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Nile River Basin -- Statistics and Background Information
Area: 3.3 million km ² more than 81,500 km² are lakes and 70,000 km² are swamps. There are ten riparian countries: Burundi, Democratic Republic of Congo, Egypt, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya, Rwanda, Sudan, Tanzania and Uganda.
Total rainfall and flow: The mean annual rainfall over the entire basin is about 2,000 billion cubic meters. The average annual flow at Aswan is about 84 billion cubic meters. Irrigated agriculture: In Egypt and Sudan, irrigated agriculture is the dominating sector. Over 5.5 million ha are under irrigation, with plans to expand an area of over 4.9 million ha. The present irrigation in the upper White Nile riparian areas is very small and there are plans for a future expansion over an area of 387,000 ha in Uganda, Tanzania and Kenya. In Ethiopia, the potential identified in the Blue Nile basin includes 100,000 ha of perennial irrigation and 165,000 ha of small-scale seasonal irrigation. The other riparian countries have no potential for irrigation in the basin and depend almost completely on rain-fed agriculture.
Population: The present 280 million is expected to grow to 591 million by 2025 at an average rate of 2.5-3.0%, with an average population density of 955/1,000 ha. Poverty indicators: GINI Index (> 50%); Half the population is below the international poverty line at $1 a day.
The History of the Nile River
The Nile probably gets its name form "nahal" which means "river valley" in Semitic, later "neilos" in Greek and "nilus" in Latin. (129) It is the world's longest river, stretching 95 4,187 miles from its source in the mountains of Burundi. The source of the river is so far from the Mediterranean that it took man until the middle of the 20th century to find it. For centuries, the most accurate source of knowledge on the location of this source were the writings of Herodotus (Greek Historian, 460 BC), who wrote that the Nile's source was a deep spring between two tall mountains. When Nero ordered his centurions to follow the flow of the river in order to find its source, they got no further than the impenetrable valley of the Sudd. John Henning Speke thought that he had finally found the source when he reached Lake Victoria in 1862, only to be later proven wrong and forgotten by history. In 1937, the source was finally stumbled upon by the little known German explorer Bruckhart Waldekker (127).
The Nile is formed by three tributaries, the Blue Nile, the White Nile, and the Atbara. The White Nile rises from its source in Burundi, passes through Lake Victoria, and flows into southern Sudan. There, near the capital city of Khartoum, the White Nile meets up with the Blue Nile which has its source in the Ethiopian highlands, near Lake Tana. Over 53% of the Nile's waters come from the Blue Nile. The two flow together to just north of Khartoum, where they are joined by the waters of the Atbara, whose source is also located in the Ethiopian highlands.
The river then flows north through Lake Nasser, the second largest man-made lake in the world, and the Aswan Dam before splitting into two major distributaries just north of Cairo. The two distributaries are the Rosetta branch to the west and the Dameita to the east. In ancient times, the number of distributaries was much greater, but slow water flow, human interference, and the accumulation of silt had led to the disappearance of all the other major distributaries. This has effectively led to the desertification of large stretches of Egyptian land.
In ancient Egypt, the Nile, and its delta, were worshiped as a god. The god Hapi, who came in the shape of a frog, represented the Nile delta. Several times throughout history, Egyptians have tried to unify the Nile valley under their rule by conquering the Sudan. The lands to the south of them that bordered the river were in constant danger. The Sudan was invaded during the reign of Queen Sheba, during the Roman rule of Nero, and countless other times. This is because the Egyptians have always feared that one day the Nile's waters would no longer reach their country. People believed that since the flow of the Nile was so unpredictable, something had to have been affecting it. A legend says that during one particularly bad famine in Egypt, the Egyptian Sultan sent his ambassadors to the king of Ethiopia in order to plead with him not to obstruct the waters. A Scottish traveler in the 18th century recounted a story that the King of Ethiopia had sent a letter to the pasha in 1704 threatening to cut off the water. Given this fear it is quite natural that the Nile countries desire to secure their water supplies.(127)
The modern history of the Nile conflict began with the 20th century. The English were quick to realize the importance the river would have for their colonies. Over the centuries, in the swamps of the Sudd, strong winds and the force of the river had created natural dams made up of plants and soil, similar to those made by beavers. These dams had made all navigation up the Nile past a certain point completely impossible. Soon after Sudan was reconquered in 1898, the English began to free the Nile of the vegetation which was obstructing the passage of ships. By the time enough blockages had been removed to clear a path through the Sudd in 1904, the English had already begun drawing up massive alternative drainage plans in order to ameliorate the flow of the Nile. However, the British did not control the Ethiopian portions of the Nile, from which over 80% of the Nile's waters come. Therefore, they had to sign an agreement with the Ethiopians in 1902 in order to assure themselves that the Nile would not be interfered 97 with. They also had to assert a significant amount of pressure on the Italians and the French so that they would not interfere with the dominance of the Nile basin (Collins, 127). This approach worked well with the Italians, but a little less well with the French. The Egyptians caused the most problems for the English as planned developments on the Nile became a disputed matter between the two governments. In 1929, Great Britain sponsored the Nile Water Agreement, which regulated the flow of the Nile and apportioned it use (131).
After World War II, the British government commissioned a complete hydrological study to be made of the Nile Basin as a whole. Unfortunately, the study was not able to include the Ethiopian portions of the Nile due to political problems. The rest of the Nile valley was included. The study was finally released in 1958 as the Report on the Nile Valley Plan. It was the culmination of 50 years of study. The report suggested various ways to increase the amount of water which reached Egypt. The most important of these suggestions was the construction of the Jonglei canal, which would divert the flow of the Nile in southern Sudan (in the Sudd) to avoid the enormous evaporation losses which occur there. The report, however, treated the entire Nile Basin as a single unity, which was unacceptable to the newly independent African states, especially since it was published just two years after the Suez Canal incident (134)
Furthermore, the Egyptians had already planned a major construction which would significantly improve the flow of the Nile in their territories. They had decided to build the High Aswan Dam in order to control the yearly floods of the Nile and in order to harvest the hydroelectric power of the river. However, this project was to have major repercussions on the lands of northern Sudan. Building this dam would mean that whole sections of northern Sudan would be inundated by what was to be Lake Nasser. There were also severe environmental concerns as to how the dam would change life on the banks of the Nile. To deal with 98 this problem, the two nation signed an agreement on the "full utilization of the Nile waters" in 1959. This agreement stipulated that Sudan's yearly water allotment would rise from the 4 billion cubic meters stipulated in the 1929 agreement to 18.5 billion cubic meters. The Sudan would also be allowed to undertake a series of Nile development projects, such as the Rosieres Dam and the Jonglei Canal. In exchange, Egypt would be allowed to build a huge dam near the Sudanese border which would regulate the flow of the river into Egypt and provide water during droughts. The result of this dam, however, would be the inundation of over 6,500 square kilometers of land. The treaty also formed a joint committee which would be in charge of supervising and directing all development projects which affected the flow of the river (135).
This agreement was only bilateral and did no include any of the other riparian countries of the Nile despite the fact that it portioned out all of the Nile's water. Ethiopia, from which 80% of the water comes from was not even consulted and no water was even allotted for future usage by any upstream country except Sudan. All of the Nile's average water flow is divided between the two most downstream countries. Nevertheless, this 1959 agreement is still the most comprehensive agreement ever signed on the use of the Nile's waters.
Apparently, the residents of northern Sudan and southern Egypt were not consulted on the treaty either. In the 1960's, over 100,000 Nubians lost their homes due to development projects stemming from that treaty.(140) Some of these same people had to be moved again in the 1990's in order to build another dam, this time near the border with Ethiopia. The government of Sudan said that these people would be compensated, but the overwhelming feeling amongst the villagers was that they would not be. One villager claimed "We were not informed when the government decided... to build a dam in our area. They just 99 sent tractors with a large number of strangers. These strangers were surveyors." (126).
Construction of the High Dam at Aswan began in 1959 -- as soon as the agreement with Sudan was signed. When it was finally finished in 1970, the dam was more than 17 times the volume of the Great Pyramid at El Giza. It now stretches 4 kilometers across the river's path, rises over 100 meters for its base, and is almost a kilometer thick. Behind it, the waters have formed Lake Nasser, which is 600 kilometers long and 50 kilometers wide in some places. This reservoir is the second largest man-made lake in the world. The Aswan Dam is arguably one of the great architectural accomplishments of the 20th century. To build it, Egypt had to obtain outside funding, because it was to cost over one billion dollars to build. Rebuffed by the United States and the World Bank, Nasser had to turn to the Soviet Union, which was only too glad to help (135)
In the 1970's Sudan and Egypt began the joint construction of the Jonglei Canal, which would have increased the flow of the Nile waters by diverting the Nile away from an area where a great deal of water is lost to evaporation. Unfortunately, construction was stopped in 1983 one hundred kilometers short of completion due to "rebel action". The civil war in the Sudan has taken its toll on the development project, which was funded in large part by the World Bank. The failure of this project was a great failure for both the Sudanese government and the World Bank. Over 100 million dollars were spent on the Jonglei Canal project (135).
The most complete agreement on the use of the Nile waters remains the 1959 agreement between Sudan and Egypt. This agreement, however, did not put an end to the conflict over the rights to the Nile waters. A strong tension still exists between the Nile basin countries whenever a new Nile development project is proposed. The water needs of all of these countries are barely being met now and will 100 probably not be met in the future, especially in view of the development plans in Ethiopia and Sudan. In addition, Egypt, as the country most in danger of losing access to the Nile waters by development projects in other countries, remains willing and able to intervene militarily in order to keep the status quo."
The vital importance of the Nile to Egypt, the river's furthest downstream state, is widely accepted and well documented. Throughout recent history Egypt has exerted the greatest degree of control over the Nile both politically and physically. Egypt's dominance over the Nile is a function of the influence of colonial agreements, the shifting, yet timely alliance and support from global superpowers, and the power of Egypt relative to the instability of the upstream states. As a result, Egypt has been able to make unilateral decisions regarding out-ofbasin use of Nile water.
Unfortunately some of these decisions have put into question the responsibility and justice of Egypt's stewardship of Nile waters. Indeed, under the pressure of a burgeoning population, as well as for political reasons, the Egyptian government has for two decades embarked on a program of diverting billions of cubic meters of precious Nile water out of the basin and into land reclamation and development projects in the Sinai desert.
Conflicts and Treaties Concerning the Nile River
Conflict has never been far from the banks of the Nile. The same is true of most international water ways, but none to the degree of the Nile. The source in central Africa; its value to the 10 countries through which it flows and the total dependence of Egypt and Sudan on this life line have always made the political and biological life of the river a source of conflict.
1929 Nile Basin Treaty
The security of Egypt's water supply has become of growing concern following statements by a number of riparian states that they want to revise the 1929 Nile Basin Treaty. This treaty was signed by Britain on behalf of its then colonies and gives Egypt a veto over the use of Nile waters by East African nations if it believes this would be detrimental to downstream levels. Moreover, the 1959 treaty between Egypt and Sudan apportioned the Nile waters between them, with Egypt taking the lion's share at 55.5 B cu metres/year, and failed to include any of the remaining eight Nile basin countries. Egypt, which relies on the Nile for more than 95% of its water, has always maintained that both treaties are untouchable. However, the other Nile states are increasingly questioning why they should abide by a colonial-era agreement that hampers their development.
Nile waters come from rainfall on the Ethiopian highlands and the catchments areas of the equatorial lakes. The northern part has virtually no rainfall in the summer, while the southern area has heavy rains during the summer months. During the October-May season, both regions are relatively dry due to the presence of the northeast trade winds. The main problem that all countries of the Nile basin face is to ensure the food security of their growing populations. Except for Egypt and Uganda, all the other Nile basin countries had lower per capita food and agricultural production indexes compared to 1982. In Rwanda, Sudan, Tanzania and Ethiopia, the food-security situation deteriorated with an average of 17 percent. Access to high-quality water is likely to lead to a conflict in a situation where the availability of freshwater per capita is decreasing rapidly.
Some of the basin countries are experiencing acute water stress and others are suffering water scarcity during a large part of the year. The arid and semiarid regions of the basin 102 are now experiencing serious environmental degradation that, in turn, affects aquatic ecosystems. The drought cycles and the threat of hunger in many pockets are creating panic among the basin societies, leading to demographic changes and mass rural migration to already strained urban centers. In such a situation of panic, further destruction of the basin's resource base is continuing. This trend will continue in the coming decades unless a concerted effort of the basin's nations, combined with assistance from the international community control the situation so that threats to national security are minimized.
The White Nile
During the rainy season, the White Nile overflows into the vast floodplain surrounding the permanent Sudd swamps, bringing nutrients and new life to the dry, cracked ground. The Sudd is one of the largest floodplains in Africa, providing watering and feeding grounds for populations of migratory mammals and birds. This floodplain borders the arid Sahelian region and is thus an important watering hole for many species as they move across the landscape. Civil war, which resumed in 1983, poses the greatest threat to conservation here. As is so often the case in wartime, conservation has ceased to be a priority, and most reserve areas in Sudan probably now only exist on paper. Moreover, the increased use of automatic weapons and vehicles has led to a decline in wildlife through uncontrolled hunting and greater accessibility to game. The incomplete Jonglei canal, at a width of 75 m, a depth that varies between 4 to 8 m, and a length of over 360 km, is also detrimental to wildlife in the area, acting as a large game trap.
The White Nile (known in various sections as the Bahr-el- Abiad, Bahr-el-Jebel, Albert Nile, and Victoria Nile) rises in the headwaters of Lake Victoria in a region of yearround rainfall, and after running through Uganda, overflows in southern Sudan into a shallow depression within the Kalahari Sands, creating the Sudd swamps at 103 380-450 m above sea level. The gradient of the river through the Sudd is greater than that on its subsequent course from Malakal to Khartoum (125). The southern portion of the floodplain is wetter than the northern, receiving on average about 800 mm/yr compared to the north’s 600 mm/yr. These rains fall between April and September (132), and temperatures average 30-33oC during the hot season, dropping to an average of 18 degrees C in the cold season. The Sudd swamps are extensive -- about 600 km long, and a similar distance wide. Vertisols are the main soils that have developed in the waterlogged conditions over these nutrient poor sediments, although fluvisols and patches of luvisols can be found along the river courses.
The Jonglei Canal in Sudan The Jonglei Canal Project in Southern Sudan: why the hurry and for whose benefit is it? By Jacob K. Lupai* http://www.sudantribune.com/spip.php?article22060
* The author is an agricultural extension expert and a researcher on household food security with reference to peasant farming. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org .
May 26, 2007 —
The expected resumption of the digging of the Jonglei canal is bringing back fresh memories of the controversies surrounding the Jonglei canal project when it first started. The project was considered one of the most important integration projects between Egypt and the Sudan with the primary objective of ensuring the flow of 4.7 billion cubic metres of the Nile water annually to be distributed between Egypt and the Sudan. It was seen as the development of 104 modern irrigation and drainage facilities that would put an end to agriculture being tied to the annual patterns of flooding and drought in the two countries. In 1974 Egypt and the Sudan agreed on the construction of the Jonglei canal that would drain the Sudd and provide Egypt with water needed during the arid season.
The problem was resolved when in 1929 British sponsored the Nile Water Agreement which regulated the flow of the Nile and apportioned its use. However, the Nile Water Agreement was nothing but for Egypt to consolidate its grip on the use of the Nile water. This agreement included the following:
• Egypt and the Sudan utilize 48 and 4 billion cubic meters of the Nile flow per year respectively
• The flow of the Nile during January 29 to July 15 (dry season) would be reserved for Egypt
• Egypt reserves the right to monitor the Nile flow in the upstream countries
• Egypt assumed the right to undertake Nile river related projects without the consent of upper riparian states
• Egypt assumed the right to veto any construction projects that would affect its interests adversely
In 1959 an agreement of the full utilization of the Nile water was signed between Egypt and the Sudan. The agreement is known as the Nile Waters Treaty which has been held until the present time. The average flow of the Nile is considered to be 84 billion cubic meters per year, and evaporation and seepage are considered to be 10 billion cubic meters. This leaves 74 billion cubic metres for Egypt and the Sudan to divide between themselves. According to the 1959 Nile Waters Treaty the allocation for Egypt is 105 55.5 and for the Sudan is 18.5 billion cubic metres per year respectively.
About 96 percent of the economically active population in Egypt is engaged in agriculture and Egyptian agriculture is entirely dependent on irrigated land. In Egypt 88 percent of the water is consumed in agriculture. As Egypt is about 98 percent desert any expansion of agriculture to feed the growing population means an increase in irrigated land. Egypt’s desperate need for enormous quantities of water is therefore abundantly clear. The Jonglei canal project was seen as the ultimate solution to Egypt’s high demand for water. In the colonial era the British were quick to realise the importance the Nile would have for their colonies in Africa. Over the centuries strong winds and the force of the Nile had created natural dams made up of plants and soil in the swamps of the Sudd in Southern Sudan. These natural dams made navigation up the Nile past a certain point difficult if not impossible.
Egypt has an ambitious desert reclamation plan of 6,000 square kilometres of new fields so that it needs another 9 billion cubic metres of the Nile water per year. To increase the flow of the Nile in order for Egypt to realise its ambitious desert reclamation plan, Egypt sees the completion of the digging of the Jonglei canal through the vast swamps of the Sudd in Southern Sudan as the top priority.
The Jonglei canal project is likely to affect the bio diversity and ecosystem of the area. The Sudd is one of the largest floodplains in Africa, providing watering and feeding grounds for populations of migratory mammals and birds. This floodplain borders the arid Sahelian region and is an important watering place for many species as they move across the landscape. The floodplain ecosystem supports a variety of plant species. Wild rice grassland dominates the seasonally inundated floodplains.
One of the most costly and politically and economically dubious of these efforts is a huge land reclamation project in the North Sinai desert called the North Sinai Agricultural Development Project (NSADP). The North Sinai development is currently estimated to cost about $1.5 billion (about 5 billion Egyptian pounds) and is going forward despite the warnings of its own environmental impact study. Since 1987 this project has been diverting Nile water to agricultural development plots west of the Suez Canal.
However, in an even more dangerous and politically sensitive development, for the first time, plans are in place and work has already begun to facilitate the diversion of Nile water to the North Sinai desert east of the Suez Canal by means of tunnels underneath the Canal. The project was given dramatic confirmation in November 1996 when Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, addressing Arab journalists in Cairo, announced the opening of a third tunnel underneath the Suez Canal. In addition, the Wall Street Journal reported that "In October 1997, Nile water will ... begin flowing through the Peace Canal ... and will irrigate 600,000 acres in the North Sinai desert."
The last leg of the project will bring Nile water just south of the North Sinai town of El Arish, only 40 km away from the border of the Gaza Strip at Rafah. Most alarming to many in the region are t he rumors that the project will ultimately bring Nile water to Israel. As a matter of fact, a similar project was envisioned as early as 1974 by Israeli water expert, Elisha Kally,) as a way of satisfying Israeli water needs. http://www.amcham.org.eg/BSAC/StudiesSeries/Report25. asp
The matter has begun to come to a head. In March Tanzania began building a 170-km water pipeline to supply dry inland towns from Lake Victoria, a project that contravenes the 1929 treaty. In early April the Ugandan president, Yoweri Museveni, criticised Egypt's longstanding monopoly of the Nile waters, demanding that "this egocentric approach on the uses of Nile water must stop" and a new treaty be negotiated. In addition, Kenya has said that it will not accept any restrictions on its use of Nile water. In response, the Egyptian government has stressed its willingness to extend technical and financial aid to the Nile basin countries, but has so far refused to back down.
Proposed new commission for Nile Management
“On March 28, 2007, Aljazeera news reported that the African countries that form the Nile basin have agreed to set up a commission governing the river’s use. Kenya’s water minister reports;
The 6695 km river has been a source of conflict for decades between the impoverished nations in its catchments area and Egypt, for which it is the lifeline.
On Wednesday, March 28, 2007, Mutua Katuku, Kenya’s water minister, said: “We have agreed on most of the things on the Nile Basin Co-operative framework. We will be establishing a commission which will be able to regulate the use of the waters of the Nile.
Katuku said the 10 Nile basin countries were yet to decide on the definitions of some contentious terms, such as the meaning of “water Security.” But he said he expected the co-operative framework would be ready in a month’s time.”
Under a 1929 pact between Egypt and the UK, acting on behalf of its then east African colonies, downstream Egypt can veto use of water higher up that it feels threatens levels.
This agreement has generated resentment and predictions of future wars over the water of one of the world's biggest rivers.
The commission will replace the Nile Basin Initiative formed in 1999 by Burundi, Democratic Republic
Continuing Tensions Concerning the Nile River
The Nile river is the main source of water for the nine nations which make up the Nile basin. As is, the water provided by the river is barely enough to satisfy the enormous water demands of the region. Early in the 21st century, it is expected that at least six of the nine nations which share the Nile's water will experience acute water stress . Access to the Nile's waters has already been defined as a vital national priority by countries such as Egypt and Sudan. It is an issue over which the two nation's have professed themselves willing to go to war over. Current tensions between Egypt and Sudan, its neighbor to the south, are merely a continuation of a two thousand year-old struggle over who will control the regions scarce water resources. As more of the nations in the Nile valley develop their economies, the need for water in the region will increase. And while the demand for resources increases, the supply is likely to remain unchanged, drastically increasing the chances for armed conflict over the waters of the Nile river. In addition, development projects that are aimed at increasing the flow of the Nile remain endangered by tension and instability in the region, as well as by environmental and financial concerns.
In Northeastern Africa, water is a scarce commodity. Yet it is also a vital one, as it is needed for irrigated agriculture, industrial expansion, and human consumption.
In the Nile basin, the river remains the only reliable source for renewable water supplies. Underground water supplies, or aquifers, can only be harvested once and will eventually run out. This places the Nile basin countries in a position of reliance on the waters of the Nile. (121)
The waters, however, do not flow in sufficient quantities to satisfy the future water requirements of all these nations. The nations are barely satisfied by what they now receive and it is foreseen that their needs will increase as populations rise, industrial growth takes place, and more land is irrigated with Nile water for agricultural use in nations besides Egypt. Egypt's cropland is already 100% irrigated, fostering an amazing reliance on the flow of the Nile. It is estimated that Ethiopia and Sudan could achieve high levels of food production if they chose to irrigate as much land as possible.
Water stress is present when nations find themselves with less than 2000 cubic meters per person of renewable water supplies. By the end of the century at least five nations in the Nile basin expect themselves to be suffering from water stress. This figure does not include the water that would be needed to feed the citizens of the Nile countries. It is unlikely that the flow of water in the Nile could be increased without the completion of the Jonglei Canal, which, given Sudan's internal problems, seems highly unlikely in the near future. (134)
In addition, the environmental situation is further complicated by the problems surrounding the Aswan Dam. Even though the environmental damage to Egypt's environment caused by the Dam has been much less than originally predicted, it is still quite significant. One major problem is that the silt from the river which for millennia 110 fertilized Egypt's cropland is no longer being allowed to flow down the river. This means that more chemical fertilizers are being used. It is also causing erosion along the banks of the Nile, which were previously replenished by the silt carried down the river. Much of the Nile delta is now being swept into the Mediterranean. In fact, if barriers near the Nile's outlet continue to erode, much of low lying Egypt could find itself in the sea, as the sea slowly advances. The Nile is also bringing more salt to the fields of Egypt because of the increased evaporation which takes place in Lake Nasser. (135)
This evaporation also presents a severe problem. Over 2 meters of water evaporate from the surface of Lake Nasser every year. This is because or its location in the middle of the desert. For this reason many opposed the construction of a dam in that location. A similar dam in the highlands of Sudan or Ethiopia would lose much less water. However, if the dam were located elsewhere, Egypt would lose out on the hydroelectric power the dam provides (roughly one third of Egypt's electrical power comes from the dam).
In 1997, Egypt is to begin the construction of a new valley of the Nile, by creating a new, self-sustaining, river which would flow through the Western Desert. To do this they would cut a canal, called the New Valley Canal, which would connect a series of oases to one another. This would allow Egypt to settle a large number of people far from the Nile; something which has proven impossible up until now. Over 62 million people live on just 4% Egypt's land. This project would allow Egyptians to take advantage of the good soil quality which is prevalent throughout the country. However, the estimated cost of the project is 2 billion dollars, which Egypt does not have. However, the real problem remains that of where Egypt will find the water to fill the canal and to keep it flowing as it already its full allotment of the Nile's water (128)
A New Lake in Darfur, Sudan?