International Treaty is a hope for the remaining water basins Rivers

November 20, 2012 in Water Crisis

 

by fred pearce

Original title :- A Global Treaty on Rivers: Key to True Water Security

No broad-based international agreement on sharing rivers currently exists, even though much of the world depends on water from rivers that flow through more than one nation. But that may be about to change, as two separate global river treaties are close to being approved.

Is peace about to break out on the world’s rivers?

It is amazing that until now there has been no global agreement on sharing international rivers. From the Mekong to the Jordan and the Niger to the Euphrates, there has been nothing to stop upstream countries from building giant dams that cut off all flows downstream. Yet in the coming weeks we could have two such treaties.

First, the continuing bad news: Belligerent countries are still exerting their hydrological muscle. Just this month, Laos began construction of the first dam on the main stem of the lower Mekong River in Southeast Asia. It hopes that the Xayaburi dam will help it become the region’s hydroelectric powerhouse.

On the upper Mekong, China has already built four giant dams, including one taller than the Eiffel Tower. These dams are all being constructed without the approval of downstream neighbors, including the 60 million people in Cambodia and Vietnam who fear the barriers will block fish migration and deprive them of fertile silt for their rice fields.

Meanwhile in Africa, Ethiopia last year began work on the Renaissance Dam on the Nile, which will be the largest hydroelectric dam in Africa. Again, downstream nations Egypt and Sudan had no say. And in the Middle East, fears grow that Turkey could use its control of the Euphrates

Water is the most important global resource that does not have any international agreement.

as a weapon in any future border conflict with war-torn Syria, a downstream nation that is heavily dependent on the river.

More than 40 percent of the world’s people live in 263 river basins that straddle international borders. The Danube, Rhine, Congo, Nile, Niger, and Zambezi rivers all pass through nine or more countries. Transboundary rivers contain 60 percent of the world’s river flows — for two-thirds of them, there are no agreements on water sharing.

This is dangerous. Guinea threatens to barricade the River Niger, which could dry out the inner Niger delta, a wetland jewel on the edge of the Sahara in neighboring Mali. In September, Vladimir Putin visited the mountain states of Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan in Central Asia, where he announced financial backing for more dams on the Amu Darya and Syr Darya rivers to generate hydropower in those countries. But he ignored opposition from downstream Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan who fear the dams will deprive them of summer flows to irrigate their cotton crops.

Water is today the most important global resource that does not have any international agreement, says World Bank lawyer Salman M.A. Salman. Abstractions of water from rivers have tripled in the past 50 years, mostly for irrigation. The entire flows of some rivers are now being taken for human use. And the natural flows of many others are disrupted by hydroelectric dams that only allow water to pass when the dam owners want electricity.

What treaties there are, often date back to colonial times. In international law, the Nile is governed by deals drawn up by the British in 1929 and 1959, which give all the water to downstream Egypt and Sudan and none to the eight upstream nations. Those laws are discredited, and in 2010, six upstream nations led by Ethiopia reached their own accord — a treaty that Egypt and Sudan have not joined.

Back in 1997, the UN adopted the Convention on the Non-Navigable Uses of International Watercourses. It did not lay down hard and fast rules for sharing waters, but it was a statement of principle that nations should

In refusing to sign a UN treaty, China asserted its sovereignty over waterways flowing through its territory.

ensure the “sustainable and equitable use of shared rivers.”

Only three countries voted against: China, Turkey and Burundi — all of them upstream countries on major rivers. China is the water tower of Asia. Its Tibetan plateau is the source of the Indus, Brahmaputra, Irrawaddy, Salween, and Mekong rivers. But in refusing to sign the treaty, China asserted that it had “indisputable territorial sovereignty over those parts of international watercourses that flow through its territory.”

To come into force, the treaty required 35 nations to ratify it in their legislatures. To date only 28 countries have done so. Other refuseniks include the U.S. and Britain, an original sponsor of the treaty. But the momentum for ratification is picking up. Eight of the 28 ratifiers did so in the last three years. France has become a cheerleader for the convention. Jean-Pierre Thebault, France’s environment ambassador, told a meeting I attended in Helsinki in September that he hoped enough nations would join for it to come into force in time for the UN’s International Year of Water Cooperation in 2013.

Meanwhile the treaty has a counterpart: the Helsinki convention. This began as a 1992 deal on river cooperation between European nations under the UN Economic Commission for Europe. But at a meeting in Rome set for Nov. 28-30, its members are likely to vote to allow any nation to join. Early potential signatories include Iraq and Tunisia.

France’s Thebault says the two treaties could complement each other. For while the 1992 treaty is a statement of principle about water sharing, the Helsinki convention is “bolder,” with formal arrangements for drawing up deals.

The Rome meeting of the Helsinki convention is also likely to extend its purview to drawing up rules for sharing underground water reserves. It could, for instance, help save the ancient water beneath Jordan and Saudi Arabia, which the two countries are currently racing to pump out before the other does. Likewise, it could manage the Nubian aquifer beneath Libya, Egypt, Sudan and Chad, which is currently being tapped by Libya;

Hopes are high that greater sharing of the world’s rivers could be imminent.

and the Guarani aquifer that straddles the borders between Brazil, Paraguay, Uruguay and Argentina.

Whether global governance of water can help the aquatic environment is another matter. WWF, which has lobbied for countries to ratify the UN treaty, wants future river deals to keep some water as “environmental flows” to maintain freshwater fisheries and wetlands. But the danger is that the opposite could happen. If downstream nations are more confident of how much water will reach them, they may build more dams to capture it.

This has happened on the Indus River, where a 1960 treaty brokered by the World Bank shared out the river and its tributaries between upstream India and downstream Pakistan. The result has been more dams and an ecological disaster downstream. The Indus dries up for months at a time, the coastline is retreating, its giant delta is peppered with dead mangroves, and salty seawater has invaded farms.

But hopes are nonetheless high that greater sharing of the world’s rivers could be imminent. David Grey, a water policy expert formerly with the World Bank and now at Oxford University, says there is growing recognition of the need for global oversight of the world’s water. He says it could, at the least, end the habitual hydrological secrecy of many upstream nations, who treat river flow data as state secrets.

Speaking in Vienna last month, Grey pointed out that India rarely tells Bangladesh what flows are coming down the Ganges. The result is

Authorities in the U.S. and Mexico have carved out a new agreement on sharing the Colorado River.

disruption to farming and unnecessary damage and deaths from flooding. Likewise, he believes better sharing of Nile flow could assuage Egyptian fears about the capacity of upstream dams on the Nile to cut off its vital supplies. But in reality, Grey said, there is so much water in the Nile that “you could take as much water out of the river in east Africa as you want, and Egypt would never notice the difference.”

Water peacemakers argue that sharing water isn’t necessarily a zero-sum game. Both sides can gain. In recent weeks, authorities in the U.S. and Mexico have carved out a new agreement on sharing the Colorado River, which irrigates much of the arid Southwest before passing over the border into Mexico and delivering a tiny saline trickle through its desiccated delta into the Gulf of California.

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An existing treaty, signed in 1944, is very one-sided, giving Mexico the right to only a tiny amount of the flow, which Mexico finds it difficult to use because it has few storage structures and because many irrigation canals were damaged in an earthquake. Under the new deal — which has been approved by U.S. regional authorities and awaits federal sign-off — Mexico would be able to store some of its water allocation in Lake Mead, the huge U.S. storage reservoir on the river in Nevada and Arizona. Meanwhile, U.S. water authorities will be allowed to invest in lining irrigation canals across the border in Mexico to save water. Those authorities will then be entitled to keep back the equivalent amount of water on the American side of the border and use it for their own purposes.

With this arrangement, everybody gets more water. There might even, U.S. regulators hint, be more left for the Colorado’s dried-out delta. It is an optimistic sign of how water peace could take hold — and one worth clinging to, amid the wreckage of the current hydrological anarchy on the world’s rivers.

POSTED ON 19 NOV 2012 INCLIMATE OCEANS SUSTAINABILITY URBANIZATION WATER NORTH AMERICA

fred pearceABOUT THE AUTHOR
Fred Pearce is a freelance author and journalist based in the UK. He serves as environmental consultant forNew Scientist magazine and is the author of numerous books, including the newly released The Land Grabbers: The New Fight over Who Owns the Earth. In previous articles for Yale Environment 360, Pearce has written about how a Libya water plan threatens Africa’s Niger Deltaand explored the question of whether environmentalists increasingly are taking anti-science positions.
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Egypt’s lifeline The Nile comes under threat by mega damming of its sources

November 17, 2012 in Water Crisis

By Jeffrey Fleishman, Los Angeles Times

original title

The Nile, Egypt’s lifeline in the desert, comes under threat

November 11, 2012

Poor African capitals are increasingly challenging Cairo for the river’s water, without which Egypt’s economy would wither and die.

Nile River's future is the future of EgyptEgyptians sit near the Nile River at sunset in Cairo. Neighboring African countries at the river’s source, notably Ethiopia, no longer feel bound by colonial-era agreements and are moving to siphon away larger shares of water for electricity, irrigation and business to meet demands of burgeoning populations. (John Moore / Getty Images / February 5, 2011)

CAIRO — Overwhelmed by cascading economic and political problems since the overthrow of Hosni Mubarak, this nation teeters from within even as it biggest threat may lie hundreds of miles away in the African highlands. Buried in the headlines is the future of the Nile River — and thus the fate ofEgypt itself.

Mubarak long neglected the security danger posed by other nations’ claims to the timeless pulse that provides 95% of this desert country’s water, without which its delta farmlands would wither and its economy die. As poor African capitals increasingly challenge Cairo, however, the struggle has become one of the most pressing foreign policy tests for Egypt’s new president, Mohamed Morsi.

African countries at the river’s source, notably Ethiopia, no longer feel bound by colonial-era agreements on water rights and are moving to siphon away larger shares of water for electricity, irrigation and business to meet demands of burgeoning populations.

It is a skirmish involving diplomats, engineers and veiled threats of war over geography’s blessings and slights and how nations in a new century will divvy up a river on whose banks civilizations have risen and tumbled.

“All of Egyptian life is based on the Nile. Without it there is nothing,” said Moujahed Achouri, the representative for theUnited Nations‘ Food and Agricultural Organization in Egypt.

Morsi’s acknowledgment of the water crisis and his desire to reach a compromise to protect his country’s strategic and historical claim is evident: The Islamist leader has visited key Nile countries twice since his inauguration in June, and his prime minister, Hesham Kandil, is a former water and irrigation minister with connections to officials in African governments. An Egyptian delegation recently toured the region, listening to how Cairo might help build hospitals and schools in villages and jungles.

An advisor to the president quoted in Al Ahram Weekly said this of Morsi: “The man was shocked when he received a review about the state of ties we have with Nile basin countries. The previous regime should be tried for overlooking such a strategic interest.”

For decades, Egypt had concentrated on problems closer to home, including keeping the Arab-Israeli peace and tending to wars from Lebanon to Iraq. Mubarak, who survived a 1995 assassination attempt by Islamic extremists in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa, had paid little attention to East Africa. But his regime was adamant — at one point hinting at military action — in preserving the existing Nile treaties.

That echoed a warning from his predecessor, President Anwar Sadat, in 1979: “The only matter that could take Egypt to war again is water.”

In a 1929 treaty and through other pacts, Egypt and its southern neighbor, Sudan, were granted the bulk of the Nile’s flow. The logic — filtered through decades of politics and power struggles — was that Egypt could not survive without the river. Nile basin countries, including Ethiopia, Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania, have seasonal rains and other water sources.

But economic pressure and increasing demand for energy and development have turned African countries’ attention to the Nile. Since 2010, Ethiopia, which now gets only 3% of its water from the Nile, and five other upstream countries have indicated they would divert more water and no longer honor Egypt’s veto power over building projects on the river.

The biggest challenge to Cairo is the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam. Experts estimate that the hydropower project, which is under construction and is expected to cost at least $4.8 billion, could reduce the river’s flow to Egypt by as much as 25% during the three years it would take to fill the reservoir behind the dam. The project faces a number of potential setbacks and lost its biggest proponent when Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi died in August.

Ethiopia has sought to reassure Cairo that Egypt’s annual share of 55.5 billion cubic meters of Nile water — about two-thirds of the river’s flow — will not be disrupted and that the new dam may provide low-cost electricity to its neighbors. But the Egyptians are suspicious.

“Egypt has entered a stage where its resources are depleting and population is rapidly increasing,” said Hani Raslan, an expert on the Nile basin for Al Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies in Cairo. “If the dam is complete … this will mean Ethiopia will turn into an enemy for Egypt because it will essentially threaten the country’s safety, development and livelihood of its people.”

He added, “Egypt would legally have the right to defend itself by going to war.”

The struggle over the river highlights decades of strained relations. Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni was quoted as saying before Morsi’s visit in October: “Despite the Nile River supporting livelihoods of millions of Egyptians from the ancient times to date, none of the country’s presidents has ever visited Uganda to see the source of this lifeline.”

Egypt and the other Nile nations are seeking to calm the rhetoric.

Officials say a resolution may include Cairo entering into long-term economic and energy resource agreements with neighboring capitals. The Egyptian delegation that recently toured the region included doctors and representatives of food banks, hospitals and charities.

Egypt, however, faces deep economic problems and is trying to attract foreign investment, which dropped sharply during last year’s uprising and ensuing political unrest.

“Morsi is trying to send signals to the African world that Egypt is opening up now, that he wants to improve relations and increase cooperation,” Raslan said. Morsi’s visits to Africa “are all just gestures.”

“No real agreements have been reached yet,” he said. “More needs to be done. Egypt wants and needs to reach its influence in the region.”

The essence of the Nile conflict is poor nations — Egypt and Ethiopia — needing the river for similar reasons. Ethiopia, which has experienced strong economic growth in recent years, wants to boost electricity output while spurring agriculture and development. Those needs also resonate to the north, but Egypt, which has no other water source, faces more dire prospects.

The crisis is certain to force Egypt, where regulations are tangled in bureaucracy and often ignored, to improve water conservation among the nearly 30% of its population that depends on farming for its livelihood. Much of the Nile Delta is made up of small family farms that for centuries have grown wheat, corn and rice with little environmental concern. This attitude and a growing population, which may jump from 82 million to 150 million by 2050, have put further strains on the river.

“Water policies in Egypt have to be long-range,” said Achouri, the U.N. official. “If you want farmers to stop using too much water for irrigation, alternatives and other incentives should be made available to them. Farmers right now cannot make a living without the Nile.”

A possible solution is rotating away from water-intensive crops, such as rice, and shifting to increased wheat production. Egypt, where the word “bread” also means “life,” is the world’s No. 1 importer of wheat. Agricultural experts say reducing rice production while increasing wheat yields would conserve water and meet the country’s food needs.

Such a scenario may be forced upon farmers if the Nile’s flow is curtailed and irrigation canals become parched. Egypt’s water and irrigation minister, Mohamed Bahaa El Din Saad, said recently that overpopulation, farming and other water uses have left the country with a “water deficit” of billions of gallons.

“More than 90% of the water for Egypt’s 90 million people is coming in from the Nile,” Achouri said. “The only way out is for more efficient use.”