September 24, 2011 (JUBA) – The newly independent Republic of South Sudan has sought full membership of the Nile Basin Initiative (NBI) two months after it became independent on 9 July.
The decision was made on Friday per presentation by the minister of Water Resources and Irrigation, Paul Mayom Akech, in the Council of Ministers meeting chaired by the Vice President, Riek Machar.
According to the acting minister of Information, Madut Biar Yel, South Sudan has already been enjoying an observer status in the organisation as a semi-autonomous region before independence, under the umbrella of the then national government in Khartoum.
NBI is an inter-governmental organisation dedicated to equitable and sustainable management and development of the shared water resources of the Nile Basin. Its member states include Burundi, Democratic Republic of Congo, Egypt, Ethiopia, Kenya, Rwanda, Sudan, Tanzania and Uganda with Eritrea also as an observer.
It was established on February 22, 1999 in Dar es Salaam, by Ministers responsible for water affairs of each of the nine member states.
Its objectives include developing the Nile Basin’s water resources in a sustainable and equitable way to ensure prosperity, security, and peace for all its peoples.
NBI also thrives to ensure efficient water management and the optimal use of the resources as well as ensure cooperation and joint action between the riparian countries, seeking mutual benefits.
The regional body also targets poverty eradication and promotes economic integration and to ensure that the program results in a move from planning to action.
Member States provide technical guidance to NBI, through their representation on the board, the Nile Technical Advisory Committee (Nile-TAC). The latter comprises of senior water officials (two per Member State).
The Nile-TAC also provides technical advice to their respective water Ministers and the Nile-COM in general; it acts as an interface between the Nile-COM and NBI on one hand as well as Development Partners on the other.
If granted full membership, South Sudan will be required to pay 230,000 US dollars of membership fee.
The new nation will also have to develop its position policy as member of the organization, which is yet to settle the equitable share of water resources from the River Nile among the member states.
The Council of Ministers directed all the relevant ministries to study the nature of the NBI before the government could resolve on the policy.
The White Nile River runs through South Sudan, which shares its borders with; Uganda, Kenya, Ethiopia, Democratic Republic of Congo, Central Africa Republic and the Republic of Sudan from where it seceded in July 2011.
The leadership of the new nation in the process of applying to join various regional bodies such as the East Africa community. The United Nations made South Sudan its 193rd member on July 14th. The African Union followed shortly, bring the total of African countries to 54.
Speaking at a press briefing on Friday, General Madut Biar Yel, Minister of Telecommunication and Postal Services, said the government during its weekly cabinet meeting had submitted an official application seeking approval membership in order to become of one of the Nile Basin countries.
“The council of ministers listened and thoroughly deliberated on the memo submitted by the minister of Irrigation and Water Resources on the need to obtain official membership on the Nile. It was after these deliberations that the council resolved to submit official request seeking membership from the Nile basin countries”, General Yel told journalists shortly after holding the weekly meeting.
Yel, said that as the White Nile passes through the country - from South to North - South Sudan should be considered for automatic qualification. He pledged South Sudan would cooperate with other member states and would respect their right to use water in a manner that would not affect the economic development of any of the other member states.
South Sudan depends largely on rain fed agriculture and receives reliable rains in most part of Greater Equatoria. Rains begin in March in some places in Central, Eastern and Western Equatoria states and stop in November.
Whereas in Greater Bahr el Ghazal and some part of Greater Upper Nile rains begin in May and stops in late October. Most of the rural population in South Sudan depends on subsistence farming often dominated by the use of simple farming implements on small scale family owned land.
South Sudan’s application comes during a ongoing dispute over Nile water usage between Ethiopia and Egypt. Member countries hope that NBI will eventually replaced a colonial era agreement that gave Egypt the lions share of the Nile’s resources.
As well as Egypt Uganda, Rwanda, Tanzania, Kenya and Burundi have already signed the treaty, hoping to increasing their share of water from the Nile River for irrigation and hydro-power projects.
South Sudan’s minister said the nascent country was not ready to comment on the issue of the Egypt-Ethiopia dispute but said his government will use its contacts with member states to reach a compromise over the treaty.
“We believe it is the right of any member of the Nile Basin Countries to use the Nile Water for the benefit of the citizens of any member state, especially development projects dependent on irrigation, but it is wise to resolve any dispute amicably”, Yel said.