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"Water and Security in Africa," Remarks at a Conference Hosted by U.S. Department of State and AFRICOM

"Water and Security in Africa," Remarks at a Conference Hosted by U.S. Department of State and AFRICOM

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Published by David Shinn
Comments on the Nile Basin by David H. Shinn, adjunct professor, Elliott School of International Affairs, George Washington University, and former U.S. ambassador to Ethiopia and Burkina Faso, delivered at a conference Hosted by U.S. Department of State and AFRICOM in Arlington, Virginia, 21-22 July, 2011.
Comments on the Nile Basin by David H. Shinn, adjunct professor, Elliott School of International Affairs, George Washington University, and former U.S. ambassador to Ethiopia and Burkina Faso, delivered at a conference Hosted by U.S. Department of State and AFRICOM in Arlington, Virginia, 21-22 July, 2011.

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Published by: David Shinn on Jul 29, 2011
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1Water and Security in AfricaConference Hosted by U.S. Department of State and AFRICOMArlington, Virginia21-22 July, 2011Comments on the Nile Basin by David ShinnAdjunct Professor, Elliott School of International Affairs, George Washington UniversityA summary follows of my remarks on Nile Basin water issues during a panel discussionat the above mentioned conference on water and security issues in Africa:
The Nile Basin includes all or part of eleven countries. The most important countries inthe Basin are Egypt, Sudan, South Sudan, Ethiopia and Uganda. Smaller parts of theDemocratic Republic of the Congo, Rwanda, Burundi, Tanzania, Kenya and Eritreacomplete the Nile Basin watershed.
The problem of water cannot be separated from other security issues in the Nile Basincountries. Water contributes to conflict but has never been the sole reason for major conflict in the region.
Water and Examples of Conflict in the Nile Basin
Arguably, East Africa and the Horn is the most conflicted region in the world since theend of World War II. Water has been one of many factors behind this violence andusually not among the most important reasons. On occasion, however, water hascontributed directly to conflict.
In 1984, for example, the Sudan People’s Liberation Army halted work on the 175-milelong Jonglei Canal when it attacked the project headquarters. The Canal would havemoved an additional 4 billion cubic meters of water quickly from the south end of thehuge swamp known as the Sudd to its north end. This additional water would have beendivided equally between Sudan and Egypt. About two thirds complete, there has beenno work on the canal since 1984 and the project remains in limbo until South Sudandecides if it wants to resume the project.
Egypt’s interaction with Ethiopia, the source of about 86 percent of all the water reachingthe Aswan Dam, has always been dominated by Ethiopia’s position on use of Nile water.There have been occasions, for example with Egypt’s policy in Somalia, when Egypt hassupported positions hostile to Ethiopia in order to gain leverage for its Nile water interests.
Much of this region of Africa is pastoral with herders constantly seeking areas with morerain and better pasture. This has led to local conflicts dating back centuries, especially asdrought conditions force pastoralists to enter land traditionally considered to belong to
 
2other people. A case in point is the situation in Abyei along the North-South Sudan border. Most of the permanent residents are Ngok Dinka people with loyalties to SouthSudan. Each year, however, the Misseriya, a nomadic Arab people with ties toKhartoum, use the land for pasturage during the dry season. Because the political futureof Abyei remains in doubt, this situation led to serious conflict in the period leading upto independence in South Sudan and remains unresolved.
Drought can directly cause or exacerbate conflict. This occurred during the terriblefamine in Ethiopia in the mid-1980s when the government at the time tried to use thedrought for political advantage. The famine today in areas of southern Somaliacontrolled by the al-Shabaab extremist group is also contributing to conflict.
Key Water Related Issues
Water scarcity is the single biggest threat to food security in the region, and the countriesin the Nile Basin have increasingly been unable to meet local food requirements.
Conflict is most likely when a downstream riparian is highly dependent on river water and is militarily and economically strong in comparison to upstream riparians. Thisdescribes the situation between Egypt and upstream riparians.
In 1959, Egypt and Sudan divided the Nile water between them, about three quarters toEgypt and one-quarter to Sudan. Egypt has said consistently it is not prepared to give upits share.
Most upstream countries are seeking to use more water before it reaches Egypt.
This region has one of the highest population growth rates in the world. According toWorld Bank projections covering the period 2007-2015, Egypt has the lowest populationgrowth rate at 1.7 percent while Burundi has the highest at 3.5 percent. The populationgrowth rates for all Nile Basin countries except Egypt are 2.4 percent or higher.
About 220 million people live in the Nile Basin. Population in the basin is predicted todouble between 1995 and 2025.
There are good statistics dating back to 1870 on the amount of water reaching the AswanDam in Egypt. Although the flow has varied enormously on an annual basis andsometimes over decades, between 1870 and 1988 the average annual flow was 88 billioncubic meters. In more recent years, the average annual flow has been 84 billion cubicmeters. This suggests there may be a long-term decrease in the amount of water reachingEgypt.
While population growth can be predicted with some accuracy, the experts have notagreed on the impact of climate change except that they believe it will have a major impact on the quantity of water in the Nile Basin. While there could be more rain in theregion, there could just as likely be less rain. It is fairly certain, however, that there will be changes in the location of rainfall, disrupting existing agricultural patterns. This has
 
3already happened in recent decades. Drought and food shortages are occurring morefrequently in the region than in past centuries.
The amount of water in the Nile system is limited, the population is increasing andriparian needs for water are growing. This creates the potential for conflict.
Avoiding Conflict
The riparian countries have already taken some steps to minimize the possibility of conflict.
They created several organizations to resolve problems cooperatively.
The most important one is the Nile Basin Initiative (NBI), a regional partnership of riparians. Its mandate, however, is largely technical; it does not have the authority toresolve more important political differences.
The World Bank coordinates the International Consortium for Cooperation on the Nile(ICCON), which promotes financing for cooperative water resource development.
Some of these programs benefit riparians by improving water quality, encouragingcultivation of crops that require less water, reusing drainage water and improving theenvironment in watersheds.
There are some innovative proposals for regional resource sharing such as Sudan’s oil for Ethiopia’s excess hydro power capacity. For a good analysis of this issue, see HarryVerhoeven’s paper published by Chatham House atwww.chathamhouse.org.uk/files/19482_0611bp_verhoeven.pdf .
The long term solution, however, is regional economic integration that goes far beyondanything envisaged so far by the East African Community or the IntergovernmentalAuthority on Development.
Role for the United States
The United States should elevate Nile Basin cooperation to an important foreign policy priority in the region. This will require that U.S. ambassadors/embassies in the NileBasin think regionally and not just in terms of the bilateral relationship with the countrywhere the ambassador is assigned or embassy located.
Washington and U.S. personnel assigned to embassies in Nile Basin countries need tomake discussion of cooperative solutions for the use of Nile water a routine part of diplomatic dialogue.
The United States should support the Nile Basin Initiative, Nile Basin Trust Fund andICCON.

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