Egypt says historic Nile River rights not negotiable
Author: Maha El Dahan
Boats sail on the river Nile in Cairo March 9, 2009
Photo: Asmaa Waguih
ALEXANDRIA, Egypt - Egypt is working alongside other Nile Basin countries to reach a framework on use of river water for all states but will not compromise its historic rights, the country's water minister said on Monday.
Under a 1929 agreement, heavyweight Egypt has the right to veto projects upstream on the Nile that would affect its water share of 55.5 billion cubic meters a year, the lion's share of the river's total flow of around 84 billion cubic meters.
Nile Basin countries have been eager for a more equitable distribution of river water to support power generation projects and agricultural growth.
But with agriculture accounting for 83.3 percent of Egypt's water consumption in the fiscal year 2007/08, securing water is vital for the country's food security. Egypt has been cutting down on water-consuming crops such as rice, an Egyptian export, in order to save water.
Water Minister Mohamed Nasreddin Allam said it did not matter if other Nile Basin countries were not convinced of the rights given to Egypt, the most populous Arab country, in previous agreements.
"It doesn't matter if they are convinced. It matters that we are convinced," Allam told reporters on the sidelines of the 17th meeting of water ministers of the Nile Basin Initiative.
The 1929 agreement was signed between Egypt and Great Britain, which at the time was acting on behalf of its east African colonies. The 1959 Egypt, Sudan agreement acts as a supplement to the previous accord and gives Egypt the right to 55.5 billion cubic meters of Nile water a year.
Both agreements have created resentment among other Nile states and calls for changes to the pact, resisted by Egypt.
A meeting of Nile Basin water ministers that took place in the Democratic Republic of the Congo in May fell through when Egypt refused to sign a new framework governing the Nile River.
"The main hurdle is water security and the historic rights of Egypt and Sudan," Allam said.
The World Bank and other donor countries to the Nile Basin Initiative, a cooperative commission formed in 1999 bringing together nine Nile states, sent a letter on June 29 to all relevant parties expressing concern with the outcome of the Kinshasa meeting.
"The first inclusive Nile agreement is close to being fully realized," David Grey, senior water adviser at the World Bank, said in opening remarks at the conference. "But there is a difficult issue to be resolved," he said, without elaborating.
Egypt, with a population of close to 77 million people, lies below the water poverty line of 1,000 cubic meters per capita per year at around 800 cubic meters per capita per year.
Egypt has said its water needs would surpass its resources by 2017. The North African country is heavily dependent on the Nile River, which comprises around 87 percent of its total water resources as it has little rainfall.
"We can't fix everything in one day. An agreement for all basin countries will take time, so we have to have patience but I'm sure there will be a solution," Allam said.
(Editing by James Jukwey)