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Africa Month: Turmoil in Egypt Continues, Battle for Nile Waits

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With Egypt's future uncertain, so too are negotiations over control of the world's longest river

[February is "Africa Month" on 13.7 Billion Years, focusing on biodiversity, conservation, sustainable development and ethical consumption across the continent.]

The Nile River flows through nine countries -- Ethiopia, Sudan, Egypt, Uganda, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Kenya, Tanzania, Rwanda and Burundi.

At 4,130 miles, it is the world's longest. To get a sense of that magnitude, imagine flying from New York to Los Angeles...and then to New Orleans.

In May of last year, Ethiopia, Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania and Rwanda signed a Cooperative Framework Agreement declaring their rights to a share of more of the river's water -- a move that met strong opposition from Sudan and Egypt.

Now, it is likely that the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Burundi may sign the CFA, which if ratified, would establish a commission to oversee irrigation and dam-building projects, effectively stripping Egypt of the veto power it has over any plans to alter the Nile's flow, a power it was granted in 1929 by a British-brokered deal.

"Yet as the nations of the Nile bicker over its future, nobody is speaking up for the river itself -- for the ecosystems that depend on it, or for the physical processes on which its future as a life-giving resource in the world's largest desert depends," wrote UK-based freelance journalist Fred Pearce in a Yale Environment 360 article.

"The danger is that efforts to stave off water wars may lead to engineers trying to squeeze yet more water from the river --- and doing the Nile still more harm," Pearce said.

"What is at risk here is not only the Nile," said Pearce, "but also the largest wetland in Africa and one of the largest tropical wetlands in the world -- the wildlife-rich Sudd," home to elephants, hippos, antelopes, crocodiles and some 400 migratory birds, such as pelicans, cranes and shoebills.

As the turmoil in Egypt continues to unfold, the battle over the Nile will have to wait. Five days before the protests started last month, Egyptian Cabinet Spokesman Magdy Rady told Bloomberg News that his nation's position regarding the Nile was one of "negotiation."

Now that Egypt's future leadership is uncertain, those talks will for all practical purposes have to start from scratch, if they are to restart at all.

In 1798, France and Britain clashed in the Battle of the Nile during the French Revolutionary Wars. Thousands of soldiers perished. But the potential casualties in today's battle for control of the Nile's waters are far more numerous. In addition to the wildlife -- many of them endangered species -- some 200 million people rely on it for their daily survival.
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Reynard Loki is a New York-based artist, writer and editor. He is the environment and food editor at, a progressive news website. He is also the co-founder of MomenTech, a New York-based experimental production studio whose projects (more...)

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