Solutions from science can quell war over Nile waters


The Nile Basin has abundant water resources and adequate rainfall.

Wednesday March 18 2020

Hardly a week passes without a story about the impending Nile water wars between Egypt and Ethiopia.

At the centre of the conflict is Africa’s largest hydro-electric plant, the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam, built on the Blue Nile near the Sudan border in 2011.

Egypt claims that the dam will reduce the amount of water reaching its population, and that the country’s survival is at stake. However, Ethiopia asserts that hydroelectric power stations do not consume water and all depends on how fast the huge dam fills up.

Ethiopia adds that it could even take a decade and a half to fill the dam, meaning that the normal flow of water will be maintained. Egypt is raising its claim of Nile water flow to 90 per cent from the original 66 per cent as a precautionary measure.

In Sudan, some experts say the dam will help regulate flooding of irrigation projects by creating a much-needed steady flow.


What is increasingly clear is that Egypt needs endless reassurances that no Nile Basin nation is plotting to use the Nile’s waters to cause death, destruction, starvation or economic sabotage. Egypt should take a more progressive approach that emphasises socio-economic progress and integration, driven by home-grown science, technology and innovation.

The Nile Basin has abundant water resources and adequate rainfall, but this seems deficient because of poor distribution and unwillingness to conserve excess rainfall. Experts are needed to address water conservation, land use, increasing pollution, climate change, forests and environmental conservation.

All Nile Basin countries have major roles to play in protecting and conserving their national and transboundary water resources that form the intricate web constituting the Nile.

Rainfall in western Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi and western Tanzania depends on winds picking moisture from the once dense equatorial rain forests of the Congo Basin. Therefore, these Nile Basin countries face major negative impacts due to the massive destruction of these forests.

Water catchment areas and indigenous forests need to be protected and rejuvenated for the good of the Nile.

While the Blue Nile from Ethiopia provides the bulk of the water reaching Egypt, there’s also the White Nile emerging from a spring in Lake Victoria. Attention should also be paid to all rivers flowing into the Nile, such as Kagera River with tributaries in Rwanda and Burundi.


Moreover, all rivers that flow into Lake Victoria should be at the centre of efforts to conserve water in the Nile Basin. Kenya and Tanzania, for example, should be encouraged to focus on major flooding rivers that drain into the Indian Ocean, to ease pressure on the exploitation of those that flow into Lake Victoria. The currently flooded Tana River, for example, can accommodate more huge dams, if necessary.

Sudan’s efforts to improve the Nile’s water flow by building canals to bypass floating vegetation obstructing the White Nile should also not be ignored.

To conserve water in the Nile Basin there is also need to adopt food and cash crops that use water efficiently or that use drip irrigation to reduce large-scale irrigation projects from turning landscapes into shallow lakes that breed disease-causing vectors. For example, Nile Basin countries should intensify research on the New Rice for Africa (NERICA), which does not need large-scale irrigated or flooded farmlands.

Unfortunately, such important projects that are linked to water conservation are overwhelmingly left to donors. The region should now take charge and tap into its pool of skilled scientists who are well-placed to help entrench sustainable water conservation technologies.

The region should also tap into its potential for solar and wind power to reduce the need for large hydroelectric projects.

Finally, the earth has its own disruptive activities that shape and reshape its physical and biological features. Therefore, peaceful resolution on the use the Nile’s waters for sustainable development is the only way forward.


Mr Owuor is the Editor ScienceAfrica.


Committee breaks impasse

Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia have agreed to set up a scientific committee to study a dam Ethiopia is building on a tributary of the Nile.

The announcement broke a long impasse in a dispute over Egyptian fears that the $4-billion Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam, being built on the Blue Nile, will affect the river’s downstream flows.

The three countries’ foreign and irrigation ministers, as well as heads of intelligence, met in Addis Ababa last week to discuss the scheme.

The project will feed a reservoir for a hydroelectric scheme producing 6,000 megawatts of power.

The foundation stone for the project was laid in 2011, and two of the 16 turbines are scheduled to start producing power this year.

Cairo is primarily concerned about the speed at which the dam’s reservoir would be filled.

The committee, made up of independent experts from universities of the three countries, will focus on the operation of the dam and the filling of the reservoir.

It will complete its work in three months.  AFP