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What happens when water has too many friends?

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Fela says Water has no enemy. What happens when Water has too many friends? What happens to the water? What happens to the friends? What happens when Water makes them enemies of one another? The waters of the Nile River, the longest river on Earth, is making enemies of the 11 nations of Africa of more than 300 million souls, that live along its route to the Mediterranean Sea. Ethiopia is building a dam on the Blue Nile that supplies 85% of the waters of the Nile River. The remaining 15% flows from Lake Victoria through the White Nile, which runs through Uganda into the Sudan where it meets the Blue Nile in Khartoum, capital of the country.

Egypt, my third country in Africa after Nigeria and South Africa, hardly gets any rainfall throughout the year. It depends on the Nile River for 90% of its water needs. When former Egyptian President Morsi heard about the Ethiopian Renaissance Dam, he threatened to send soldiers to stop Ethiopia. The dam on the Blue Nile might be re-birth for Ethiopia, it could be the death of Egypt. Since then the two countries in particular and other countries on the path of the Nile River have been negotiating. And recently, when the 42 year old new prime minister of Ethiopia, Abiy Ahmed, visited Cairo, President Sisi of Egypt made the Ethiopian Prime Minister swear publicly that he will do nothing to ‘hurt’ (in Arabic wallahi, led by President Sisi) the water interest of Egypt. The Prime Minister swore to general laughter in the audience.

Two agreements exist on the ownership of the waters of the River Nile. The first was signed in 1929 while the second was signed in 1959. In 1929 Egypt signed a colonial type agreement with, guess with which country? You are right – with Great Britain! Or did you think it was with an African country? The 1959 agreement was signed between Egypt and the Sudan.

That agreement gave Egypt control over the waters of the Nile River along with authority to veto any projects on the river. Britain was representing Uganda, Kenya, Tangayinka (now Tanzania), and Sudan.

The 1959 agreement gave Egypt the right to 55.5 billion cubic meters of Nike water a year and the Sudan 18.5 billion cubic meters of water per year.

Whoever made the statement that future world wars will be fought on water and the access to water ought to be praised for his or her foresight. A few years ago a science fiction film was made of an alien race that came out of space to Earth to steal our waters, fresh waters as well as salt waters. How did that film resolve the conflict?

In 2009 or thereabouts, I attended the 40th anniversary of Muamar Gadafi in power in Libya as a member of the Pan African Writers Association PAWA. During trips arranged for us to visit places in the country I asked to be taken to where Libya was mining water in the desert. Yes, there is water deep in the desert, pristine water available to the first person to reach it.

Libya is creating two rivers fed by these desert aquifers from below to make the ground above green again as it was millions of years ago. What is happening to that vision now?

Throughout the second half of the twentieth century the relation between the Arab countries in North Africa and the African countries South of the Sahara was dictated by Israel and apartheid South Africa. Every North African country calls itself the Arab one thing or the other include Africa-loving Libya which styles itself the Arab Republic of Libya. The Arab countries promised to support African countries against apartheid South Africa If these African countries in their numbers supported Arab countries against the state of Israel to make Palestine survive. Over the years, South Africa defeated apartheid and Israel, with the unflagging aid of the western countries, saw the back of the Arabs and Palestine. What next for Afro-Arab Relations? Up comes the question of the sharing of the waters of the Nile River.

Post colonial responses to the coloniser are to be seen in expressions of dissatisfaction against colonial agreements that disadvantaged Africans. The countries of the Nile River, Burundi, Democratic Republic of Congo, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya, Sudan, South Sudan, Rwanda, Tanzania and Ugandan wanted more of the Nile River. Egypt has been gracious enough to negotiate with them.

Only a 10th of Kenya is within the Nile basin, but the waters of the Nile support 40% of the population of Kenya. Ethiopia and Eritrea have rainfall for only four months of the year. Eritrea is not a member of the World Bank created Nile Basin Initiative set up to help manage the waters of the Nile. Most of the countries through which the Nile River flows are mainly rural and underdeveloped.

80% of the Nile River water is used for agriculture. A report by Reuters claims that experts “call for better and more integrated use of water resources, saying many countries have been slow to adopt improved irrigation techniques.” Flood irrigation remains the common method and this is considered inefficient and wasteful. So, some of the negotiation into the future would not be just about amounts of water to share but also how those shares are used. It would also take into consideration the rising of sea levels that is leading to saltwater invasion of the Nile as it enters the Mediterranean Sea. There is also the poor management of rainwater in the region leading to the loss of 30% of it before it can be used.

We need to be more conscious of not how we use water alone but how we misuse and abuse water. We can be grateful for the tropical rainfalls that we still enjoy. We need to capture rainwater rather than letting it flow away into wastes. We need to manage water from our springs and rivers and avoid polluting them. True water has no enemy. When something is dirty we wash it with water. Ifa asks when water is dirty with what shall we wash it?

bankole.omotoso@elizadeuniversity.edu.ng


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