In an attempt to build trust and confidence between the Nile basin countries a new initiative is establishing the groundwork for equitable use of water resources in the region. Gemma Newman reports

Sharing international water resources is a complex issue, particularly when energy-starved countries are trying to utilise their hydroelectric potential or improve their access to water. In the past international water agreements attempting to provide for the equitable use of river water have had mixed success. For example, in the Africa/Middle East region the 1959 Nile agreement between Sudan and Egypt paved the way for the Aswan high dam — much to the dissatisfaction of Ethiopia, which argued that the two countries did not have the authority to divide the Nile’s resources amongst themselves.

In an attempt to broaden agreement on such matters a new initiative has been established by the Nile basin countries. As Benjamin Mkapa, President of Tanzania, says: ‘The need for co-operation amongst the Nile basin riparians is now of greater significance than ever before. The basin waters have become an important lifeline to all our countries in the region. The immediate challenge before us is to develop a shared vision geared at the eradication of poverty.’ A step towards that vision has been taken in the shape of the Nile Basin Initiative (NBI).

The Nile Basin Initiative

The NBI was launched in Dar es Salaam in February 1999. It is a regional partnership within which the countries of the Nile river basin have agreed to achieve sustainable socio-economic development through the equitable use of the Nile basin water resources. The member countries are Burundi, Democratic Republic of Congo, Egypt, Ethiopia, Kenya, Rwanda, Sudan, Tanzania and Uganda.

All the Nile countries express a serious concern about the need for joint discourse and will pursue this under a transitional agreement until a permanent framework for the NBI is in place. Without action today the riparian countries believe that problems including famine, poverty and environmental degradation will worsen.

NBI is governed by a Council of Ministers (Nile-COM) made up of water affairs ministers of the Nile basin states.The Council is the main policy and guidance forum for Nile basin co-operation and is supported by the Nile Technical Advisory Committee (Nile-TAC), which consists of senior officials from the various countries.

The initiative needed a nucleus for planning and co-ordination of its activities and so a secretariat was developed to provide administrative, financial and logistical support to Nile-TAC and Nile-COM. Known as Nile-SEC, this began functioning on 1 June 1999 under the authority of Nile-COM. The secretariat offices, in Entebbe, Uganda, were formally opened on 3 September 1999 by government minister Henry Muganwa Kajura of Uganda.


Nile-SEC will eventually be financed by contributions from all riparian countries. But for the first six months of its operations it has been financed by the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA). CIDA has developed a Nile basin support project which is anticipated to last for five years and will cost US$7-10M.

According to CIDA project officer Dirce Menezes Dufresne, the goal of the project is to promote peace, dialogue and development among Nile basin countries. It is hoped that outputs of the project will include:

•Strategic interventions.

•Support of Nile river basin initiatives.

•Co-ordination of donor and riparian country plans.

•Organisation of the Nile 2002 conference.

•Establishment of plans for sustainability.

The Nile basin countries realise that development of Nile water will require significant financial resources. They are calling on the international community to provide support through the International Consortium for Co-operation on the Nile (ICCON). This consultative forum will seek co-ordinated and transparent financing for the co-operative management and development of water resources and other related projects in the basin.

The co-operative framework

Apart from CIDA, donors include the World Bank and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). For several years UNDP has been developing a Nile river basin co-operative framework, which aims to support the Nile river basin countries in defining an adequate and acceptable framework for co-operation. Such a framework is necessary if basin-wide co-operation in integrated water resources planning and management is to be attained.

The US$3.2M co-operative framework project was signed in October 1997, following pre-project workshops undertaken during that year. Each minister of water resources of the Nile Basin countries has appointed three expert panel members, and these form the forum for dialogue on the development and design of the co-operative framework. The draft co-operative framework will be presented to Nile-COM at its next meeting in early 2000.

NBI says it now has support from other development partners, including the Food and Agricultural Organisation and the governments of Italy, Netherlands, Finland, UK, Germany, Norway and Sweden.


At the moment, the main activities of Nile-SEC are to complete the establishment of the offices and staff of the Secretariat, and prepare for ICCON meetings to be held in the second half of 2000. A great deal of work will be involved in the preparation of project proposals for the meeting. According to the World Bank, possible development projects under consideration include:

•Hydro power development and interconnection.

•Irrigation and drainage development.

•Environmental management.

•River regulation.

•Drought and flood control.

•Water use efficiency improvements.

NBI says its priority is strengthening the process of consultation to build trust and confidence between the riparian countries. Once this has been achieved, the inhabitants of the Nile basin can look forward to a brighter future.

NBI objectives

Develop the water resources of the Nile basin in a sustainable and equitable way to ensure prosperity, security and peace for all its peoples.
Ensure efficient water management and the optimal use of the resources.
Ensure co-operation and joint action between the riparian countries.
Eradicate poverty and promote economic integration.
Ensure that the programme results in a move from planning to action.