Water Resource Management
The Nile Basin is currently home to over 160 million people and it is expected that the population will double in the next 25 years, increasing the demand on water use. There is a serious deficit of electric power generation in Sub-Saharan Africa as noted in the recent Africa Infrastructure Country Diagnostic report of the World Bank. Hydroelectricity is a clean source of energy that will necessitate clear planning for the effective use of the river’s potential. Agricultural demand on water is also increasing. Recently, the global food price crisis in 2008 resulted in greater investment and development in agriculture across the basin which when combined with the needs of a growing population results in a water resource base that is becoming ever more under stress.
Environmental degradation, such as soil erosion and water pollution, are growing problems throughout the region. Land degradation leads to loss of agricultural fertility affecting livelihoods of rural communities as well as increased sedimentation of reservoirs and canal systems. More and more of the Nile’s waters are becoming unsafe for use and this deteriorating water quality is resulting in increased prevalence of water borne disease.
Compared to many other large transboundary river basins, the Nile Basin is a water scarce region. Most of the water is generated from less than one-third of the total geographic area. While water availability is already scarce it must be further noted that possible climate change impact may increase the variability of supply and possibly even reduce it.
National development activities in the Nile basin are often planned in isolation from other countries’ plans risking sub-optimal use of resources, negative social and environmental impacts and delays in implementation resulting from clear measures and agreement on transboundary implications.
Given the finite availability of water and the increasing demand for it, the need for a coordinated development and management of the water resources of the basin has become a necessity rather than a choice. Coordination is required not only nationally between water dependent sectors such as agriculture and power but also among the countries that share these transboundary water resources.
Managing the water resources of the Nile is a major challenge
There are serious challenges to managing the Nile waters. The Nile is shared by nine countries, each having important but varying needs and demands upon the shared water resources. There are significant development needs across the basin and these often have impacts beyond the borders of any individual country.
Very little hydrological information and in particular time-series data has been shared by basin countries. Consequently, it is extremely difficult to accurately understand the behaviour of the river system. When studies are conducted on the system there has not been a platform through which technical experts from each basin country can access these publications or share analyses. Without this forum, it is very difficult for individual countries to obtain agreement from neighbouring countries that may be affected by the potential transboundary impacts.
The Nile basin suffers from a high variability of rainfall and resulting floods and droughts. There is a current lack of sufficient storage infrastructure that could help to alleviate these impacts.
Lack of common policy frameworks and even lack of transboundary water policies impact Nile countries’ ability to effectively cooperate on development programs. There has never existed a basin-wide analytic system which countries could access to openly and transparently share information and aid the understanding of broader impacts. Furthermore, some basin countries have limited technical capacity and financial resources to adequately address the technical challenges.
Transboundary cooperation: a response to basin challenges
Each of the governments of the Nile riparian countries makes great efforts year by year to deal with the above development challenges through country programming. Each countries targets to develop and utilize the common Nile water resources for agricultural food production, aquaculture production, drinking water supply, flood and drought management, hydropower generation, navigation, tourism, and as recipient of waste water, among other uses. Over time, it became apparent that a situation where each country acts unilaterally to meet its development objectives was untenable and leads to sub-optimal water resources development, incompatible development agenda of riparian countries, inequitable sharing of benefits, and escalation of tension in the region. Therefore, cooperative action on the Nile was not only desirable, but the best way forward for sustainable management and development of the common Nile water resources. Cooperation on the Nile can increase the range and magnitude of direct benefits to riparian states, and serve as a catalyst for greater regional integration, both economic and political, with potential benefits far exceeding those derived from the river itself.