Shared water, shared vision
Promoting equitable use of, and benefits from, water resources along the Nile
For the ten countries sharing the world’s longest river, water scarcity concerns are rising faster than the tide. That’s because, while the Nile stretches over 6 800 km and the river basin covers an area of approximately 3.1 million square kilometres – around 10 percent of the African continent – its water discharge is relatively small.
With a total population of around 370 million people, these countries – Burundi, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Egypt, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya, Rwanda, Sudan, Tanzania and Uganda – are attempting to make the most of their scarce water resources by negotiating a new water sharing agreement through the Nile Basin Initiative (NBI), a regional partnership created by the Nile states to facilitate the common pursuit of sustainable development and management of the Nile's waters.
Source of life, livelihoods
Agriculture is the dominant economic sector in most of the Nile Basin countries, five of which are among the world’s poorest, and reliable access to water remains key to increasing agricultural productivity, providing employment, and raising the standards of living of the people residing there.
“A regional appreciation of the baseline conditions - agricultural productivity, regional food security and the depth of the rural economy - can be difficult to grasp,” says Bart Hilhorst, FAO’s Chief Technical Adviser in Entebbe, Uganda. “Against a background of rapid population growth and rising commercial food import bills, the patterns of agricultural productivity are highly volatile, and below the Sudd, the only stability is offered by irrigated agriculture.”
Collaborative and sustainable development of shared water resources can attract investment and assist in alleviating poverty, Hilhorst says, but high population growth rates and accelerating environmental degradation narrow the window of opportunity to reverse negative trends in the region.
FAO has been working with participating country governments and the NBI to improve water resource management in the region by increasing access to information on the availability, use and development potential of the Nile’s water, and on the linkage between agriculture and water in the basin.
Armed with the latest water resource data, coupled with demographic, socio-economic and environmental information, decision makers can examine how specific policies and projected water-use patterns will affect their shared water resources.
The project draws on FAO’s experience and knowledge in agricultural water use, water productivity and rural livelihoods, as well as regional expertise. Issues and trends are presented in cartographic products using geographical information system (GIS) technology already established in the region.
“The hope is that this strengthened common knowledge base will translate into an enhanced ability to achieve water allocation that is effective, perceived as equitable and fair, and that fosters rural development, poverty alleviation and regional cooperation,” says Hilhorst.
The activities are being carried out under the umbrella of the Nile Basin Initiative, with funding of US$5 million from the Government of Italy. FAO’s current work builds on two previous projects funded by the Italian Cooperation Programme, which since 1996 has directed US$16 million towards improving water management in the Nile basin.
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