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Monitoring the Nile for long-term sustainability

  • Written by  Chris Fitch
  • Published in Water
Monitoring the Nile for long-term sustainability
30 Jan
2019
A major investment in data collection along the Nile could revolutionise the water management of the iconic river

For a river that runs over 6,650 kilometres (4,132 miles) – slipping in-and-out of several countries en route – governance of the Nile has always been a difficult and politically tense objective. Over 230 million people reside within the vast Nile Basin, many of whom are heavily dependent on its waters, a resource made increasingly uncertain by growing numbers of dams and steady population growth, with the additional impacts of climate change lurking around the corner.

A new proposal may help with this uncertainty. The Nile Basin Initiative (NBI), a member organisation launched in 1999 that brings together the ten nations whose territories overlap with the Nile drainage basin (plus Eritrea, an NBI observer), is set to act on a decade-long plan known as the ‘Hydromet’, a comprehensive, centralised hydrological monitoring system running the length of the river.

According to its proponents, the system will be capable of providing real-time data on river flow, water levels and water quality, via the installation of 53 hydrological monitoring stations over the next three years. Overall, it aims to provide a fair distribution of water between the countries situated within the Nile Basin and ensure long-term sustainability of the river’s flow through the collection of accurate data. This data will help each country prepare for potentially volatile changes in climate and water availability.

‘Talk of coordinated data collection systems is not new,’ explains Kevin Wheeler, from the Environmental Change Institute at the University of Oxford. ‘The TECCONILE Initiative [Technical Cooperation Committee for the Promotion of the Development and Environmental Protection of the Nile] started in 1993 and lasted for approximately ten years. A major focus of this initiative was improved data collection, and was helpful in laying the groundwork for the NBI.’

Unfortunately, this project lacked complete, regularly updated data sets covering the whole river, resulting in local water management decisions being made using conflicting information. It is this problem the new system aims to solve. ‘The need for improved and continuous monitoring is critical for the future of the Nile,’ Wheeler adds, ‘and I sincerely hope the new Hydromet effort opens a new chapter in data collection, transparency, and improved fact-based discussions over the cooperative management of the river.’

This was published in the February 2019 edition of Geographical magazine

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