Four African nations sign water agreement

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Seeking to improve their management of water resources, four northeast African nations have agreed at the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to establish a long-term framework for use of water from the Nubian Sandstone Aquifer System. Chad, Egypt, Libya and Sudan signed a Strategic Action Programme (SAP) that aims to optimize the equitable use of the huge water resource that lies beneath the four nations.

The SAP also commits the countries to strengthen and build upon a previously existing regional coordination mechanism, in part by establishing a new Joint Authority for the Nubian Aquifer System. In a region that continues to make the news as being in political turmoil, it is hard to believe that these four governments can come to an agreement when U.S. states have trouble forging  water-use agreements among themselves.

The programme lays the groundwork for improving cooperation among the four arid nations and for strengthening their capacity to monitor and manage the aquifer effectively. With growing populations and decreasing water availability from other sources in the region, the aquifer is under mounting pressure. Removing water without a clear understanding of transboundary and other implications threatens water quality and has the potential to harm biodiversity and accelerate land degradation.

There is no specific reference about use of water for agricultural purposes and the nation’s feeding their populations or food security using the water. This seems like it would be a major hurdle as nations around the world profess the desire to be food secure and grabbing more water for irrigation would seem to be a motivator of the political leadership of these countries.

The agreement resulted from a joint technical cooperation project of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the Global Environment Facility (GEF), the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and the IAEA.

How the IAEA is a leader in establishing the framework for the agreement and the agency releasing the news was explained in two sentences. The IAEA contributes to the project in part by employing isotopic hydrology techniques to monitor the quantity and quality of groundwater and how it moves underground. Established as an autonomous organization under the United Nations (UN) in 1957, the IAEA carries out programmes to maximize the useful contribution of nuclear technology to society while verifying its peaceful use.

“I congratulate all involved on this significant achievement,” said IAEA Director General Yukiya Amano. “Water is a key resource, and effective management and use of such water resources is essential for the future. The agreement of the Strategic Action Programme is the result of real cooperation between the four states, the agency and UNDP-GEF. I am confident that this programme will be a success and will benefit the people of the region. This positive project experience benefits strengthened and expanded cooperation between the IAEA and the UNDP-GEF.”

“UNDP would like to congratulate the governments of Egypt, Libya, Chad and Sudan for achieving this important milestone towards the cooperative management of their shared sub-surface waters which will help to ensure maintenance of livelihoods and ecosystems dependent upon the aquifer,” said UNDP Administrator Helen Clark.

The Strategic Action Programme was signed by Mr. Ali Mahamat Abdoulaye, Ministry of Urban and Rural Water Supplies, Chad; H.E. Eng. Ahmed Mostafa Emam, Minister of Electricity and Energy, Egypt.; H.E. Eng. Al Hadi Suleiman Henshir, Ministry of Water Resources, Libya; Her Excellency D.Tabita Potros Teia Shokai, State Minister, Ministry of Water Resources and Electricity, Sudan; and Prof. Seifeldin Hamad Abdalla, Chair of the new Joint Authority.

The Nubian aquifer is the world’s largest known ‘fossil’ water aquifer system, meaning that the water is ancient and non-renewable.

The joint technical cooperation project began in 2006 and has already completed a sophisticated model of the aquifer to assist the four countries in optimizing use of the aquifer to meet human needs, avoid transboundary conflict, and protect ecosystems dependent upon the resource.

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