Egypt warns against Nile Basin pact

April 21, 2010

CAIRO — Egypt insisted Monday on its traditional share of the Nile river and warned basin countries against signing a water-sharing agreement in which it is excluded.

The warning came days after Nile basin countries meeting in Egypt failed to agree on a framework to reallocate shares from the river, a longstanding demand by several up-stream countries.

“Egypt’s share of the Nile’s water is a historic right that Egypt has defended throughout its history,” Mohammed Allam, minister of water resources and irrigation, told parliament.

Allam added that Egypt saw the matter as a national security issue.

“Egypt reserves the right to take whatever course it sees suitable to safeguard its share,” he said.

“If the Nile basin countries unilaterally signed the agreement it would be considered the announcement of the Nile Basin Initiative’s death,” Allam added.

The Nile Basin Initiative, the World Bank funded umbrella group of Nile basin countries, has put off signing a water sharing pact over objections from Egypt and Sudan.

At the heart of the dispute is a 1929 agreement between Egypt and Britain, acting on behalf of its African colonies along the 5,584-kilometre (3,470-mile) river, which gave Egypt veto power over upstream projects.

An agreement between Egypt and Sudan in 1959 allowed Egypt 55.5 billion cubic metres of water each year — 87 percent of the Nile’s flow — and Sudan 18.5 billion cubic metres.

Some of the Nile Basin countries, which include Ethiopia, Tanzania, Uganda, Kenya and the Democratic Republic of Congo, say past treaties are unfair and they want an equitable water-sharing agreement that would allow for more irrigation and power projects.

Egypt, a mostly arid country that relies on the Nile for the majority of its water, argues up-stream countries could make better use of rainfall and have other sources of water.