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EGYPT: Cairo scoffs at new Nile water agreement

May 15, 2010 |  9:30 am

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Egypt, the largest user of Nile River water, has played down the importance of a new Nile Basin Cooperative Framework agreement that could limit how much water flows into the country. 

The treaty, signed Friday by Rwanda, Ethiopia, Uganda and Tanzania in the Ugandan city of Entebbe, will replace a 1959 agreement that secured Egypt its historic rights of Nile waters (55.5 billion cubic meters of water each year). Egypt and Sudan boycotted the meeting and have filed objections to the agreement.  

The new treaty comes after the collapse of negotiations between the river's source countries, including Rwanda, Ethiopia and Uganda, and the downstream nations, Egypt and Sudan, during a convention in Sharm el Sheik last month. Egypt, however, is unfazed by the new accord.

"Egypt and Sudan will not be legally committed to any agreements signed in their absence. The new treaty doesn't mean anything to both countries," Moufid Shehab, Egyptian Minister of Legal and Parliamentary Affairs, was quoted as saying by MENA news agency.

"We don't want to view it [the treaty] as a destructive act, but we never hoped this would happen because it completely goes beyond the frame of cooperation," he added.

Nile upstream countries, which also include the Democratic Republic of Congo, Burundi and Kenya, have long demanded a new pact to regulate an equitable sharing of Nile waters. They also oppose Egypt's veto power on new irrigation projects in their nations, a right granted to Egypt by a colonial agreement signed with Great Britain in 1929. Such changes could reduce how much water flows into Egypt before the 4,163-mile river reaches the Mediterranean Sea.  

While the Democratic Republic of Congo and Burundi were not represented during Friday's accord, Kenya issued a statement of support and announced its willingness to sign the treaty as soon as possible. Egyptian experts have previously warned that jeopardizing the country's shares of Nile water could expose Egypt to a serious water crisis within the next few years.

-- Amro Hassan in Cairo

Photo: Part of the Nile River overlooking the village of Nagaa Hammadi, south of Egypt. Credit: Agence-France Presse

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