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International water issues

Ethiopia has seven transboundary rivers (Table 4), of which the Abbay river, part of the Nile basin, is the most important (Table 2). These important run-off flows to surrounding countries make Ethiopia the “Water Tower of East Africa”.

Ethiopia is a member of the Nile Basin Initiative (NBI), an inter-governmental partnership launched in 1999, together with ten other Nile riparian countries. Because both the 1929 and 1959 Nile Water Agreement assigned the Nile's water to Egypt and Sudan without including Ethiopia and the other riverside nations, the NBI was intended to strengthen the cooperation within the basin. The NBI, the headquarters of which are in Entebbe, Uganda, prepared a Strategic Action Programme, which consists of two sub-programmes: the Shared Vision Programme (SVP) and the Subsidiary Action Programme (SAP). The SVP is to help create an enabling environment for action on the ground through building trust and skill, while the SAP is aimed at the delivery of actual development projects involving two or more countries. Projects are selected by individual riparian countries for implementation and submitted to the Council of Ministers of the NBI for approval.

The NBI is intended to be a transitional institution until the Cooperative Framework Agreement (CFA) negotiations are finalized and a permanent institution created. This new Nile CFA was signed in 2010 by Ethiopia and four other countries–Kenya, Rwanda, Uganda and United Republic of Tanzania–and in 2011 by Burundi. Egypt strongly opposed this agreement which gives deciding power over large-scale hydraulic projects to a commission representing all the signatories, hence cancelling Egypt's historical right of veto. Pre-2011 Sudan, a traditional ally of Egypt, initially also rejected the agreement, but the new Sudan is now considering its signature due to increasing awareness of the unequal sharing and also hoping for benefits, in particular from the Ethiopian Renaissance dam, expected to be completed in 2017. Due to its proximity to the Sudanese border, the dam could provide water for vast areas of irrigable land in Sudan, as well as mitigate floods in the agricultural El-Gezira region and greater Khartoum. The Democratic Republic of the Congo is also still to decide upon the CFA signature, as well as South Sudan, moreover so since the water contribution of the latter is considerable. The CFA was ratified by Ethiopia and Rwanda in 2013 and by United Republic of Tanzania in 2015. Signature of all countries would help organize a comprehensive management of the water resources between the basin countries and find an agreed solution to multiple projects of dams on the Nile for hydroelectricity generation in Uganda (see also the country profile for Uganda). Despite there is no progress yet on the CFA, Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia have signed in 2015 the Agreement on Declaration of Principles on the GERD, on which Egypt and Sudan accept the GERD project and Ethiopia agreed on two studies on the impacts of the dam on the two downstream countries.

The Genale, Dawa and Shebelle rivers are part of the larger Shebelle-Juba basin, of which almost half lies within Ethiopia. No framework of cooperation between riparian countries exists for this basin.

The only significant transboundary lake is Lake Abbe, shared with Djibouti. It receives water mostly by the Awash river.

Table 5 below summarizes the transboundary aquifers shared with other countries.


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       Quote as: FAO. 2016. AQUASTAT website. Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO). Website accessed on [yyyy/mm/dd].
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