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Experts share experience of trans-boundary water cooperation

By Hana Namrouqa - Aug 16,2016 - Last updated at Aug 16,2016

ENTEBBE, Uganda — A common vision and a joint secretariat can pave the way to cooperation on river basins and water resources in the Middle East, according to African experts on water sharing.

Members of initiatives and commissions tasked with balancing the use of water and ensuring water equity across the river basins in Africa met last week with participants from the Middle East during a learning mission to the Nile Basin Initiative (NBI) in Entebbe, organised by the Strategic Foresight Group (SFG).

They underscored that countries sharing water resources and river basins should come together to address common water problem and challenges.

Executive Director of the Nile Basin Initiative (NBI) Secretariat, John Rao Nyaoro, highlighted the importance of trans-boundary water cooperation, noting that 10 countries share the Nile River Basin.

Nyaoro said that as part of the NBI, established in 1999, member states’ ministers meet once a year to review progress, challenges and development programmes.

He highlighted that prior to the establishment of the NBI, there was almost no cooperation between the countries sharing the Nile River waters, stressing that the situation changed as joint plans and projects were set up to coordinate the development and management of the Nile water to benefit the basin’s 237 million inhabitants. 

“Now, member states regularly meet; they share information and they collaborate to develop and protect the Nile River water,” Nyaoro told participants from Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey.

He underscored that the establishment of the NBI aimed to reduce poverty in the river basin countries, ensure environmental sustainability, avoid competition and tension and promote regional peace and security.

SFG Executive Director and Vice President Ilmas Futehally said the learning mission to the NBI seeks to acquaint participants from the Middle East with the best practices on trans-boundary water cooperation, how the NBI functions and to transfer the experience to the Middle East.

She noted that the learning mission is part of the Blue Peace Initiative which aims to develop shared water resources and turn water into a means of achieving regional peace.

“It also seeks to highlight that when countries cooperate on water, they harness multiple socio-economic and environmental benefits,” Futehally stressed.

Highlighting that there are essential elements to achieve water cooperation amongst countries sharing trans-boundary water resources, Nyaoro said an institution that is politically and financially supported by member states is vital.

The institution needs a “very clear mandate” to be able to facilitate cooperation and regulate the use of water, and it also needs to be based on legal arrangements, he added.

“Basin states must agree to cooperate at all times, to shoot out disputes and bring out solutions… they must be able to agree on cooperating and meeting at all times and they must understand that [the institution] will be the forum to identify a conflict and where the solution stands.”

Maysoon Zu’bi, a member of the Blue Peace Initiative core group and former secretary general of the water ministry highlighted that Middle East countries sharing trans-boundary water resources and river basins could benefit from NBI’s experience.

“Middle Eastern countries can start with simply sharing data on shared water resources as a goodwill gesture to build trust among each other… this can pave the way for more dialogue and eradicate any disputes or conflicts,” Zu’bi told The Jordan Times.

She said that Middle Eastern countries should not take the current regional instability as an excuse to delay dialogue on water cooperation, highlighting that several African countries which have reached cooperation on trans-boundary water are witnessing internal instability.

An SFG report released in 2013 suggested that countries engaged in active water cooperation do not go to war with each other, and indicated that there is a strong correlation between the degree of cooperation on water and the general atmosphere of peace and friendship between states. 

 

The report highlighted that out of the 148 countries sharing water resources, 37 nations do not engage in cooperation for the management of water resources.

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