP and Eastern Nile Multi-Sector Investment Opportunity Analysis (MSIOA). Using its analytic tools and working with a group of national experts, NBI is analysing water resources development plans by Member States to prepare projection of future water demands and supply to highlight potential emerging challenges in meeting the growing water demands.
Among NBI’s priorities for the coming years is strengthening water resources analysis using NBI analytic tools to address key water resources management issues; strengthening commitment to an all-inclusive Nile cooperation and phased implementation of the Hydromet system, which shall cover water quantity, quality and meteorological variables with monitoring stations designed at optimal locations to enhance trans-boundary benefits.
All inclusive regional cooperation, through leveraging the Nile resources to foster economic growth, has therefore become an opportunity not to be missed in the context of regional integration processes.
NBI recognizes the importance of Nile Cooperation as a key element for Regional Integration and hence the theme for this year’s annual Nile Day celebrations: “Nile Cooperation: Gateway to Regional Integration.” Almost all Nile Basin countries’ economies are small and can benefit tremendously from pooling their resources to serve a larger market. We therefore must work together to avoid the consequences of limited or fragile cooperation such as negative effects on the livelihoods of Nile Basin populations across borders.
NBI will take advantage of the regional Nile Day celebrations to be held on 22 February, 2016 in Vihiga County, Kenya to enhance awareness of the importance of Nile cooperation in achieving regional integration and hence economic development.
Vihiga is the upper head works of River Nile, whose water drains into Lake Victoria before it starts its journey to the White Nile at Jinja, Uganda.
The writer is the chairman of the Nile Council of Ministers (Nile-COM) and Minister of Water and Irrigation of Tanzania