February 9, 2004

Victoria water project started

Tanzania last week launched a US$ 27.6 million project to draw water from Lake Victoria to supply Kahama in Shinyanga region, in contravention of two treaties colonial Britain signed with Egypt and Sudan controlling the use of water from the lake. The Agreements restrict riparian countries from initiating projects that would affect the volume of Nile waters without the permission of Egypt.

The contract for the laying of a 170 kilometre inland pipe was awarded to the China Civil Engineering Construction Corporation. It signifies Tanzania's loss of patience with talks involving Kenya, Uganda and Egypt over the validity of the two agreements signed in 1929 and 1959 respectively, stipulating how water from Lake Victoria and the River Nile was to be shared out. Despite engaging in lengthy negotiations over the use of waters from Lake Victoria and the Nile, Tanzania has maintained that the two agreements were illegal, said the Deputy Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Water and Livestock Development, Dr C. Nyamurunda, in Dar es Salaam. The second phase of the contract, said to be worth about US$ 57.5 million, is expected to commence in July 2004, and will be completed next year. The total cost of the water project is estimated at US $85.1 million. The water will be mainly used for domestic purposes, said the official, indicating that the government was still sensitive to concerns from Egypt about the widescale use of water from the lake without consulting Cairo. The water project will initially benefit 420.000 people, but this number is expected to soar to 940.000 in the next 20 years. Apart from Shinyanga and Kahama towns, some 54 villages situated along the pipeline will benefit from the project, said Edward Lowassa, the Minister for Water and Livestock Development. To cut down on the costs involved in maintaining the pipeline, the government says it will set up an independent body to manage the project.

Dr Nyamurunda said that Tanzania's sentiments about the legality of the agreements were shared by other Nile Basin countries. "Other countries also believe that the treaties were illegal, but they are ready to cooperate in negotiations although they are not restricted from using the waters of the Nile," he said. The Nile Basin initiative is made up of 10 countries. "In the Draft Agreement on Nile River Basin Co-operative Framework, Section 15, all countries, except Egypt and Sudan take the position that the treaties in question are illegal." At independence, he continued, Tanganyika made its position on the agreements clear to the UN, Egypt and Britain. (The East African, Nairobi)

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