Kenya signs Nile Basin deal rejected by Egypt

NAIROBI Wed May 19, 2010 6:54am EDT

A boat cruises on the Nile River during a massive sandstorm in Cairo April 17, 2007. REUTERS/Nasser Nuri

A boat cruises on the Nile River during a massive sandstorm in Cairo April 17, 2007.

Credit: Reuters/Nasser Nuri

NAIROBI (Reuters) - Kenya signed a new agreement to alter historic water sharing arrangements for the River Nile on Wednesday and said Egypt, which opposes the deal, had little choice but to join the other states.

After more than a decade of talks driven by anger over the perceived injustice of the previous Nile water treaty signed in 1929, Ethiopia, Uganda, Tanzania and Rwanda signed the deal last week, a move promptly challenged by Cairo.

"That treaty (1929) is obsolete. Nothing stops us to use the the water as we wish. It is now up to Egypt to come on board," Charity Ngilu, Kenya's minister of water, told a news conference.

The previous treaty gave Egypt the right to veto upstream projects that it thinks could interfere with the flow of the Nile, which stretches more than 6,600 km from Lake Victoria to the Mediterranean. Sudan has not signed the agreement.

Egypt, almost totally dependent on the Nile and already threatened by climate change, is closely watching hydro-electric dams in East Africa. The river is a vital water and energy source for all nine countries through which it flows.

Ngilu said the new agreement, which created a permanent commission to manage the water, would guarantee all the states adjoining the river equitable use of the resources.

Burundi and the Democratic Republic of Congo were expected to sign the deal soon, she added, and invited Sudan and Egypt to join them. "Two states cannot stop us from implementing this co-operative agreement," she said.

While Ethiopia wants to tap its immense water resources, Kenya is keen to ramp up food production through creation of irrigation schemes in its Lake Basin, the area around Lake Victoria in the west. It also wants to supply piped water to more homes.

"The government is constrained in its efforts to attract funding in order to put in place large scale investments that require international financing support such as dams," Ngilu said.

Some 85 percent of the Nile's waters originate from Ethiopia and the Lake Basin is estimated to harbour more than half of Kenya's surface water resources.

The minister said the Nile would not be on the agenda this weekend when she accompanies Kenyan Prime Minister Raila Odinga to Cairo on an official visit.

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