After ten years of talks there is still no resolution in sight to the controversy over the use of the waters of the River Nile, according to an analysis published by the UN’s IRIN. Extracts:

“The problem is lack of cooperation in water management,” Debay Tadesse, senior researcher at the Institute for Security Studies in Addis Ababa, said. “There is enough water for all the riparian states and an agreement singed in Entebbe on May 14 opens the way for more equitable management.”

This new agreement, the ‘Nile River Basin Cooperative Framework’ was signed by Ethiopia, Rwanda, Tanzania and Uganda, but was left open for a year in the hope that others among the nine states involved, in particular Egypt and Sudan, would join later. The agreement also transformed the ‘Nile Basin Initiative’ into a permanent ‘Nile River Basin Commission.’ Kenya signed on 19 May.

Egypt’s Water Minister said: “Any project that takes away from the river’s flow has to be approved by Egypt and Sudan in accordance with international treaties.” But, according to Kithure Kindiki of the School of Law at the University of Nairobi, neither the unilateral claims of Egypt on maintaining the status quo on the Nile, nor the threat by upstream states such as Tanzania, to obstruct the Nile-Victoria system, are supportable in law.

The new agreement attempts to review two deals signed in 1929 between Egypt and its former colonial power, Britain, and in 1959 with Sudan. The accords gave Egypt and Sudan up to 87% of the Nile’s flow. Egypt was also given the power to veto dams and other water projects in upstream countries. To monitor the water levels, it maintains teams of engineers along the river. “Egypt’s historic rights to Nile waters are a matter of life and death. We will not compromise” said the Egyptian Minister of Legal and Assembly Affairs. The Sudan indicated that it would not sign the agreement until all the nine states reached a solution to the issues in dispute. But this position could change if Southern Sudan voted for independence in a 2011 referendum.

Ethiopia wants to build more dams on the Blue Nile, Sudan has promised foreign farmers vast pieces of land, in Kenya farmers want to expand irrigation and Tanzania intends to build a 170 km pipeline from Lake Victoria to supply dry areas.

Uganda’s ‘New Vision’ described the Entebbe meeting: ‘The heat intensified and tempers flared and became as hot as the desert sun.’ The upper Nile countries say they were never consulted when the agreements were made and that climate change has disrupted the rainfall patterns.”

On July 27 Egypt offered an olive branch by offering to dig 230 water wells including 30 in Tanzania as part of its development assistance programme.

Eventually it was decided to try again at an emergency meeting to be held in Nairobi between September and November 2010 but Ethiopia, Uganda, Tanzania, Rwanda and Kenya reiterated that they would not backtrack from the framework agreement which they had signed and which seemed to give them a chance to obtain greater access to the Nile waters.

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