Collaborating For A Win-Win Situation The Imperative

Collaborating For A Win-Win Situation The Imperative of Conservation


WIC August 9, 2000


Nonetheless, Ethiopia's plans Indicate that the Egyptians' "bargaining    position is getting worse and worse every year," one Western diplomat says.  "It's to their advantage to make a deal, and sooner rather than later."  The need to start to prepare

ourselves." Says Magdy Sobhi Youssef, a researchers on Nile issues at the Al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies in Cairo. "Egypt is going to have to give Ethiopia and the others more water.  We're going to have to share the Nile."


Ashok Swain, Journal of Modern African Studies Vol35 Dec. 1997 No.4


The issue of conservation requires a fundamental change of attitude in the mode of thinking of the Nile countries.  The first and most important step is that the concerted effort at conserving water by the basin countries could also lead to fruitful water cooperation in other schemes. A scheme which allocates water per farmer through which surplus could be marketed is one way.  There are also other innovative schemes of cooperation. For instance, Elaine Robbins suggests:-


Drip-irrigation systems, pioneered by Israeli farmers, deliver water directly to the plants' roots on an as-needed basis.  Farmers have adopted water-efficient irrigation methods in the Ogallala aquifer, which extends from South Dakota to the Texas Panhandle and sustains one of the biggest breadbaskets and beef-producing regions in the US.  Nevertheless, this ancient underground water supply, which is replenished at such a slow rate that it's considered a fossil aquifer, may be depleted within 50 or 60 years.38


The above scheme could easily work, if introduced with a common understanding among the Nile-basin countries. This is important because without a sense of ownership induced by user rights, farmers or even countries are unlikely to assume full responsibility for common resource owned by all.  The value of adopting such a scheme is underscored by the experience of countries that have implemented such schemes.  One such idea which has been experimented is water marketing. For

instance, in the American West and in countries where farmers own water rights, the creation of new water markets is certain to allow farmers to conserve water and sell their surplus to nearby cities. 


Many people agree this is a positive trend in which water has many clear advantages.  One benefit of such a scheme is that it satisfies the cities' water needs while providing an incentive for both buyers and sellers to use water more efficiently.  Markets could also help preserve open space by providing additional income to farmers who might otherwise be forced to sell out to developers.40


Here one needs to remember that the issue of conservation is becoming a public one.  In the US, for instance, political, civil society and other interest groups are also putting pressure for it.  The following excerpt is revealing:


In the American West, a region where water allocations have long been dominated by politically powerful ranchers and farmers, conservation and fishing groups are struggling to give nature a place at the table.  "We're not going to issue permits that will kill fish anymore," says Gary Powell, head of the environmental section of the Texas Water Development Board, showing the first glimmers of a change in attitude among water developers in the West. "The name of the game is for everyone to get out alive." 41


The Nile countries should also recognize that major civilizations sprang around river basins.  Their future survival is also likely to be dictated by the availability of water.  The importance of water for development is highlighted by the case of the Nile, Ganges, Mekong and other civilizations.  The example of Mesopotamia is a case in point as Sociologist Michael Mann observes below:


The first civilization emerged only after people figured out how to move large amounts of water.  Around 5,000 B.C., inhabitants of Mesopotamia noticed that periodic river flooding was good: It fertilized the soil with nutrient-rich mud and silt, and yielded better crops on the lands adjacent to the river.  The Mesopotamians discovered that they could build canals and spread the river alluvium to outlying farms.  Thus, the practice of artificial irrigation was born. For the first time, communities had a significant agricultural surplus.  This freed many people from working the land, allowing them to thrive in village as artisans and traders. 42


There are also other lessons that are relevant to the Nile countries like Ethiopia that can be introduced to conserve water and improve its utilization efficiency. Heretofore, this has been a difficult issue, but even at present questions are being asked:


Will the World Bank support and private capital start to flow away from dams and other big supply-side projects and toward conservation projects? Many hope so. The World Bank has begun pipe-fixing projects in cities in the developing world, where as much as 50 percent of municipal water is wasted through leakage.  Other cost-effective and worthwhile investment projects include bringing drip irrigation systems to the 99 percent of irrigated lands that don't yet have them.  Experts say that other small-scale projects, such as community projects to dig wells or teaching communities how to separate human waste from their drinking water supply, may also be effective.43


But, when all is said and done, the final arbiters of conservation and efficient utilization of water are and will be equitable distribution based on the imperatives of needs and co-existence. This also requires altruism on the part of better resource endowed states and rationality on the part of the less endowed with water resources. It also requires cooperation and a code of conduct that is acceptable to all countries which belong to a common basin. 


One need not belabour the above points because, "besides technological advances, the other signpost that will mark our evolution as a civilization is an emerging ethic of cooperation and fairness." In this context, the questions are also being asked: As water prices increase to reflect true value, will the world's poorest people still receive their fair share?


In 1994, when Indonesia was hit with a major drought, residents' wells ran dry, but Jakarta's golf courses, which cater to wealthy tourists, continued to receive 1,000 cubic meters per course per day.  Will the free market consider the needs of rural communities or of the orange nacre mucket and dozens of other freshwater mussels- -critically imperiled by logging and agriculture in the Southeast? And will international rules emerge for countries to share water with their downstream or less powerful neighbours? 44


While the view of the UNESCO Director General Fredrico Mayor seems somewhat optimistic, the ultimate answer to conservation and the avoidance of conflicts lies in the willingness of inhabitants of rich countries to cooperate with their less fortunate fellow human beings in poor countries. 


But, can we be sure about the future? According to Fredrico Mayor the answer is "yes".  He observes in a sentiment of back to the future saying:


Throughout history, human beings have responded to the need to pool their efforts and share resources in the interests of larger security.  Water, in particular, has been one of humanity's historic learning grounds for community building.  We should see it as a potential source, not of conflict, but of agreements … for the transition from a culture of war to a culture of peace. 45




The alarm about conservation and a more efficient use of water is coming from virtually everywhere today, but it seems least heeded in the Nile basin countries.  But the need for such awareness is very pressing because rivers are drying up.  A former Vice President of research at the World Water Institute, Sandra Postel, has emphasized this point in an interview published under the title "The Coming Age of Water Security". The main argument which Postel uses is that the demand for water is increasing while little is being done to ensure supply for the future. Looking at the global situation she observes:


The basic problem is that water is a finite resource.  It's renewable, but it's finite, and so water supplies per person tend to decrease as population increases.  We're at a point now where we're about to see a big jump in the number of people in the world living in so-called "water-stressed" countries, where the renewable supply per person is below the level considered adequate to meet all food needs, ecological needs, industrial needs, household and drinking water needs.  We currently have about 460 million people living in these countries, and that number is going to jump up to about three billion over the next 30 years.  It raises tones of issues about water and agriculture, growing enough food, providing for all the material needs that people demand as incomes increase, and providing drinking water. A billion people don't have clean water, and two billion don't have adequate sanitation.  This is still the cause of 80 per cent of the disease in developing countries. 46


The alarm on scarcity and the need for wise use of water is also underscored by the conflict between the use of water for irrigation and drinking. Postel adds:


Irrigation is by far and away the biggest consumer of water—it takes the lion's share of the water that we're extracting from rivers, streams, aquifers and lakes. Drinking water is really quite a small share.  In water-scarce regions, you do find agriculture and cities now beginning to compete for the same limited supplies. And where that is occurring, generally it's the farmers who tend to lose.  When you look at Beijing, China, for example, you find that farmers on the outskirts of the city who had been relying on the reservoirs for their irrigation have been cut off. And that's going to occur in more and more places.  There's an old adage that water flows uphill towards money.  Generally, it's the cities that can afford to pay more for water and value water more highly. 47


 The issue of making water available for healthy use is further emphasized by the factor of pollution, especially in the industrialized countries, but it is certain to be worse in newly industrializing countries where financial resources for cleaning it are in short supply. This is further highlighted by Postel's response to the question "what are the primary pollutants of drinking water?" Here is her reply:


It depends on where you're looking.  The primary source of pollutants in a very localized poor region can be the fact that there's no healthy sanitation services provided.  And so you have a whole variety of microbial pollutants that are entering waterways from human and animal waste.  In a more industrialized area, it will be chemicals, toxic metals and other industrial sources.  We find in many parts of the world now that rivers are becoming so contaminated by industrial chemicals that they're no longer suitable for human use.  And so, not only is water becoming scarcer, but the existing supplies are becoming unusable - - certainly for drinking and sometimes even for irrigation.48


Another issue which Postel takes up as a key component which is important for conservation of water is the environment.  Unfortunately, as she rightly points out it was not taken as an important issue in past agreement.  Nevertheless, in an issue which should be considered in a future Nile agreement. Postel has illustrated this point by using the case of the US and Mexico:


Seven US states and Mexico divided up the river in a compact in 1922, but it turned out that more water was promised than the river actually carries in an average year.  So it's a result of the way the treaties were designed -- the fact that the environment wasn't included as a legitimate user of water.  That has to be taken into account, otherwise we're going to have this sort of domino effect of ecological decline happening in river after river.49


As indicated above, the importance of the environment and conservation issues is also underscored by the fact that rivers are drying.  The Nile countries should take their cues from this.


The Nile has very little freshwater discharging to the Mediterranean now.  And look at the Yellow River, which is China's second largest.  The Yellow has been drying up for an average of 70 days a year for the last 12 years or so.  The last year they detected a complete drying of the river was in 1972, and it's been going dry for longer times in recent years.50 


Several solutions are suggested as ways out of this.  One key solution proposed is 'water rights' at the national and individual levels.  Postel has emphasized the "latter" which should be preceded by the former one.


In water-scarce parts of the world, there will be a need to shift water out of agriculture into cities and industry. How that shift occurs is important- -for food security, and for the stability of rural areas.  One of the ways it can occur is through programs in which farmers have clear water rights (and the ability to sell those rights.  If the program is set up properly, the farmers can invest in conservation measures, use their water more efficiently, and sell the surplus to cities.  The cities benefit, and the farmers do, too, because they're getting extra income from the sale of the water. 51   





Ethiopia has on many occasions reiterated its position to utilize the Nile Waters for the benefit of its people while at the same time expressing its commitment to respect the rights of other riparians in the utilization of our common water resources.  It is our firmly held conviction that it is only as a result of cooperation that all our peoples can benefit from cooperation which is genuine and which can be achieved through the avoidance of zero-sum calculation which are detrimental to the interest of the region as a whole.


Woredwold Wolde


Justice Minister of FDRE52 


The statement of Ethiopian Minister of Justice Woredewold Wolde articulated in his speech at the the 7th Ordinary Meeting of the Nile Council of Ministers for Water Affairs held in Ethiopia from May 3-13, 1999. echoes the official position of the Ethiopian Government on the water issue. 


The key issue emphasized in the speech of the minister was that "the lack of genuine cooperation that has so far characterized the Nile serves no purpose other than deepening the differences among the riparians and aggravating the state of poverty of the basin."  Indeed, as he rightly added the region "deserves better, for though proud" of its past, there is no doubt that it remain "in the company of the poorest nations in the world." 53


Cooperation to harness the water of the Nile will be beneficial for all concerned on other counts, too, for as John Bulloch and Adel Darwish observe water can be both a source of cooperation and conflict: "water is so vital in this most volatile world's troubled regions that it could be a force for peace, inducing old enemies to cooperate for the common good; but history and current events show that it is more likely to be a disruptive influence and a cause of conflict."54


It is regrettable that the Nile River has been a source of conflict between Egypt and Ethiopia. It is clear that both countries stand to gain from Cooperation.  Bulloch and Darwish emphasize this point, "Unlike the Jordan Valley, water allocation in the Nile Basin need not be a zero-sum game. Cooperative water development efforts could lead to increased usable water supplies for everyone, as well as other benefits like hydro-power generation and cooperation on projects that would lead to creating jobs and prosperity in areas which are unlikely to have any other chance of development."55


It is population growth and the need for food security that puts water issues at the top of the agenda of politicians.  Increased population puts the greatest pressure on water resources because of the need for more water for irrigation agriculture to increase food production and for sanitary and industrial use.  On the other hand shared water resources are dwindling in many places in the world.  The result could be water wars.56


However, cooperation between upper and lower riparians to share water resources equitably may lead to avoidance of conflict and even to integration of basin countries as cooperation in water resource management spills over into cooperation

in other economic and political areas.  With this in mind, Ethiopia has attempted to induce Egypt to cooperate in equitable sharing of the water resources of the Nile. So far Egypt has pushed the argument of "acquired rights" on the utilization of the

Nile waters.


However, this reasoning is not likely to  hold,  because  the   fact   that  a  downstream country was the first to utilize the waters of a shared river cannot prevent an upstream country from benefiting from the water resources later. Professor Stephen C. McCaffrey, who had been the rapporteur of ILC in 1985 has emphasized this point as follows:


The fact that a down stream state was first to develop its water resources could not foreclose later development by an upstream state by demonstrating that the later development would cause it harm: under the doctrine of equitable utilization, the fact that a downstream state was "first to develop" (and thus had made prior uses that would be adversely affected by new upstream uses) would be merely one of a number of factors to be taken into consideration in arriving at an equitable allocation of the uses and benefits of the water-course. 57


This observation of Stephen McCaffrey indicates that "acquired rights" cannot be invoked to limit the utilization of water by upstream riparians.  The two principles of international law that   govern   the utilization of common water resources are "significant harm" and "equity". The utilization of the Nile waters by Ethiopia will not cause "significant harm" to Egypt.  On the contrary, it will benefit both countries as will be shown in the next chapter.