15 February 2004

Africa needs Nile water but Egypt won't share

The Nile Water Agreement of 1929, granting Egypt the lion's share of the Nile waters, has been criticised by east African countries as a colonial relic. Under the treaty, Egypt is guaranteed access to 55.5 billion cubic metres of water, out of a total of 84 billion cubic metres.

The Egyptian Water Minister, Mahmoud Abu-Zeid, recently described Kenya's intention to withdraw from the agreement as an 'act of war'. Boutros Boutros-Ghali, the former secretary-general of the UN, has predicted that the next war in the region will be over water.

The Nile treaty, which Britain signed on behalf of its east African colonies, forbids any projects that could threaten the volume of water reaching Egypt. The agreement also gives Cairo the right to inspect the entire length of the Nile.

It has been gravely resented by east African countries since they won their independence. Kenya and Tanzania suffer recurrent droughts caused by inadequate rainfall, deforestation and soil erosion. The proposed Lake Victoria pipeline is expected to benefit more than 400,000 people in towns and villages in the arid north-west of Tanzania.

'These are people with no water,' said the Tanzanian Minister for Water, Edward Lowasa. 'How can we do nothing when we have this lake just sitting there?'

Yikes, and I thought the politics of the Murray-Darling were complex. The politics of the Tigris-Euphrates, and for that matter the Colorado, are difficult as well. This also suggests that perhaps empire is not quite as good at settling disputes between colonised nations as some of us would like to believe.

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