River Nile tension in Century 21 is a global matter

By  | 22 May 2010 at 02:16 | 2221 views

I am not an expert on water resources, or environmental affairs for that matter. I am just concerned that an issue as vital as water is the backbone of a dispute in northern and northeastern Africa. It is about time qualified and proven experts and lobbyists pitch in to help resolve a very sensitive stalemate. I also believe it is a matter of concern for all of us everywhere.

The River Nile is a historical landmark, over 6,000 kilometers (4, 000 miles) long. It runs across many countries, with two tributaries: The Blue and The White Nile. Of the two, the White Nile is the longer. It flows from southern Rwanda. However the Blue Nile is the said to be the source of most of the river’s water and fertile soil resources, dating back to ancient times. The Nile flows near or through several countries like Burundi, DR Congo, Egypt, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya, Rwanda, Sudan, Tanzania, Uganda and Zaire. It empties into the Mediterranean Sea through Cairo, in northern Egypt. Many cities are to be found on the banks of the river, or very close by, due to the obvious fertility of the area. There are Cairo, Khartoum, Aswan, Karnack, and Alexandria, to name a few.

There are also several dams for irrigation and among the biggest are the two dams at Aswan in Egypt. The older Aswan Low Dam was first completed in 1902 and raised twice – under British colonial rule. The newer Aswan High dam was started in 1960 and completed in 1970. It was formally inaugurated in January 1971, at a cost of about One billion dollars.

From reliable media reports, recently, Egypt and Sudan are refusing to give in to demands by other African countries further south on/by the Nile; for what some may consider “a fairer share” of the resources afforded by this great river.

In a few weeks it will be World Environment Day, on June 5. I believe the rest of the world should be promptly and thoroughly informed, and advised about the stakes, as several sovereign African nations argue over the water resources of the continent’s longest river, the Nile. According to credible reports, Sudan and Egypt on the one hand, are both pitched against other countries further ‘Up River’ like Burundi, Ethiopia, Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania, Uganda and Zaire.

Whatever the details, I am not sure. However, it is clear the rift has been on the proverbial negotiating table for at least 10 years. Yes, a whole decade, and a very long time in the current scheme of conventional global politics. Sudan and Egypt claim they need the water resources much more than other contenders, due to climate, history and geography, while the other parties seem to be asking for a ‘fairer share’. Egypt and Sudan both cling to a long-time agreement about distribution of resources from Africa’s longest river. The other countries want a review, hoping for substantial changes in the age-old arrangement.

Wars have been fought, and many precious lives lost, for years over apparently lesser issues. It is time we consider, rationally, that water may be far more vital for human existence/survival than so many other natural or socio-cultural factors. Experts have it that thirst and/or dehydration (lack or loss of water in the body), anywhere, kill far faster than even starvation (lack of food or nutrients), to give a glimpse.

One only needs to revisit long running disputes like those in Ireland (religious); Indian/Pakistani Kashmir (nationalist, religious); South Africa (race), the Great Lakes of Burundi-Rwanda (ethnic) and of course the Middle Eastern region or Palestine, to appreciate the potential toll such seemingly far-flung conflicts might inflict worldwide.

I just want to sound a note of caution here. Everybody in every country/territory has a stake in such disputes, whether living nearby or far away. It is a global world that is becoming smaller and smaller by the day; if not by the hour, minute or second. Update that: probably even by the pressing of one or another digital key, privately or in public.

It is about time some definite action is taken by the global community. In this case, it is all about water.