Summary of the Lecture of Dr. Salman Mohamed Ahmed Salman
Water Law and Policy Expert
The 1959 Nile Waters Agreement and the Likely Impacts of the Southern Sudan Referendum
Teeba Press, Sharja Hall, Khartoum, May 5, 2010.
The lecture was divided into three parts:
The first part of the lecture dealt with the political geography of the Nile Basin: It is the longest river in the world (6650 km.); and one of its tributaries originates from the second largest lake in the world (Lake Victoria – 68,500km.). It has the largest swamps in the world (the Sudd- 30,000km), and the oldest and largest dams in the world, as well as the oldest and most controversial agreements (with a wide range between full acceptance and full rejection). The most ancient civilizations developed on the banks of the River in Egypt, Sudan, Ethiopia and Uganda. The Nile ten riparian states (Burundi, Rwanda, Democratic Republic of Congo, Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, Ethiopia Eritrea, Sudan and Egypt) include the five poorest countries in the world. Seven of those riparian countries witnessed, during the last fifteen years, or are still undergoing, armed conflicts. More than 300 million people in those countries (10% of the people of the African continent) live and rely on the Nile, and the number is expected to reach 500 million by 2025.
About 86% of the river waters flow from Ethiopia, (
% from the Blue Nile, 13% from the Atbara River, and 14% from the Sobat River), with the Equatorial Lakes contributing only about 14%.
The flow of the Nile at Aswan is estimated as 84 billion cubic meters (BCM). This amount of water makes the river one of the poor flowing rivers in the world compared with the size of its basin, its length and the number of countries sharing it. The Nile flow is about 2% of the Amazon; 6% of the Congo; 12% of the Yangtze; 17% of the Niger and 26% of the Zambezi. This limited and poor flow of the Nile represents the main and primary challenge for the Nile River, the riparian countries and the people of the Basin, particularly with the growing population, increasing demands for water, climate change and environmental degradation.
The second part of the lecture dealt with the negotiations between Sudan and Egypt for the uses of the Nile waters. Those negotiations started at the beginning of the last century as a result of the plans to establish the Gezira Scheme in the Sudan. The negotiations continued in one way or another until the 1950s. The negotiations that led to the 1959 Agreement started in 1954 following the formation of the first national government in the Sudan. Mr. Mirghani Hamza, the first Minister of Irrigation in the Sudan, led those negotiations in September 1954. This was followed by a second round of negotiations in April 1955 led by Mr. Khiddir Hamad who took over as Minister of Irrigation during 1955. Mr. Mirghani Hamza returned as the Minister of Irrigation in February 1956 and continued there until November 1958, and led the 1957 round of negotiations. Although the negotiations continued throughout the first democratic era, the Nile Waters Agreement was only concluded on November 8, 1959, a year after General Ibrahim Abboud took over power. This Agreement is a bilateral agreement between Sudan and Egypt who agreed on the construction of the Aswan High Dam in Egypt and the Roseiris Dam in the Sudan, and the payment by Egypt of 15 million pounds as full compensation for the people of Wadi Halfa whose land would be inundated by the Aswan High Dam. The two parties agreed on the division of the Nile waters reaching Aswan (84 BCM) after deduction of the evaporation losses at the Aswan High Dam (10 BCM) and the acquired rights of both countries (52 BCM- 48 for Egypt and 4 for the Sudan), at the ratio of 7.5 for Egypt and 14.5 for the Sudan. As such the allocation under the Agreement for Egypt is 55.5 BCM, and for the Sudan is 18.5 BCM. The two parties also agreed on a water loan to Egypt from the Sudan, on plans for increasing the flow of the Nile from the swamps of Southern Sudan, and on the establishment of the Joint Permanent Technical Commission for achieving cooperation between the two countries and for dealing with the demands of the other riparians of the Nile for a share in the Nile waters. The Agreement was welcomed by a number of political and trade union leaders.
The third part of the lecture dealt with Southern Sudan and the Nile waters. It explained that about 45% of the Nile Basin falls in Southern Sudan, and that 90% of the South is within the Nile Basin. It also indicated that 28% of the waters of the Nile flow from Southern Sudan to the North and thereafter to Egypt, and the waters that can be realized from the swamps of the South for increasing the Nile flow could reach 20 BCM. Despite all those facts, the Comprehensive Peace Agreement between the North and South included the reference to water resources in the Power Sharing Protocol, rather than the Wealth Sharing one, and granted full authority over the Nile waters to the central government. The Protocol does not include any reference to the projects for increasing the Nile flow from the swamps of the South, nor is there a reference to the Jonglei canal whose construction was halted by the SPLA in 1984. Those facts could pose challenges for the North as well as the other riparians if Southern Sudan decides to secede in the 2011 referendum, particularly with the water needs and demands of the South, the difficulties facing demarcation of the borders between the North and the South (including the Abyei dispute) which are largely water borders.
The conclusion of the lecture highlighted the political, economic, social, climatic and environmental challenges which the Nile Basin, countries and people face, particularly in light of the limited and poor flow of the River. The conclusion also underscored that the real challenge facing the Nile is balancing the existing uses of the lower riparians (Sudan and Egypt) with the growing demands and needs of the eight upper riparians, who may actually become nine riparians if Southern Sudan opts for secession. Moreover, the conclusion emphasized that cooperation of all the riparians, and sharing the benefits of the River rather than just allocation of its waters, is the way for achieving the ultimate and full utilization of the Nile, protecting the Basin and maximizing its resources.