The world’s great river basins transcend national boundaries, and need of their waters has ignited many international conflicts. Fair distribution of river waters requires international cooperation and shared management of a limited resource that is precious to all.
International cooperation is mandatory along the banks of the world’s longest river—the Nile. From its headwaters in Burundi and Ethiopia the Nile flows over 6500 km and travels through ten different African nations before spilling into the Mediterranean at Egypt’s legendary Nile Delta.
The river unites some 160 million people, of many cultures and countries, in their shared reliance on its life-giving waters.
The Nile quenches thirst, produces electric power, nurtures crops, and sustains the river basin’s unique natural landscapes.
Because some of the Nile nations are among the world’s poorest, many Nile Basin inhabitants live at a sustenance level and depend directly on the natural bounty of the river ecosystems.
Yet current water supplies are barely adequate, and demand will only grow as the basin’s population is projected to double during the next 25 years.
The water policies of one Nile nation impact the resources available to others. Egyptians have long feared that upstream nations may restrict the life-giving waters that reach their border. When the river is dammed or diverted at one point along the river—even downstream, such as at Egypt’s massive Aswan High Dam—other communities and nations sharing the river may experience altered water flows, drastic environmental impacts, and even flooded communities.
In 1999, all ten Nile nations came together to form the Nile Basin Initiative (NBI). The NBI’s mandate is to promote cooperative development that will protect the Nile environment and provide equal benefit to all.
Burundi, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Egypt, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya, Rwanda, Sudan, Tanzania, and Uganda are sharing technical data, and socio-economic information, to see how the decisions they make affect water resources and to better plan basin-wide cooperation.
The initiative has a network of rainfall and evaporation gauges, compiles water and land use data, trains watershed managers to make the most of the limited water, and coordinates a regional power trading or power pooling scheme.
By working together, the Nile nations hope that cooperation—not conflict—will define the future of an important and increasingly scarce resource.