A major milestone in Nile Cooperation
The Nile Day
February 22 is celebrated as Nile Day in the Nile Basin Initiative (NBI) member states. The event is organised to commemorate the day in 1999 when ministers in charge of water affairs in the Nile Basin countries met in Dar es Salaam and established the Nile Basin Initiative. NBI Executive Director, Eng Innocent Ntabana, says Nile Day is “an opportunity for basin communities to commemorate the signing of the establishment of the initiative 19-years ago”.
This day marked a major milestone in the history of Nile Cooperation. It was for the first time that the countries agreed to establish an all-inclusive institution, to provide a platform for consultation and coordination among themselves so as to achieve sustainable socio-economic development through equitable utilisation of, and benefit from, the shared Nile Basin water and related resources.
Hundreds of people, including ministers in charge of water affairs in the Nile Basin countries, government officials, members of parliament, researchers, academia, civil society and media representatives take part in every Nile Day commemoration and in the various activities organised around the occasion. The event also attracts opinion leaders, the youth, children and the general public.
Nile Day provides an opportunity to increase awareness about NBI and the importance of basin-wide Nile Cooperation for the sustainable management and development of the shared water and related resources for win-win benefits. This is in addition to enhancing awareness about the consequences of non-cooperation and the challenges of Nile cooperation. On a lighter note, the day serves to expose participants to the rich and varied cultures, which exist within the Nile Basin.
‘The Nile: Shared River, Collective Action’
The Nile Day 2018
The theme for this year’s Nile Day was ‘The Nile: Shared River, Collective Action’. Being a shared resource, the River Nile traverses political boundaries, inevitably bringing into play the competing priorities of different uses and users as well as shared challenges that include climate change and environmental degradation. To obtain the optimal utilisation and ensure sustainability of the resource, Nile Basin States must act collectively, balancing interests and focusing on common goals at Basin level.
Representatives from all 10 Nile Basin Initiative member states, namely Burundi, DR Congo, Egypt, Ethiopia, Kenya, Rwanda, South Sudan, Sudan, Tanzania and Uganda attended the event to celebrate the benefits of Nile cooperation, and exchange experiences, views and ideas on issues related to the cooperative management and development of the shared Nile Basin water and related resources. Representatives from the 11th basin country, Eritrea, participated as observers.
As is a tradition during the Nile Day celebrations, the commemoration started with a brass band-led procession. This time around, from the Meskel Square – a wide boulevard in downtown Addis Ababa, the capital city of Ethiopia – to the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA) Conference Centre.
The procession attracted the attention of passers-by and construction workers gazing down from scaffoldings. One of the curious onlookers, Gebregziabher Gebremedhin, did not know about the Nile Basin Initiative – a multilateral initiative that provides a platform for cooperation and dialogue among the Nile riparian countries. Once told, however, he applauded the idea with a nod and said: “The Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam would change the lives of Ethiopians for the better”.
A young man in his early twenties, Mr Henok, has neither heard about the Nile Basin Initiative nor the Nile Day. However, he said, “we have been hearing a lot about the river Abbay (the local name for the Blue Nile) and we have been told Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan are discussing, but there is no agreement”.
The procession was followed by an exhibition showcasing the work of NBI and other partners involved in cooperation projects across the basin. Speeches by several dignitaries, a cultural show and a symposium on the topic “Towards effective Nile cooperation – exploring options for enhanced political engagement” were activities of the day’s programme.
Speaking as Guest of Honour at the Regional Nile Day 2018 celebrations, the President of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia, Dr Mulatu Teshome advocated for the efficient use of the Nile water to overcome challenges in the basin. He said that the upstream Nile Basin countries’ agricultural systems are of limited productivity, based on subsistence farming vulnerable to climate change effects.
Teshome emphasised that the River Nile is the only natural resource that all Nile Basin countries are tapping into for socio-economic development. “While the Nile is the longest river in the world, it is also one of the most water scarce,” he said. He reiterated the need for Nile Basin countries to work together on how to use the water cooperatively, effectively and responsibly in order to overcome challenges in the Basin.
The regional event was jointly organised by NBI and Ethiopia’s Ministry of Water, Irrigation and Electricity, in partnership with the Nile Basin Discourse.
What was happening during the Nile Day 2018?
A chronological timeline
Who attended the Nile Day 2018?
A map of selected participants
From sharing water to wider economic cooperation
Nile Day 2018 conclusions
Nineteen years is not a short time, and this is how long the Nile Basin Initiative (NBI) has already served as a platform that brings together member countries in the Nile Basin to discuss ways of utilising the shared resources of the basin for social-economic development.
The NBI was born out of the realisation that the countries that share the Nile need to cooperate and coordinate their actions to achieve faster and sustainable development.USD 6.5 billion-worth of joint investment projects with regional significance
Eng Innocent Ntabana, the NBI Executive Director, recounts the institution’s achievements in the past 19 years. He cited the continued engagement among countries through the NBI platform, scientific tools developed and impartial knowledge generated, as well as USD 6.5 billion-worth of joint investment projects with regional significance.
It hasn’t been an easy journey all along, and the challenges ahead are numerous. Ethiopia’s President, Dr Mulatu Teshome, warns of rising demands caused by the rapid population growth, hunger and climate change among others.
Some speakers at the Nile Day symposium called for a change of strategy, from focusing on sharing water resources alone, to adopting a broader perspective that considers the economies of the entire basin as interlinked pieces of the same system.
Dr Stephen Donkor, a water expert with experience in NBI processes, called for what he termed as an “out of the water box” approach, which takes into consideration the challenges of the basin-wide economic context.
There is a “linkage between water and almost all the socioeconomic programmes”, Donkor said. “For example, the history of social organisations around river basins and watersheds is humanity’s richest record of our dialogue with nature. There’s scarcely an economic endeavour which can succeed without water,” Donkor added.
“The first and most primary economic activity is agriculture. Linkages between water and socioeconomic development are not debatable. Even in places that receive adequate rainfall, some level of supplementary irrigation is often required to cope with rainfall variability,” Donkor said.
“The question to be asked, is there enough land and water to produce enough food to feed the growing population, or will we run out of water? I believe, that with ingenuity, political will to cooperate – I believe that it is a situation that could be managed.”
Donkor was supported by Dr Alan Nicol from the International Water Resources Institute (IWRI), who said: “Looking beyond the basin approach is incredibly important. You have to start with some of the most fundamental economic challenges such as unemployment.”
“Talking about agriculture is fundamental to economic development. Bringing the challenges of the basin right into the structure of the economic policy-making process, find ways of integrating government non-water ministries, private sector, think tanks, would help to bring an understanding of economic development challenges, but also fundamentally linking people in the different countries to tackle the challenges through an economic development platform,” Nicol said.
He summed his argument up by saying: “If you start with basin-wide development planning and connect it to national economic planning, then you are joining the critical challenges together that affect decision-making.”
Ugandan water geologist, Dr Calist Tindimugaya, argued that the successful management of water resources needs to take into account the whole spectrum of water use and balance the utilisation of all water resources including groundwater, as well as water recycling.
Prof Seifeldin Hamad Abdalla, a former minister of water in Sudan, advocated for “a more aggressive outreach and communication strategy”, as a way of building confidence and trust for enhanced Nile Cooperation.
Nile Day participants and speakers concurred with one another that there is a need to expand and embed Nile Cooperation within broader regional integration.
Imprint & Contributors
The Niles In Focus: Regional Nile Day 2018
The publication The Niles is produced by Media in Cooperation and Transition (MiCT) in collaboration with the Nile Basin Initiative (NBI) and with support from the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH, commissioned by the German Federal Foreign Office (AA). The views expressed in this publication do not reflect the opinions of NBI, AA, GIZ or MiCT.
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