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Nile Issues Off the Agenda at African Water Ministers Meeting

CAIRO, Egypt

Nile Basin issues were not high on the agenda at last week’s African Ministers Council on Water (AMCOW) meeting in Cairo, even though Egyptian officials were eager to address the topic.

“Water is a source of life and cooperation, not conflict. Water should be a factor in African development,” said Egyptian Prime Minister Kamal al Ganzouri.

 “Egypt is currently suffering from water poverty. The per capita share of water does not exceed 700 cubic meters per year, which is far below the water poverty line of 1,000 cubic meters,” he added.

However, the absence of water ministers from Kenya, Rwanda, Burundi, Tanzania and Eritrea at the forum raised doubts about the chances that Nile Basin countries will reach a settlement anytime soon.

Key non-Western players in Africa who took part in the meeting also distanced themselves from water disputes.

“The number of Indian water projects in Nile Basin countries is not big. Therefore, they will not harm the share of downstream countries,” said Indian State Minister of Water Resources Shri Vincent H Pala.

“India does not plan to build any dam on the Nile or the Blue Nile, for we are committed to international [laws] governing the projects built on common rivers,” Pala added.

“We make sure that dams do not have negative impact on downstream countries, and that these countries approve such a project,” he added.

The World Bank and international donor organizations have declined to finance any disputed projects in the Nile Basin.

This year’s AMCOW meeting, which ran from May 14-18, called for a bigger private sector role in developing water and sanitation infrastructure on the continent.

Ugandan Water Minister Maria Mutagamba stressed the importance of expanding public-private-partnerships (PPPs) to improve water resources management.

AMCOW members also called for greater contributions from wealthy nations to help poorer countries in Africa address water and sanitation challenges in the face of climate change.

Some $94 billion USD will be required to provide services to 50 percent of the continent’s population by 2015, according to the ministers.

It is richer countries’ responsibility to help, since “rich industrial countries are to blame for the negative impacts of climate change on water resources in Africa,” said al Ganzouri.

AMCOW urged donor countries to assist with feasibility studies for major projects -- this will make it easier for governments to secure loans and grants from international financing organizations to fund the projects.

In their recommendations, the meeting’s participants called for better management of the continent’s promising groundwater reserves, especially trans-boundary water sources, and outlined strict measures to monitor and prevent surface and groundwater pollution.

A new study by the African Union Commission and AMCOW, whose results were released during the meeting, revealed that over 75 percent of AMCOW member countries are implementing national water laws, and nearly half are adopting plans for integrated water resources management.

The study found improved performance in water resources management, which in turn provided direct benefits for national social and economic objectives.

However, further commitment and resources are required to ensure food and energy security, as well as access to safe drinking water and sanitation, it found.

Floods, droughts and pollution are the main threats to Africa’s water resources, and these will most likely be exacerbated by climate change.

The study recommends targeted action to intensify country-to-country knowledge-sharing, particularly on disaster preparedness and water risk management, to increase resilience to climate change.