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Nile nations split on proposed water-sharing pact

by Staff Writers
Kampala (AFP) May 12, 2010
Seven African nations are expected to push through a new and more equitable deal this week on sharing the waters of the Nile despite strong opposition from Egypt and Sudan.

"What we are doing is launching the signing. Any country that feels they cannot sign now but may be ready to sign later will have one year," Jennifer Namuyangu Byakatonda, Uganda's state minister for water told AFP.

The nine nations that directly benefit from the Nile's resources have for years been negotiating a new pact to replace a 1959 deal between Egypt and Sudan giving them more than 90 percent control of the water flow.

Burundi, DR Congo, Ethiopia, Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania and Uganda have agreed on terms for a new pact and could ink the deal when it opens for signature on Friday in Entebbe, Uganda.

Byakatonda insisted that the upstream countries will not capitulate to demands for further negotiations.

"Negotiations are closed," she said. "The terms will not change."

The upstream countries want to be able to implement irrigation and hydropower projects in consultation with Egypt and Sudan, but without Egypt being able to exercise the veto power it was given by a 1929 colonial-era treaty with Britain.

Egypt and Sudan are afraid their water supply will be severely reduced if the seven other Nile users divert the river with domestic irrigation and hydropower projects.

One non-governmental participant in the talks said those concerns were not valid.

"The issue here is lack of information. It's not likely that flow will be affected at all by irrigation," he said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

"Construction of damns is a major point of contention. It can severely delay the waterflow downstream."

Byakatonda said the main obstacle throughout the process has been that Egypt and Sudan insist on preserving the status quo.

"They are of the view that they should retain their historical rights," she said.

Last month, Egypt's minister of water resources and irrigation Mohammed Allam warned upstream countries against signing a pact without Egypt's consent.

"If the Nile basin countries unilaterally signed the agreement it would be considered the announcement of the Nile Basin Initiative's death," he said, referring to the World Bank funded umbrella organisation spearheading the talks.

Byakatonda countered that by signing and implementing the new deal the southern nations could ease Egypt's and Sudan's concerns.

"The work cannot start until the agreement has been signed," she said.

"I believe that during this one year period the downstream countries will have the confidence that we are being honest and genuine."

She said she has held bilateral talks with the upstream nations and underscored that everyone understood the need to maintain water security in Egypt and Sudan.

"We are mindful that anything we do should not hurt them. We understand the Nile River is their life," she said.

Byakatonda claimed she did not know which countries were ready to sign the new agreement but an Ethiopian foreign ministry official told AFP that all Nile nations, barring Egypt and Sudan, will ink the deal on Friday.

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