“We don’t have any other water resource in Egypt. Egyptians are recycling drainage water several times."
ENTEBBE - The meeting of ministers on the council for water affairs from the 11 member states that share the River Nile waters concluded Thursday at Protea Hotel in Entebbe just like it had started, with the Egyptians sticking to their guns and demanding to have a seal of approval for every mooted project on the Nile.
It had been hoped that following a series of discussions, the Egyptians would duck and let the Cooperative Framework Agreement signed in 2010 dictate proceedings on how the waters can be shared.
But after yet another meeting that involved ministers from all member states except South Sudan, the Egyptians still said the treaty was "unfair" and called for "more dialogue" to accelerate fair use of the Nile waters.
The Second Deputy Prime Minister Kirunda Kivejinja (2nd-R) launching the Nile Basin Initiative Atlas, with Executive Director John Nyaoro (R), Tanzanian Minister of Water and NBI outgoing Chairman Jerson Lwenge (2nd-L) and incoming chairman Sam Cheptoris (L). (Credit: Kennedy Oryema)
Egyptian water minister Mohamed Abdelaty said "we need to understand that Egypt relies on the Nile water for 95% of its water resources" and that "at the same time, Egypt is a desert".
"We are not against other countries building dams [on the Nile]. But we want to give advice on how best this dam can be constructed to keep the waters' natural flow," he said.
"We don't have any other water resource in Egypt. Egyptians are recycling drainage water several times. So you have to understand our position. If there is no River Nile, there is no Egypt."
But the Egyptian minister said they are "open minded" and willing to discuss a way forward if member states are willing to be "flexible" and understand where their (Egyptians') stand comes from.
Entitled the Cooperative Framework Agreement, the 2010 treaty joins countries - Burundi, Kenya, Uganda, Ethiopia, Tanzania and Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo - that are seeking what they consider a more equitable share of the river's waters.
Egypt and Sudan are still mulling over the framework's provisions. But Sudan seems to be leaning towards the nine (that have already signed), leaving Egypt as the only country opposing the move.
Under the treaty, any of the Nile Basin nations may use the waters of the River Nile without seeking approval from the Egyptians.
In 2015, foreign ministers of Sudan, Egypt and Ethiopia had to first sit on a roundtable and reach an agreement on the use of the waters before construction of Ethiopia's Grand Renaissance Dam could be okayed.
Uganda's water and environment minister Sam Cheptoris, who assumed the Nile Basin Initiative chair from his Tanzanian counterpart at the meeting, called for stronger cooperation between the countries to fight climate change as well as degradation.
He said the countries need to "work together" amidst the threat of climate change and to devise means that can sustainably use the Nile without ‘killing' it.
Second Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of East African Affairs Kirunda Kivejinja, representing Prime Minister Dr. Ruhakana Rugunda, said the ministers have to devise policies that will improve livelihoods of people and eradicate poverty in the communities that share the waters.
"Uganda will continue to adhere to the international law on the use of shared water resources," he said.
The minister of water and irrigation for Tanzania Eng. Gerson Lwenge, who at the same time was the outgoing chair, expressed concern over increase in water scarcity as years come and go.
The meeting discussed challenges of inadequate funding. It said some member states were not remitting their $137000 contributions in time, calling on them to clear their arrears.
It also discussed the challenge of poverty in the region, saying 10 of the 11 countries still belong to the least developed.