Forum promises to address challenges, fear over the Nile

Eng. Innocent Ntabana, (right) the Executive Director of NBI, with Ms. Jacquiline Nyarakamana, a senior official from Rwanda`s Environment Ministry announcing the Forum on Sunday Oct. 22, 2017 in Kigali

The 5th Nile Basin Development Forum (NBDF) opened on Monday in Rwanda’s Capital Kigali with a call for all member countries to embrace the spirit of cooperation to confront the unique challenges arising from the fact that they share the Nile river.

The three day event runs until October 25, under the theme; “Investing in Nile Cooperation for a Water Secure Future, is expected to generate debate on the importance of cooperation as opposed to unilateral action among the 10 members countries that share the Nile basin.

According to Eng. Innocent Ntabana, the Executive Director of the Nile Basin Initiative, who are the organizers and co-hosts of the Forum along with the Ministry of Environment of Rwanda, over 500 participants from governments, civil society, academia confirmed participation in the bi-annual event that brings together scientists and policy makers for a dialogue on the challenges and opportunities facing some 250 million people that live in the ten member countries of the Nile Basin.

The choice of the theme on “Investing in cooperation for a Water Secure Future,” could not have been more timely considering the prevailing atmosphere of suspicion, fear and mistrust in the different member countries about the many ongoing and planned projects on the river.

The anticipated completion of Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) a 6,490MW hydro-power dam on the Blue Nile in a few months time and the anticipated filling-up phase of its massive reservoir, has heightened tensions especially between Ethiopia and the downstream countries Sudan and Egypt, which depend greatly on its continuous flow for survival.

One of the studies set to be presented by Dr. Abdulkarim Seid from the NBI secretariat, warns that if members countries do not cooperate on the utilisation of the Nile waters, in 5 years to come, there will not be enough water for some of the member countries.

Besides the GERD, most other countries in the basin are under-taking or planning big projects in energy, agriculture projects with the view to promote economic development and feed the region’s rapidly growing population and urbanisation.

It is by no accident therefore that most of the more than 60 presentations expected to be delivered over the coming three days will focus on offering scientific evidence on the benefits of cooperation in planning and implementing the different development projects on the Nile for mutual benefits and minimizing the adverse effects any of the projects.

Other studies are also exploring and providing evidence of utilizing alternative sources of water particularly ground water, for purposes of irrigation.

According to Seid, agriculture accounts for over 70 percent of water use in the Nile basin and the need to explore alternatives is important than ever before.

The challenges arising from the development projects are being complicated further by the effects of climate change such as prolonged droughts and floods that are making access to safe and reliable water more problematic.

Still, some of the papers set expected to be presented show that some of the dams under construction could actually alleviate the impacts of climate change by helping downstream countries to have a more regulated flow of the river by upstream countries and thereby smoothen the effects of droughts and floods.

Other presentations will offer insights and experiences on how similar disputes and challenges of a trans-boundary water resource, particularly regarding the Colorado river were resolved.

Henry Lutaaya is The Editor of The Sunrise, a Weekly Publication with a bias towards covering stories of social, economic impact with the view to transforming Uganda’s economy.
He is also acting as the Treasurer of USJA
He can be reached on henrylutaaya[at]gmail.com
hlutaaya[at]usja.ug
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