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10 African Countries Working on Nile River Regulations - 2004-06-01

Officials from 10 African countries bordering on the Nile River and its tributaries are drawing up regulations for the use of the world's longest river. The Nile River meeting taking place in Uganda.

The weeklong meeting in Uganda is the third such gathering of experts in recent months to negotiate an agreement on the use of the Nile River.

The discussions are taking place under the Uganda-headquartered Nile Basin Initiative, a program that began in 1999 to bring the 10 countries together on how best to share and manage the world's longest river.

Patrick Kahangithe is the new executive director of the Nile Basin Initiative. "This is the continuing exercise of discussing the legal and institutional framework on the Nile," he says.

The negotiators are expected to hand in their final report to the Nile Basin Council of Ministers, a body made up of the water ministers of the 10 countries.

The aim of the exercise is to replace a colonial-era treaty signed in 1929 that gave Egypt virtual control over the river. Under that treaty, any country south of Egypt must get Cairo's approval for irrigation, hydroelectric projects, and any other waterworks that could result in the drop of water levels downstream.

Tanzania has said it does not recognize the Nile Basin Treaty, and other countries, including Kenya, have been calling for a new agreement.

At a meeting of the Nile Basin Council last March, Kenya's water minister Martha Karua, who is the council's chair, called on the member countries to stop bickering with one another and instead work together to come up with acceptable regulations.

Ms. Karua says the new regime would change from control to cooperation. "We are informed by history, but we are looking at the present circumstances where the reality is that we have shared trans-boundary waters of the Nile, and we are now sitting down together, planning for the present and the future. So we are looking for a new cooperative framework," she says.

She told the water ministers in March preparations are underway for about eight joint development projects, to which donors have already committed more than $100 million.

About 300 million people rely on Nile River water for their livelihoods.

The 10 Nile basin countries are: Burundi, Democratic Republic of Congo, Egypt, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya, Rwanda, Sudan, Tanzania and Uganda.