Growing population, water needs make Nile cooperation a necessity, not a choice

By Emmanuel Ntirenganya

As population growth continues in the Nile Basin, Nile water will not be enough to cater for growing water demand to irrigate crops for food security, and electricity generation among other uses if no concerted efforts are made to increase water supply in the Basin.

Eng. Innocent Ntabana, Executive Director of Nile Basin Initiative (NBI) made such observation on Sunday in Kigali, during a press briefing ahead of the 5th Nile Basin Development Forum (NBDF) due in Rwanda from October 23 to 25, 2017.

This issue, which he said might be faced in some five years, calls for need for Nile cooperation and proper management of Nile water to respond to increasing water needs, and ecosystem conservation.

The 5th Nile Basin Development Forum 2017 is being held under the theme “Investing in Nile Cooperation for a Water Secure Future.”

More than 500 participants including Ministers in charge of Water Affairs and other government officials in Nile Basin countries, Members of Parliament, water resource managers, environmentalists, economists, development planners, academia and researchers, are in Kigali to deliberate on opportunities and challenges of Nile cooperation.

Other stakeholders are river basins organisations, regional, continental and international organizations, civil society, private sector as well as media practitioners.

“The growing demand for water for food [production], and energy provision, are the pressing needs that are impacting on the River water,” Ntabana said.

NBI Executive Director, Innocent Ntabana (R) speaking about the importance of Nile, challenges and opportunities which have to be harnessed, during a news conference in Kigali, on Sunday (Photo courtesy of NBI).

“The focus of the forum will be to tackle water scarcity to ensure that the future generation be ensured of water security,” he said.

River Nile — the World’s longest River with its 6,695 kilometres of length — slithering through its 11 riparian countries, has an average annual water discharge of 83 billion cubic metres, as figures from NBI show.

But, experts in the hydrology of the Nile contend that climate change especially drought lowers its water levels, an issue which is exacerbated by pollution of the River.

Sharecropper Mahoud on the southern bank of the Salam canal, Egypt, is fighting salt intrusion of his water resources, in 2016 (photo credit of Nile Water Lab).

NBI states that River Nile is a trans-boundary resource shared by those countries; but, with different and sometimes conflicting interests.

Projections from United Nations Population Division, and Nile Basin countries show that by 2050, the population living within the Nile Basin boundaries will reach 1 billion from the current 257 million — representing 53% of the total population of Nile Basin countries.

Trend in population growth and implications on water consumption

The average annual population growth rates between 2010/2015 were 3.2% in Burundi, 2.7% in DRC, 1.6% in Egypt, 2.6% in Ethiopia, 2.7% in Kenya, 2.7% in Rwanda, 2.1% in Sudan and 3.0% in the United Republic of Tanzania, and 3.3% in Uganda, as per statistics from Human Development Report 2015, by United Nations Development Fund (UNDP).

In all countries, urban population is expected to continue growing accompanied by a relative shrinking of rural population.

The population of Nile Basin countries grew by over four fold in 50 years between 1960 and 2010. As a result, the demand for food, energy and water has been escalating, and per capita water availability has been declining as the population has grown exponentially, according to The Nile Basin Water Resources Atlas launched in July 2016 .

It added that the proportion of urban population is expected to rise in all Nile Basin countries.

By 2050, the percentage of urban population is expected to reach above 50 percent of the total population in four of the 11 Nile Basin riparian states. In seven countries the urban pop-ulation makes up more than 40 percent of the total population.

The increase in urbanisation, and urban population, will result in increased water consumption in cities, consumption of more foods in such areas, as well as production of more wastes, which Dr. Abdulkarim H. Seid, head of Water Resources Management Department at Nile Basin Initiative, said will necessitate large water supply.

Indeed, urbanisation growth will result in pressure on natural resources and the environment as expansion of cities occurs generally at expense of destruction of forests; hence posing a risk of increasing pollution of water resources, according to the Water Atlas.

Dr. Seid said that, currently, most of the water consumption — about 70% — in the Nile Basin is used for agriculture irrigation.

The biennial (NBDF) Forum was first held in 2006. It is the second time Rwanda is hosting this NBI high-level event.

Its aim, organisers say, is to create communities of people who are well informed, actively engaged in and promoting Nile cooperation as the only means of achieving sustainable management and development of the shared Nile Basin water resources as well as addressing shared risks, threats and challenges across the Basin.

While talking about the rationale of the Forum, Trans-boundary Water Resources Initiative Specialist at the Rwanda Ministry of Environment, Nyirakamana Jacqueline said that the importance of Nile Cooperation in tackling multiple development challenges and taking advantage of opportunities, is offered by the Nile Basin Initiative for a win-win outcome, and is recognised by all Nile Basin countries.

“The common understanding is that cooperation is not a choice, but a must,” she said.


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Elias Hakizimana

Elias Hakizimana, CEO&Founder of The Inspirer Ltd,( is a professional Rwandan Journalist with Bachelor’s Degree in Journalism and Communication, received from University of Rwanda’s College of Arts and Social Sciences (CASS) in 2014. He served various media houses in Rwanda including Rwanda Broadcasting Agency (RBA) in 2013 and became passionate with English Online and Print Media Publications where he exercised his talent as a Freelance News Reporter for The New Times, The Independent, The Rwanda Focus, Panorama and more before he became a Self-Entrepreneur as the CEO and Founder of The Inspirer Limited in early 2017.

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