(Reuters) - Egypt has been at odds with upriver nations over their efforts to overturn colonial era-treaties granting it a lion’s share of the river’s flow.
Six Nile basin countries signed a deal last year for a more equitable distribution of water shares and that would strip Egypt of its veto over hydro-power projects upstream.
Egypt is now confronted with new realities as an independent South Sudan is born.
The new state has not declared its stand on Nile waters but analysts say it is likely to join East African allies pushing to seal the new treaty, heightening fears in Cairo that water scarcity thought as early as 2017 will come even sooner.
Following are key facts on the Nile and its water:
The Nile, whose name comes from the Greek word “Nelios,” meaning river valley, is the longest river in the world.
The Nile stretches some 6,695 km (4,184 miles) from Lake Victoria to the Mediterranean, and covers an area of at least 3,349,000 square kilometers.
The Blue Nile rises in Ethiopia and provides 85 percent of the overall flow of the river. Flowing north from Kenya’s Lake Victoria, Africa’s largest lake, the White Nile runs through Uganda and into Sudan, where it meets with the Blue Nile at the Sudanese capital Khartoum. The Nile flow north toward Egypt.
The 10 Nile Basin countries are Burundi, Democratic Republic of Congo, Egypt, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya, Sudan, Rwanda, Tanzania and Uganda. South Sudan is the 11th riparian state.
Mountainous Burundi, Uganda, and Tanzania get relatively high rainfall, along with Democratic Republic of Congo and Rwanda, which also have abundant water resources.
Just a 10th of semi-arid Kenya is within the basin, but Nile waters support about 40 percent of Kenya’s population.
Ethiopia and Eritrea both have high rainfall, but it is typically seasonal and lasts for only four-months of the year.
Eritrea’s contribution to the Nile river’s runoff is very small and it is the only country out of the 10 that is not a member of the Nile Basin Initiative, a World Bank-sponsored program set up to help manage Nile waters.
Eritrea is not participating in the initiative nor is it involved with the new pact.
The Nile River flows through six of the world’s poorest countries, home to over 300 million people, the majority of whom live in rural areas.
This agreement was signed between Egypt and Britain, which represented at the time Uganda, Kenya, Tanganyika (now Tanzania) and Sudan. The document gave Cairo the right to veto projects higher up the Nile that would affect its water share.
This accord between Egypt and Sudan, supplementing the previous agreement, gave Egypt the right to 55.5 billion cubic meters of Nile water a year and Sudan 18.5 billion cubic meters per year.
Both the 1929 and 1959 agreements have created resentment among other Nile states and calls for changes to the pact, that have been resisted by Egypt. It is not clear if Egypt will change that position with a new, elected government.
The Nile Basin receives annual average rainfall of about 650 mm (26 in), some 10 percent of what Europe’s Rhine Valley gets.
Poor water management is a problem in the basin. An average of up to 30 percent of the region’s rainfall is lost before it can be put to productive use.
Egypt, with rainfall close to zero except for along the Mediterranean coast and some parts of the Sinai Peninsula, gets almost 90 percent of its water needs from the river.
Agriculture accounts for at least 80 percent of all water consumption in the basin. Experts call for better and more integrated use of water resources, saying many countries have been slow to adopt improved irrigation techniques.
The most common method remains flood irrigation, which has been found to be inefficient and wasteful.
Sources: Reuters, Nile Basin Initiative, World Bank, United Nations Environmental Program, United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization.
Writing by Dina Zayed; Editing by Edmund Blair and Michael Roddy