ADDIS ABABA (Reuters) - Five East African countries said on Sunday that they would not go back on a deal they signed to share River Nile waters that has drawn fierce criticism from Egypt and Sudan.
After more than a decade of talks driven by anger over the perceived injustice of a previous Nile water treaty signed in 1929, Ethiopia, Uganda, Tanzania, Rwanda and Kenya signed a deal last month without their northern neighbours.
“The signed (agreement) can’t be unsigned,” Ethiopian minister for water resources, Asfaw Dingamo, told reporters. “But we hope to reach a consensus and I hope to do it very soon.”
The five signatories have given the other Nile Basin countries — Egypt, Sudan, Burundi and the Democratic Republic of the Congo — one year to join the pact.
Stretching more than 6,600 km (4,100 miles) from Lake Victoria to the Mediterranean, the Nile is a vital water and energy source for the nine countries through which it flows.
Burundi and the Democratic Republic of the Congo have not signed the deal yet and have so far been tight-lipped about whether they plan to or not.
The latest meeting of the Nile Basin Initiative (NBI) ended with open disagreements at a press conference in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa on Sunday.
Sudanese water minister Kamal Ali Mohamed said his country would now stop cooperating with the NBI because the agreement raised legal issues.
“We are freezing activities regarding the NBI until these issues, these legal implications, are resolved,” Mohamed said.
The statement drew immediate fire from Asfaw who said the Sudanese had not revealed their intention to freeze cooperation during the two-day meeting.
Egypt’s Water Resources and Irrigation Minister, Mohamed Nasreddin Allam, told Reuters that a meeting to discuss the Nile agreement would be held in Nairobi between September and November. He did not give a precise date.
The official Egyptian news agency MENA said the meeting would be held but did not give more details. It said the other states had said they “understood Egypt and Sudan’s position ... and based on this an exceptional ministerial ... will be held to decide how to move forward in a matter that serves all Nile Basin states.”
Egypt, almost totally dependent on the Nile and already threatened by climate change, is closely watching hydroelectric dam construction in East Africa.
“Ask the Egyptians to leave their culture and go and live in the desert because (you) need to take this water and to add it to other countries? No,” Allam said.
Under the original pact Egypt, which faces possible water shortages by 2017, is entitled to 55.5 billion cubic metres a year, the lion’s share of the Nile’s total flow of around 84 billion cubic metres.
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.