Water use and the Quest for Sustainable Development of the Eastern Nile Basin: An International Law Analysis

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Addis Ababa University


Water is an irreplaceable necessity to sustain life on earth. Its availability both in good quality and enough quantity is under threat as the world is believed to be facing water crisis. This paper dwells on the efforts in the Eastern Nile Basin to bring about sustainable development of the water resource. The Nile is one of the longest rivers of the world shared by 10 African nations, most of which are among the world’s poorest. The basin is home to more than 160 million people currently, a figure expected to double in the next 25 years. The rise in population number increases the demand for water for electric generation, agriculture and household uses putting the water resource under an even more stress. Environmental degradation, such as soil erosion and water pollution, are growing problems throughout the region, affecting agricultural productivity and exposing the population to water born diseases. At the face of such threat the isolated and uncoordinated national development plans in the basin are presenting a challenge for the efficient management of the river Nile. The three main actors in the ENB are Ethiopia, Sudan and Egypt. The water use prevailing in the basin currently is a lopsided one favoring mainly Egypt and to some extent Sudan. This inequitable use coupled with pressure from population growth, climate change and environmental degradation are presenting a formidable challenge to the sustainable use of the river Nile. Therefore, the integrated management of the river in a manner that takes in to consideration both the social and economic interests of the basin states over the water and the need to protect and preserve the water resource and its ecosystem has become an imperative. These countries, together with the rest basin states have resorted to a basin wide cooperation under the aegis of the NBI. The ENSAP, one of the subsidiary action programs of the NBI, has identified certain projects for the integrated development of the East Nile Basin, which is comprised of seven projects. They have in addition come up with a Joint Multipurpose Project that aim at facilitating the sustainable development and management of the Eastern Nile shared water resources to provide a range of transformational development benefits across sectors and countries. These projects will have significant effect both in promoting sustainable management of the water resource and steering cooperation in the basin. Parallel to these efforts the basin states as a whole have been negotiating a new cooperative framework which culminated in the opening for signature of the CFA, which among other things includes several principles and rules that are essential for the sustainable management of an international watercourse, such as the Nile. Sustainable development has become a familiar concept in international law. However there still is disagreement among scholars as to its definition and status as a principle of international law. Therefore the second chapter tries to look in to the development meaning and status of sustainable development under general international law and its place within international water law. In this part discussion on water use is made in line with the three pillars of sustainable development. The third chapter tries to give a general background to the ENB, focusing on the cooperative history in the basin, the bilateral agreements and the unsustainable manner of utilization they have established, geopolitics and the interests the three states have on the cooperative management and utilization of the river. The fourth chapter discusses current developments in the ENB, which will have significant effect on the sustainable development of the river. These efforts range from investment programs to negotiating a new legal regime and institutional mechanism that will play major role in the cooperative and sustainable management of the river. This part also looks in to the role of third parties, especially that of the WB, in assisting and facilitating the ongoing cooperation efforts among the basin states. At the end of this chapter the way forward is looked in to, where the challenges and prospects of sustainable management in the basin are presented. Chapter five brings the paper to the end. In here concluding remarks are made and recommendations forwarded in the hope that they might contribute to the sustainable development of the Nile in the ENB for the benefit of the millions within the riparian states and the many more generations to come.



Water is an irreplaceable, necessity to sustain life on earth.