Many characteristics distinguish the Nile River Basin from other shared watercourses around the world. The main feature, which is routinely and widely quoted, is the fact that the Nile is the longest river in the world, flowing for more than 6,660 km from its origins in the hills of Burundi and Rwanda, through a total of 11 countries, before emptying whatever is left of its waters in the Mediterranean Sea (Figure 7.1).
Other unique features of the Nile include the sharp disputes on existing agreements among some of the Nile riparian countries, and the ensuing unilateral development projects and programs. The 1902, 1929 and 1959 treaties on the Nile are three main agreements whose validity is claimed by Egypt and Sudan, while the other riparians have challenged such validity, and have totally rejected these treaties.
The Nile Basin is endowed with rich and varied resources. For instance, Ethiopia's hydropower potential is about 45,000 MW, with 30,000 from the Nile alone. This exceeds by a large margin the needs of the 11 Nile riparian countries. Sudan's irrigable lands from the Nile, about 10 million feddans,1 are more than enough to grow food for itself and fill the gap in the other Nile countries. Lake Victoria is rich with a wealth of fisheries, exceeding 500 species, with the current annual catch reaching 500,000 metric tons. The livestock wealth of South Sudan is staggering and has not yet been commercialized. Egypt's food industries are relatively advanced and expandable. Yet, none of these benefits has been studied or developed collectively.
Another feature distinguishing the Nile from other shared watercourses is the treaties concluded on the uses of the river. Watercourses treaties are the mechanisms for cooperation, joint action and sharing benefits. Yet, the Nile agreements have been a major source of disputes, and a significant barrier to any form of cooperation, not to mention interdependence. For this reason, collective action, joint projects and cooperation have been completely absent in the Nile River Basin. There is very little recognition of interdependence among the riparians, absent which negotiation over sharing benefits cannot possibly arise.