"We must get our message about the Nile across

"We must get our message about the Nile across slowly but with assuredness."

 

                                                   The Reporter July 12- Professor Teferi Tsegaye

 

     Professor Teferi Tsegaye is one of the few soil physicists and

 geostatistians who work at the Alabama University Hydrology, Soil

 Climatology and Remote Sensing Center. As the profession is new, he is the

 only Ethiopian scientist in the field. He attended the recently held "Nile 2002"

 Conference along with others who came from the Center.

 

     Professor Teferi was born in Arsi and grew up in Addis Ababa. He

 completed his secondary education at the Shimelis Habte School. Before he

 went to America for further studies, he was a teacher in the Awassa

 Agricultural College from which he had graduated in the Science of Plant

 Protection.

 

     The professor has plans to conduct a geophysical analysis of the soil and

 the environment of the Nile Basin using satellite images. The Reporter spoke

 to him about the issues surrounding the Nile Basin. Here are some of the

 excerpts.

 

 What was the contribution of your profession to the "Nile 2002" conference?

 

My profession is one which is based on water. Geostatistics is a new scientific

 discipline of acquiring a complete information of the earth and soil. It used to be a

 part of the mineral industry. Experts in my profession do not number more than 10

 and are mostly foreigners.

 I have used a basin-wide approach to study the Nile Basin. My research in the USA

 focused on the Tennessee river. There is a hydroelectric power station on the basin

 of the river. The river passes through the states of Georgia, Alabama, and Florida.

 Because of this, the pollution of the water in one state is a problem for the others.

 Georgia's pollution causes a problem in Alabama and Alabama's problem causes a

 problem in Florida.

 To tackle this problem, the states have signed a tri-state agreement where they

 discuss how the pollution can be reduced. If a conflict arises between them, the

 federal government will give a solution to the problem. They do not want the volume

 of water entering them to decrease just like Ethiopia and Egypt. Water is life for all

 of them.

 There is a lot we can do to prevent the transportation of sediment from the Nile

 Basin. Some areas of the basin are stony while, some are covered with eucalyptus

 trees. But this does not totally halt soil erosion. However, we can plant various

 types of grass, though it must be ascertained whether these grasses are suitable

 for the basin.

 Do not consider me as the only person capable of doing these things. There are

 others behind me and I can bring them here. If we can do these things, we can

 contribute a lot to the development of the basin.

 

 The paper you presented in the conference was supported by satellite

 photographs. What was their use?

 

They are useful. Ethiopia doesn't produce such information locally. For instance a

 satellite image of a 90 square kilometer area of Lake Tana is considered to cover a

 very small area. But it is helpful in conducting a geophysical study of the soil, plants

 etc. of that place. We have bought satellite images that show portions of the Nile

 basin that stretch from Ethiopia well into Sudan. These images were not shown at

 the conference because they  are intended for local consumption. We bought  them

 so that they benefit our country.  There are many others which we haven't used,

 have not touched.

 

 What is Ethiopia saying about the Nile basin?

 

It's clear what Ethiopia should say. Nobody can tell us not to use our water. It's our

 responsibility to begin to properly use it. We can not stand aside and watch our

 people die from hunger. If we have to start irrigation works, then let's do so. If

 Ethiopians inside the country and living abroad contribute money to the cause, we

 can start a project, be it a small one. But we should do it well and show it to the

 rest of the world. Then we can ask for assistance. But if there is nothing we can

 show, others won't help us. We have to be united. If we think the same way, we

 will be able to do a good job. We once read on the Internet that a person who is

 campaigning to make Addis Ababa clean got financial support. That's good. We need

 such people. Don't underestimate the effort those of us who are abroad are making.

 Personally, I left a lot of work behind to come here. I teach a lot of students and

 supervise many projects. I came here to do something positive. There are others

 who want to do the same. It is not something we will do just for once. If we get

 the opportunity, we will come many times and do some works as well as teach our

 fellow Ethiopians. If conditions are not made conducive, it is better for us to stay

 out there. We must not be afraid. Let's start working . Let's start using the waters

 of the Nile not the main one, but its tributaries. If we do our work where there are

 trees or forests, it will be difficult to see from a satellite what we are doing. But if

 we do it on open space, it can at least be seen although it may not be possible to

 identify what we are doing. It's easy to forecast and calculate what work is being

 done from a satellite image of an area not covered by trees.

 

 The Egyptians are now saying that they will not object to and in fact will

 collaborate with Ethiopia if it (Ethiopia) starts projects on the Nile. On the

 other, it's been long said that Egypt strongly opposes such projects. What do

 you think is Egypt's real position on the Nile? Did you observe something new

 about its position?

 

As far as I know the Egyptians have their own problems. They are experiencing

 sediment saltation. The water level of Aswan dam is rising they are not willing to

 accept or to believe that they have a problem. They have not publicly admitted

 that they have these problems. Their experts know that they will also benefit if

 Ethiopia develops the river. The problem doesn't lie with the experts. The scientists

 know what the problems and the solutions are. It's officials and those who have

 outdated beliefs that are causing the problem. The experts know whom they have

 to work with. Those with whom I have talked personally told me that Egypt needs

 only the water and not the sediment. At the moment, I don't see any problems

 coming from the Egyptians.

 

 Are all riparian states of the Nile working together to find solutions for the

 problems of the river's basin? Or is it a matter of confrontation between

 Ethiopia and Egypt?

 

 There is no confrontation between all riparian states. It's just between Ethiopia and

 Egypt. A delegate from Sudan said that Sudan was 'sandwiched' between Ethiopia

 and Egypt. For the Sudanese, it will be beneficial if we start works on the Nile

 because the floods that cause problems to their dams and irrigation projects will be

 solved. A Sudanese official once told me that there is a place in his country near

 the Ethiopian border which is suitable for irrigation and that it will be good for Sudan

 if Ethiopians living around the border developed the place. This is a sign of their

 willingness.

 The government has to campaign to convince Westerners that we have the right to

 use the waters of the Nile. But I don't mean through force, but through diplomacy.

 It's true that we need a strong army to defend ourselves. If we have such an army,

 we will be respected. But we have to be able to achieve what we want peacefully

 by using diplomacy. Private investors should be allowed and encouraged to develop

 our natural  resources. Let them construct buildings dams etc. Let's encourage

 countries like Japan to invest here. They may want to do because they have

 shortage of  land and can produce goods for their consumption that they can't

 produce locally.

 

 Has disagreement triumphed on the issue of the use of the Nile or are you

 working to fine-tune the details of an already reached agreement?

 

 We have started discussions on how to formulate the work we are going to do.

 During the conference, a Sudanese said that a lot of work regarding bio-diversity

 can be done on the Nile. A lot of the river basin's natural resources are being

 degraded due to the fact that those who live on the highlands of the basin are

 using backward farming techniques. This has reduced these people's capacity to

 feed themselves. Basically, the task of academicians is not to formulate policy. It is

 to present based on evidence, what likely problems are to occur and what should be

 done about them. It's up to professional politicians to put into effect these

 suggestions. The Nile 2002 conference thus had a scientific approach, it was not a

 forum for decision-making.

 

 Do you believe that experts' studies will be accepted by politicians?

 

 I believe that the conference was successful. I have learned  a lot about the Nile

 and now understand what the problems of both upper and lower riparian countries

 are. Particular attention was given to the problems of Ethiopia, Sudan and Egypt.

 It's our  decision what to do. We don't have to wait for their blessing. We are the

 ones who have to fight for our very being, for our existence. Let's do the work first

 and defend ourselves when we are asked why we did it. Every body fights for his

 existence. I hope that this attitude is fully acceptable by the country's leaders.

 

 In general, is there a problem of water in Ethiopia?

 

 Ethiopia doesn't have shortage of water. The problem lies with its utilization. We

 have to start somewhere to tackle the problem, though not on a large scale. We

 can use terracing, wooden dams, trees, clothes etc. to retain our sediment and

 prevent erosion. Even when there is drought in Ethiopia the amount of rainfall is

 constant. The problem thus is management of the water. people live on mountains

 while the water is found on the ground. May be these people settled on the

 mountain to avoid malaria during warm periods. The reason why people settle on

 mountains must be studied. Anyway, the problem is the improper management of

 the water and various sociological factors.

 

 At what stage is Egypt's development of the Sinai desert? Do you follow it by

 satellite?

 

 The Egyptians are undertaking huge development activities in the Sinai. The thief

 are trying to make the Sinai a garden of Eden. If they develop the Sinai, they can

 resettle some of the residents of the overcrowded city of Cairo there. Inevitably,

 this will increase their water needs and consumption of Egypt. Inspite of this, there

 is more than enough water. It's tradition that is causing disagreements between us

 and our neigbours.

 Egypt has always been suspicious of Ethiopia regarding the Nile. Although science

 shows that cooperation is mutually beneficial tradition, historical enemity and the

 like are preventing collaboration. Everybody gets angry when Ethiopia is about to

 use the Nile. This conference has enabled us to express our views frankly.

 

 Is there a suspicion that the Egyptians adopt a constructive position in

 conferences but do exactly the opposite in secret?

 

 I can only speak about Egyptian experts I have talked to. They have told me that I

 can lessen our differences. If we know their problems we can give them solutions.

 We are not saying that they can't use the Nile they have the right to use it but not

 to the exclusion of everybody else. There were not many problems in the discussion

 at the expert level. But some tried to politicize the discussion. The Egyptian

 ambassador to Ethiopia once said something that is not expected from an

 ambassador. As an ambassador is presumed to express the views of his county, he

 must be diplomatic. At this moment we need to get our message about the Nile

 across slowly but with assurdness.

 

 

                                    Copyright MCC, 2000