“When two brothers cry, we have to listen and try to find a solution that fits both of them”, an approach Nile Basin initiative (NBI) is doing its best to enhance, as Dr. John Rao Nyaoro, Executive Director of the Nile Basin Initiative pointed out ,in an attempt to reduce increased tension mainly between Egypt , Sudan and Ethiopia on the construction of the Grand Ethiopia Renaissance Dam, and figure out a win-win solution to Nile riparian countries, “otherwise we have to create another Nile River to meet states needs”.
The Nile Basin Initiative (NBI) began its work in 1999, and its main objectives to develop the Nile Basin water resources in a sustainable and equitable way, and ensure cooperation between riparian countries, and target poverty eradication and promote economic integration. Besides Egypt,
Nile Basin countries include Burundi, DR Congo, Ethiopia, Kenya, Rwanda, South Sudan, Sudan, Tanzania and Uganda.
The decision and policy-making body of NBI is the Nile Council of Ministers, comprised of Ministers in charge of Water Affairs in each NBI Member State, supported by the Nile Technical Advisory Committee.
However, the incomplete participation of Egypt is an issue affecting the spirit of the Nile cooperation. So far, Egypt continues to have reservations over “The Cooperative Framework Agreement” (CFA) which included none of its historical rights, that was guaranteed by 1929, agreement with Great Britain regarding the utilization of the waters of the Nile River, and the dispute on water security between upstream and downstream countries, and mainly Article 14 blocks any progress. As a result, Egypt and Sudan froze their membership in 2012, while Ethiopia, Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi and Tanzania signed the agreement, but recently Sudan was back on board.
In March 2015, an agreement of principals was signed between Egypt, Ethiopia, and Sudan, represented an important shift in Cairo’s approach to the Nile River. At political level, Egypt participates in meetings of NBI, but it does not attend technical meetings, a sign Dr. Nyaoro considers as openness from Egypt to cooperate.
Dr. Nyaoro explained how NBI was launched and its mandate and the challenges it faces, to “Blue Peace Group” of water experts and journalists from Lebanon, Turkey, Iraq and Jordan, who participated in the learning trip organized by “Strategic Foresight Group” to Nile Basin Initiative (NBI) in cooperation with Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (Sida) in August 8-10 2016 in Entebbe- Uganda, to see how Nile countries succeeded in managing their transboundary water resources, so that Middle East countries can inspire from their experience ,and enhance cooperation between countries who share river basins.
Dr. Nyaoro said: “Egypt realized that it is better to object within the NBI and not to boycott it, if we identify the needs of each country, we cannot meet them all, or we have to create another Nile river, therefore, we have no choice but to listen to each other if we want to survive”.
The role of NBI is limited to providing recommendations to member countries, and for instance, in case of Grand Ethiopia Renaissance Dam, NBI advised the concerned parties to resort to technical experts to identify how to fill the dam with minimum impact on Egypt and avoid any significant harm to it. NBI “cannot be on the forefront to facilitate dialogue; it is in the back stage, and trying to set a parallel track to bring member States who had reservations on board, and to reduce the risks of any project on them” , Dr. Nyaoro said.
He stated that NBI is focused on sharing data, to ensure the equitable utilization of water, and not causing any significant harm to riparian states, comparing that to having one sharing bank account, where we need the consent of the parties to withdraw a cheque. There is no doubt that the driving force behind NBI was water scarcity.
Dr. Nyaoro told “Aljoumhouria”:”we did not wait a volcano to erupt, we try to reach to balance when there is a conflict and to continue cooperation. Instead of waiting a catastrophic to happen, let’s cooperate. When two brothers cry, we have to listen to them and try to find a solution that is suitable for both”.
He did not deny that Israel played a mediating role between Egypt and Ethiopia.
He said to “Aljoumhouria”:” if Israel can help us to facilitate dialogue between Egypt and Ethiopia, if they have a prescription, we can use, nobody is against consulting external experts “.
Executive Director of the Nile Basin Initiative tried hard through Egyptian media outlets to reconcile points of view, since NBI considers media as it strategic partner, it contributed in building capacities of journalists to write scientifically and in a accurate way and motivated them by launching Nile Media awards for the best article.
In addition to the unresolved issue article 14 b on water security, NBI faces many challenges like ensuring balance of existing uses and potential uses of limited water resources, and insufficient contribution of member states in covering institutional costs.
If we compare between the three Field trips that «Strategic Foresight Group» organized to the Rhine, Mekong and Senegal Rivers, we can realize that the situation in Nile river Basin is different to what we had already seen, Maysoon Zoubi, a member of the Blue Peace Initiative core group and former secretary general of the water ministry in Jordan stated.
Zoubi told “Aljoumhouria”: The NBI is still an initiative, it is not a commission yet, its role is advisory,
Cooperation in these areas put an end to disputes and now there are no conflicts between its member states, despite the presence of some internal disputes inside these states, consequently Arab states should not consider disputes as a pretext not to cooperate”.
Zoubi believes that there is an opportunity in the Middle East to start a similar cooperation. She says: “Cooperation between the countries of the Nile Basin Initiative began with sharing information, which is the cornerstone for building confidence, and the role of initiative to provide advice and guidance, we can inspire from them, it is not obligatory to start with a commission as the situation in the Rhine, we can start sharing data and guidance, and later on we can develop and advance forward.”
She recalls that in the Arab world, “we used to link the Nile River with Egypt, I have seen how many countries live on this river, which is in a state of evolution, and there is increasing demand for water, and the fact that Egypt is a downstream state have to reconsider its policies and its relations with African countries, instead of freezing its membership, it is best to try to reach a cooperation on the Renaissance Dam in Ethiopia.”
It is a mistake if Egypt stays away, because next year work in the Renaissance Dam will start, despite its disapproval. Zoubi said: “Egypt signed principles declaration, but the work in the dam is still going on, so it is better to accept the fait accompli, and join agreements to ensure its rights, and avoid other losses. The importance of the Nile Basin Initiative is having a platform for cooperation; the withdrawal of Egypt will make it lose.”
She says: “There must be a balance and equality between the Nile Basin countries, there is no longer acquired rights Egypt can claim about.”
In light of the high demand for water, Egypt might be forced to look for alternative sources, it may be groundwater, if it wants the largest proportion, and it needs to use water efficiently.
Zoubi stresses that the withdrawal and the absence does not stop the project. She says: “Works in Renaissance Dam will begin next year, and it is important that the Nile River initiative funded by the member states to avoid the hidden agendas of the supporting countries “, calling Middle East countries to inspire from this experience and to establish a Joint Secretariat to institutionalize cooperation properly and mutually .
Dursun Yildiz, The director of «Hydro Politics Academy “agrees with Zoubi.
He said to “Aljoumhouria”: “Egypt has to be on negotiation table, mainly because climate change will affect it and its political presence only is not enough”.
He stressed that Middle East Countries have to adapt all together shortly, where Climate Change should be the driving force and connector for their cooperation.
Dr. Nyaoro in turn pointed out to the impact of Climate Change on Nile River, adding that
NBI developed Nile River Basin Climate Change strategy that has already been prepared and distributed, adding that adaptation measures will cost about 5 billion $ in the entire basin.
As a result to climate change, the Nile Equatorial Lakes, water flow to Aswan fell to 90 billion cubic meters after its annual average was 97 billion cubic meters.
In parallel, representatives of African river Basins, Komati Basin Water Authority,Organisation pour la Mise en Valeur du Fleuve Senegal (OMVS),The Orange –Senqu River Commision (ORASECOM), Volta Basin Authorit, Commission Internationale du Bassin Congo-Oubangui-Sangha (CICOS), explained to Blue Peace Group, about their successful experiences in managing their shared water resources, and how cooperation mechanisms were developed and challenges they faced.
In this regard, Yildiz said: “We have some examples of cooperation, trust building, sharing of information was going on under difficult conditions and this is the main lesson we are supposed to inspire of in the Middle East”.
Sundeep Waslekar, President of “Strategic Foresight Group” asked the representatives of the African river basins bodies, what are the essential helpful elements for water cooperation that you recommend for the basins of Middle East countries?
He points out that “the agreements in some basins began between two countries and then others joined them, instead of waiting a holistic agreement, Middle East countries can start with the minimum,” and recalled that in 2010 there was a desire for economic cooperation between Turkey, Jordan, Syria and Lebanon. If there was a regional council between these four countries, the intention of cooperation would not have been absent. ”
Representatives of the African River Basins Authorities reply were, cooperation requires political and financial support of member states, trust building, common vision, sharing information, honest dialogue, clear legal framework, joint technical and development projects, equitable utilization and no significance harm”.
What is the minimum structure to promote cooperation in the River basins?
Establishment of a joint secretariat or autonomy body, including the financial contribution of all parties and drafting a convention to define the framework of cooperation and operational rules
As a part of the field visit the participants visited the Bujagali Hydropower Project built on the Victoria Nile in the town of Jinja that provides electricity to Uganda which suffers from power deficit and in turn to promote the socio-economic development of local residents.
As an outcome, there is no doubt that the interference of external forces that supported Nile Basin countries was crucial in helping them enhance their cooperation while in the Middle East; the situation is quite different due to contradictions of interests of western and regional players, that make cooperation in transboundary water resources more complicated.
Therefore, Middle East countries should be wise enough to move on hand in hand and consider Blue Peace Group as a driving force for Turkey, Lebanon, Syria, Iraq and Jordan, to keep the debate on the importance of Water Cooperation alive, and to prepare the platform in coordination with Civil society, academics, universities, Yildiz concluded, and to put this issue on decision makers table when a settlement to Syrian and Iraqi crisis is reached to.