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NILE DAY 22nd February 2017, Dar-es-Salaam, Tanzania.

Your Excellency Samia Suluhu Hassan, Vice President of the United Republic of Tanzania;
Honourable Sam Cheptoris, Minister for Water and Environment, Republic of Uganda, and Chairman of The Nile Council of Ministers;
Honourable Gerson Lwenge, Minister of Water, United Republic of Tanzania;
Honourable Ministers;
Honourable Members of Parliament;
Excellencies Ambassadors and High Commissioners;
Chairperson of the Nile Basin Discourse;
Members of the Nile Technical Advisory Committee;
Management and Staff of the Nile Basin Initiative;
Fellow Participants;
Ladies and Gentlemen.

I start my discourse today by thanking Almighty God for the opportunity, a wonderful opportunity for that matter, availed to us to meet here in Dar es Salaam as we mark another Nile Day today.

Let me also use this opportunity to thank the Nile Basin Initiative (NBI) and the Ministry of Water of the United Republic of Tanzania for honour you have done me, to invite me to be a Keynote Speaker to this august assembly of custodians and friends of the Nile. It is said of the Nile that once you taste or drink its water, the Nile will always be in your blood. My presence here before you attests to these words of sage. For ever since I visited Jinja, and Cairo in the 1970s and 1980s respectively, my association with the Nile has always been paramount in my work.

Upon being invited as a Keynote Speaker I was advised to confine myself to the theme of today's Nile Day, Nile Day 2017: One Shared Nile - Source of Energy, Food and Water for All. It is indeed a fitting theme, and a wide theme too. As I was considering the subject matter of my address I reflected with amazement how relevant is the theme of the Nile Day to human existence. The air that we breathe, the water which is life, and the soil from we and most forms of life derive our existence, kind of define the theme of Nile Day 2017.

The derivative I am referring to can be summarised as the environment of the River Nile and its Basin. Much has been heard about disagreements concerning water allocation and rights and responsibilities concerning the use of the Nile waters. For water to be allocated and used, it must be sourced, conserved and and protected, for its flow sustained. As such I intend to share with you what I believe will be non-controversial a subject matter: The Environment: A basis for Energy, Food and Water Security in the Nile River Basin. I wish to share with you some thoughts on: Sustainable Development and the Environment of the Nile Basin; the conservation and protection of land, water, and water catchment areas of the Nile Basin; Climate vulnerability and impacts of climate change; the environment of the Nile Basin in the context of the Cooperative Framework Agreement and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and recommendations for attention and action.

 Land, air and water are the basic life supporting system. This triple life system provides the core of the definition of the environment. For, the environment is variously defined as encompassing air, land, and water; plant and animal life including human life, the social,  economic, recreational, cultural and aesthetic conditions and other factors that influence the lives of human beings, animals, plants, and other micro-organisms. The environment encompasses both the natural and the built environment and how they relate to each other.

Sustainable development has been succinctly defined in the Brundtland Report on the World and the Environment: Our Common Future as “development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs” Put simply sustainable development is about the sustenance of natural systems to continue to provide the natural resources and ecosystem services upon which the economy and society depends. In the context of the River Nile and its Basin, sustainable development refers to the sustenance of land, water, air, climate, to continue to provide the River Nile, its sources and tributaries, with continuous supply of water for human, plant and animal life and for social and economic development, now and in the future. This in brief is the essence of Environment and Sustainable Development of the Nile River Basin.

Concerns have been expressed by some riparian states of the River Nile about water security. To me this concern would seem to be  of the medium term. I humbly submit that we should all be mindful of the imperative to sustain the flow of the Nile now and in the long term. It is the environment of the upper Nile Basin which should concern us all. For this is the water tower of the Nile Basin. The water tower includes the following sub basins of the Nile:

The Lake Victoria sub basin comprises of the equatorial highlands of Rwanda, Burundi, Uganda and Tanzania and the Lake zones of Tanzania Kenya and Uganda. This sub basin of the Nile Basin receives precipitation between 700mm and 2000mm per annum. Precipitation over Lake Victoria is of the order of 1600mm annually, and is about the same as the amount lost to evaporation.

The floodplains of Bahr el Ghazal in north west of South Sudan and south west of Sudan drain the Na’am, Gel, Tonj, Jur, and Lol rivers. These rivers are sourced from the highlands which form the watershed between the Congo River Basin and the Nile River Basin.

The Western Ethiopian Highlands are the source of the Blue Nile, the Sobat, and the Atbara or Tekeze rivers. These tributaries of the Nile from the Ethiopian Highlands, for the four to six months that precipitation occurs contribute to contribute 86 percent of the waters of the Nile in any one year.

The contribution of the equatorial great lakes region to the waters of the Nile,  while a mere 14 percent is considerable. For the flow from the great lakes is almost constant throughout the year, giving the Nile the character of continuous flow all the year round, utility and navigability.

Of interest and for the sustainable flow of the river are the marshlands of the Nile Basin. The Sudd in South Sudan is one of the largest wetlands in the world. The Sudd is the natural filter and regulator of the flow of the White Nile. This regulation gives the White Nile and therefore the Nile, its continuous flow. Evapotranspiration and evaporation is considerably high. It is estimated that only 50 percent of the water passing through the Sudd exits as output. The wider Sudd includes the marshlands of Bahr el Ghazal, Bahr el Jebel, and the Machar.

The equatorial highlands, wetlands, rivers and lakes, the Ethiopian highlands, rivers and lakes and the marshlands of the Sudd are what sustain the River Nile and the lower Nile River Basin and riparian states.

In making a case for the riparian states of the Nile to give more attention to the protection of the Nile Basin I will restrict my remarks to a call for a basin wide strategy for the conservation of land and the protection, watersheds, and sources of tributaries of the Nile and the River Nile itself.

The majority of the population in the upper riparian states are smallholder peasants and livestock herders. They depend mainly on rain fed agriculture. According to the United Nations the world population is expected to increase from almost 7 billion today to 9.1 billion by 2050. The population of the Basin states is expected to grow from 424 million in 2010 to 624 million in 2030. This will translate into a large increase in demand for natural resources, food and water. Natural resources, land and water included, are finite. The competition for land and water in the Nile Basin will be a major challenge to the population of the basin and planners. The importance of natural vegetation in the natural water cycle and rainfall cannot be overemphasised. Population increase will exert pressure on the natural vegetation due to demand for farming and for livestock keeping. Runoff would increase leading to increased sedimentation in the tributaries and the river Nile. Increased use of fertilizers coupled with increased runoff in the highlands will lead to salinization of water, degradation of the quality of soil and water, the filling of reservoirs leading to a reduction of energy in the form of hydropower and vital water supply.

Agriculture claims more than two thirds of water withdrawn from the earth’s lakes, rivers and groundwater aquifers. In many areas the use of water for agriculture is highly inefficient. In some places as much as 85 percent of water diverted for irrigation does not reach the intended crop. Wasteful irrigation practices entail loss of precious water and causes waterlogging and salinization.

Anthropogenic or human related causes of major environmental catastrophes that have caused havoc to land and water are real. Lake Chad Basin is a case in point. Lake Chad is shared by Chad, Cameroon, Niger, and Nigeria. In 1963 the lake covered an area of 25,000 sq. km. By the year 2007 the lake had shrunk to 1850 sq. km, about one twentieth of its size in the 1960s.

The Aral Sea, shared by Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan is another classic example of a human-induced environmental disaster. In 1960 the Aral Sea covered an area of 68,000 sq. km. By 1998 the sea had shrunk to 28,687 sq. km. In 2004 the Aral Sea had been reduced to a mere 17,160 sq. km. The main cause of the disappearance of much of the Aral Sea was the diversion of the Amu Darya and Syr Darya, the two rivers flowing into the Sea, for irrigation purposes during the Soviet era.

From the foregoing clearly humanity has a destructive capacity of immense proportion on the environment. The River Nile and its tributaries are a victim of another human induced catastrophe, the water hyacinth. The water hyacinth (Eichhornia crassipes) has its origins and is native to Amazon Forest in South America. It has spread rapidly across the world because of its beautiful violet and purple ornamental flower. As an invasive and alien species outside the Amazon, the water hyacinth has been classified by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) as one of the 100 most aggressive invasive species, one of the top worst weeds, and indeed the worst water weed. It is efficient in the use of solar energy and water nutrients in the production of biomass. It is prolific in spreading in lakes, wetlands, marshes and ponds in the River Nile Basin. The water hyacinth  has led to destruction of biodiversity; prevention of oxygen transfer  from the air to the water surface; reduction of water quality; clogging of waterways this hampering transport, hydropower, agriculture, fisheries, tourism and recreation; and an increase in pests and water borne vectors causing malaria, typhoid, dysentery, schistosomiasis, rift valley fever, E coli infection, bilharzia, and cholera. The blockage of waterways by the water hyacinth renders many areas infested by the weed prone to flooding.

First seen in Egypt in the 1890s the water hyacinth has spread along the full length of the River Nile Basin such that by the 1990s it had covered much of the coastline of Lake Victoria. Control measures against the water hyacinth have included: mechanical and manual removal of the weed; chemical control through use of herbicides; biological control through the introduction of weevil beetles (Neochetina spp) and water hyacinth moth species (Niphograpta albiguttalis and Xubida infusella); utilization of the weed as an alternative energy source, the manufacture of household articles and other artisanal goods, and as animal feedstock.

The aforementioned measures have been applied towards the control of the weed in Lake Victoria through the Lake Victoria Environment Management Project (LVEMP). The term control is used to signify the difficulty of eradicating the weed. Its spread can be minimised at a particular place only to appear lat another location later. A basin-wide approach to the control of the water hyacinth on a long term and sustained programme could be economically beneficial measure against the costs of dealing with the negative effects of the weed. Over the last century the lower riparian states of the River Nile, Egypt and Sudan have acquired considerable knowledge and knowhow on the management and control of the water hyacinth. This knowledge, and together with the experience gained in the implementation of the LVEMP, should be invaluable as the River Nile riparian states continue to struggle to ameliorate the effects of the water hyacinth.

In my opening remarks I did allude to the fact that land, water, and air broadly define the term “environment”. A sound environment is the basis of our existence and that of biodiversity in general. Land and water provide the Nile River Basin population with food and energy. The imperative of preservation of the environment for sustained availability of land for food, and water for survival, is well understood, and is the essence of the aforesaid. The question is how do we proceed as River Nile riparian states to address together the formidable but manageable responsibility of preserving the environment of the Basin in order to sustain the flow of water for the benefit of all? I am immediately reminded of work that my colleagues and I undertook in 2006 when we formulated a national strategy to combat the degradation of land and water catchment areas. I draw heavily from that work as I propose that we formulate An Integrated Nile Basin Strategy to Combat the the Degradation of Land and Water Catchment Areas (Nile-SLAWACA). The Nile-SLAWACA should aim at identifying specific challenges on land and water catchment, tributary and River Nile water degradation across the entire Basin. The Strategy has to identify areas affected and measures and strategic actions required to address specific challenges, the timeframe for the implementation of the actions, and the players, stakeholders, and national, regional and international institutions responsible for implementation.

The Nile-SLAWACA could seek to address among others, the following challenges, and identify strategic actions to be taken: Environmental degradation from arising human activities related to unacceptable land use practices including farming and human settlements near river banks  and around water sources; environmental degradation due to encroachment of water sources and water catchments by large concentrations of livestock beyond the carrying capacity of land; environmental degradation of the Basin caused by deforestation and massive natural tree cutting for fuelwood, charcoal, and construction activities in rural and especially urban areas; unsustainable small and large scale irrigation projects and programmes; environmental degradation due to wildfires; land and water degradation resulting from alien invasive species; combating drought and desertification; land use conflicts among farmers and livestock keepers; environmental degradation arising from mining activities on watersheds, in water sources and along tributaries and the River Nile; identification of traditional and indigenous knowledge for environmental protection; and public awareness and community participation in environmental protection through sustainable utilisation of natural resources including land and water.

The climate system provides a dynamic link between land and water. The question now is not whether climate will change in response to the increase in greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, but rather what would be the magnitude, which regions would be impacted, and how should the international community cope with the impacts. Even climate deniers and climate sceptics are beginning to appreciate human contribution to the build-up of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. Climate change will have the following adverse impacts to the Nile River Basin: changes in surface water flows; increase in droughts with dry regions becoming drier; impacts on agriculture and fisheries; sea level rise in the Mediterranean; impacts on human settlements, the ecology and biodiversity; increased flood potential; and negative impacts on human health. Despite recent setbacks, specifically what seems to be a retreat by the present American Administration, the international community under the Paris Agreement recognises that developing countries, including those in the Nile River Basin will be severely impacted by climate change and need to be assisted in order to cope with the changes. Climate change adaptation requires basin-wide cooperation.

The sustained flow of water in the Nile River Basin is a function of ecosystem management and efficient utilisation of water, or water efficiency. While rain fed agriculture predominates agriculture in much of the Nile River Basin, irrigation is the mainstay of agriculture in the lower riparian states. According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), irrigated agriculture contributes 40 percent of the global food supply from 20 percent of cultivated area, and accounts for 70 percent of water extracted from surface sources. As demand for food increases due to population increase in the Nile River Basin so will the demand for water. As much as 80 percent of water extracted for irrigation does not reach the plant. Scope for efficiency improvement in irrigation systems abound. Technological solutions include use of drip irrigation, sprinkler irrigation, and construction and maintenance of irrigation structures such as lining of primary and secondary canals. Efficiencies of up to 90 percent can be attained through use of pressurised systems. In agriculture attention should shift from; more crop from more drops of water, to more crop per drop, and aiming for more crop per less drop. The experience of Egypt and Sudan in improved irrigation systems could be of benefit throughout the rest of the Nile River Basin.

Presently more than 50 percent of the world’s population are urban dwellers. By 2030 this proportion will have grown to 60 percent. By 2010 about 30 percent of the Nile Basin population was urban. The trend is for the proportion of urban population to increase. According to the Nile Basin Water Atlas by the year 2050 the urban population will be above 50% in Egypt, Rwanda, Tanzania, and the Democratic Republic of Congo. The proportion will be between 40 percent and 50 percent in Eritrea, Kenya, and Sudan, and between 30 percent and 40 percent in Uganda, Ethiopia, and South Sudan. In sub-saharan Africa and in the Nile River basin the majority of these urban dwellers will live in slums. In the Nile River Basin the population will be concentrated mainly in Mwanza, Musoma, Bukoba, Kisumu, Jinja, Kampala, Juba, Malakal, Khartoum, Omdurman, Atbara, Bahir Dar, Addis Ababa, Gondar, Aswan, Luxor, Cairo, Damietta and Alexandria. Urban development will impact land use and agriculture due to the demand for urban housing. The demand for water for industrial and residential use in urban areas will also increase considerably, as will the output in the form of industrial wastewater and sewerage. Municipal Authorities in towns and cities in the Basin use the lakes, tributaries and the River Nile to dispose of untreated or poorly treated wastewater and sewage.  In order to curb water pollution and promote water efficiency, the adoption of recycling and cleaner technologies will be essential.

The case being made in the foregoing is that for sustainable development, the present and future  demand for energy, food and water in the Nile River Basin should be met, but not at the expense of environmental degradation and pollution of the waters. This is the essence of “decoupling” which has been defined by the International Resource Panel of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) as: breaking the link between the imperative of human well-being, economic growth and environmental degradation. Decoupling can either be resource-wise or impact-wise. Resource decoupling involves reducing the intensity of energy, water, and material use of the economy achieved through resource efficiency increase or increase in resource productivity. Impact decoupling involves the reduction of the environmental impact of economic activities. It would be instructive if we could compare the water intensity of economic growth among the Nile River Basin states over a desirable period in order to explore and exploit decoupling as a tool for environmental and water management.

Having participated in NILE-COM meetings and negotiations which resulted into the Agreement on the Nile River Basin Cooperative Framework (CFA) it may be worthwhile to put my remarks in the context of the Agreement. In the Preamble to the CFA the States of the Nile River Basin proclaim the conviction that a framework agreement…..will promote integrated management and sustainable development….as well as...conservation and protection [of water resources] for the benefit of present and future generations. Member states are motivated by the desire to strengthen their cooperation….in relation to the sustainable development of the Nile River Basin. Nile River Basin Member States are also convinced that it is their mutual interest to establish an organisation to assist them in the management and sustainable development of the Nile River Basin for the benefit of all. In addition, Member States are mindful of the global initiatives for promoting cooperation on integrated management and sustainable development of water resources.

The Preamble sets the intent of the Member States to cooperate for the sustainable development of the Nile River Basin. This intention is captured in the General Principles as articulated in Article 3 of the CFA as follows:
(1)The principle of cooperation… order to attain optimal utilization and adequate protection and conservation of the Nile River Basin….
(2)The principle of sustainable development of the Nile River Basin
(3)The principle that the Nile Basin States take all appropriate measures, individually, and where appropriate, jointly, for the protection and conservation of the Nile River Basin and its ecosystem
(4)The principle of environmental impact assessment
(5)The principle that freshwater is a finite and vulnerable resource…...and must be managed…. in an integrated and holistic manner, linking social and economic development with the protection and conservation of natural resources.
(6)The principle that water is a natural resource having social and economic value whose utilization should give priority to…. the safeguarding of the ecosystem.

The CFA does operationalize the intent and principles set forth in the foregoing in the following Articles:
Article 6 is all embracing and is about the protection and conservation of the Nile River Basin and its ecosystems. It requires Member States to protect and improve water quality within the Nile River Basin; to prevent the introduction of species, alien or new into the Nile River Basin, species which may be detrimental to the ecosystem; to protect and conserve wetlands and biological biodiversity; and to restore and rehabilitate the degraded natural resource base.

Article 9 on environmental impact assessment and audits is relevant to environmental protection. Article 11 on prevention and mitigation of harmful conditions; Article 12 on emergency situations; Article 13 on protection of the Nile River Basin and related installations in time of armed conflict and Article 14 on water security; relate to the protection of the environment of the Basin in order to ensure sustained flow of the River Nile for, its use by, and benefit of, the present and future generations. The Article on water security is referenced here because there can be no water security in the event of extreme environmental degradation of the Nile River Basin.

The aspirations of Member States of the Nile River Basin to protect and preserve the environment in order to sustain the flow of the water into the River Nile are consistent with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Goal 1 is about ending poverty in all forms everywhere. This Goal is consistent with the overarching desire of Member States of the Nile River Basin to cooperate in order to achieve sustainable development. Goal 2 seeks to end hunger and all forms of malnutrition through sustainable agriculture and food production by the year 2030. Promotion of sustainable agriculture in the Nile River Basin underpins cooperation among Member States in particular because of the land and water stress resulting from population pressure. Goal 3 aims, among other things, to end epidemics of major communicable diseases including environmental diseases. Goal 3 is perhaps most relevant. It addresses the availability of safe and clean drinking water through sustainable management of water resources and improved sanitation and hygiene. Goal 7 is about the promotion of wide access to reliable and affordable energy  including the use of hydropower which is a renewable energy, subject of course to conservation and protection of the environment. Goal 12 aims at promoting sustainable production and consumption practices including the management of toxic materials; Goal 13 is about taking urgent action to combat climate change,  and more relevant to us, to respond to its impacts. Goal 14 seeks to promote conservation and sustainable use of oceans, seas and marine resources. Goal 15 aims at the protection and restoration of degraded lands, biodiversity, and combating desertification.

Sustainable Development Goals have moved the bar from consideration of water, to water and sanitation. Just like water for all, sanitation for all is a challenge that has eluded us over the last 50 years. Globally in 2015 over 2 million people including 300,000 children under-five years of age died from water and sanitation related diseases. The elimination of water-borne diseases requires promotion of basic hygiene including improved latrines and safely managed sanitation for all. A Basin-wide water strategy should invariably take the sanitation sector into account.

In this address concentration has been given to the imperative for the conservation and protection and efficient utilization of land, watersheds, and water sources in the Nile River Basin. While the CFA calls for action on the basis of the principle of subsidiarity, the Nile is one river and sourced from one basin. A coordinated and basin-wide approach to the protection of the Nile River Basin is essential and necessary. Thus far discussions on cooperation among the riparian states of the basin have concerned the distribution of a diminishing resource, water.  We should perhaps focus more on conservation, protection and preservation of the environment of the Nile River Basin, and the efficient utilization of the River, in order to ensure the sustainability of water, which we can then share equitably. This is the essence, and the basis of water security for sustainable human development.

The Sanitation, and Water for All meeting of Ministers held in Addis Ababa in 2016 identified five key building blocks for a strategy to reach the water Sustainable Development Goals: Sound Policy Formulation; Finance; Planning, Monitoring and Review; Capacity Development; and Institutional Arrangements. The agenda I have proposed in the foregoing is loaded. The Nile Basin Initiative (NBI) was supposed to be a transitional institutional arrangement towards the Nile Basin Authority. It has now taken the form of a permanent transitional arrangement. It is high time the Nile Council of Ministers urged Member states to finalise the ratification, acceptance, approval or accession to the Nile River Basin Cooperative Framework Agreement (CFA).

I wish to end my remarks with the parable of a village hunter as recounted to us by sage:
A famous village hunter went on a mission to procure wildlife for the food needs of his village and his family. Renowned for hunting as he was, yet he could not encounter an animal to spear. At the end of three days exhausted as he, was luck came upon him but all he was able to procure was a rabbit. Upon returning to the village, whose expectations were high, a struggle ensued with every able bodied man wanting the best part of the miserable little animal. Old people, wisdom not diminished, reminded the youth that when they were young in the good old days, wildlife and therefore food was plentiful, and the forest was full of trees and ush vegetation. If the young people wanted food, they advised, they should reclaim the forest and in the meanwhile increase the manpower required for hunting.

As an anecdote, I am reminded of my days in the Council of Ministers during which the Minister responsible for finance would present his draft budget for the following fiscal year. Discussions would start by the Chairperson saying: “before us is the proverbial rabbit, let us see how we can share the meat”. Each of us would, sweating profusely, protest vehemently at the “massive” reduction of our ministerial budgets, invariably without proposing sources and means for extra revenue, or how an extra fat rabbit could be procured. After every one of us had a chance to complain and protest, the gable would go down after the declaration “ the rabbit is so shared and the draft budget approved.

In the context of my address to you, and in the context of the Nile River Basin, the moral of the parable of the rabbit, and the anecdote of the national budget process, is that we are prepared to vehemently and passionately disagree about the sharing the waters of the Nile and forget that we have to conserve, preserve and protect the basin environment and ecosystem and to efficiently utilize the water, for the sustained flow of the Nile and for sustainable human development.

Receiving an award from HE Samia Suluhu Hassan, Vice President of Tanzania during the 2017 Nile Day Celebrations, hosted by Tanzania, in Dar es Salaam, on 22 February 2017
©Mark Mwandosya

Copyright© 2017 Mark Mwandosya. All rights reserved


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