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Preparing for change along the Nile

Two new development programmes aim to shape policy on water management in Asia and Africa. The projects kicked off early January in Sri Lanka.

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Bend in the River Nile north of Lake Nasser.
Bend in the River Nile north of Lake Nasser.

430 million people will by 2050 directly depend on the the River Nile for their livelihood — a tenfold increase since Egypt and Sudan signed the first Nile treaty in 1959.

The combination of population growth and economic activity in the eleven Nile basin countries will increasingly put pressure on the limited resource, making the Nile a top geo-political priority in East Africa. The shared resource may continue to foster cooperation but may as well become a source of increased conflict.

Together with Norwegian, Asian and African institutions, the University of Bergen will now strengthen disciplines relevant for shaping policy on water management on the two continents. The two projects are based on the Nile Basin Research Programme (NBRP) which ran from 2007-2011 at UiB.

The projects ‘Water and Society-Africa’ and ‘Water and Society-Asia’ have received funding under Norad’s Programme for Capacity Development in Higher Education and Research for Development (NORHED). The NORHED programme seeks to build institutional capacity and competence for teaching and research.

“It has long been an ambition to bring African and Asian institution together to reap the experiences and knowledge accumulated on both continents. The two projects will exchange knowledge, supervisors and students, organise joint seminars and conferences and look at how partnerships and collaboration may be framed for the future”, explains Tore Sætersdal at UiB Global. He was director of the Nile Basin Research Programme.

A joint kick-off was held at the University of Peredeniya in Sri Lanka in January with representatives from all the eleven partner institutions present: Makerere University, Addis Ababa University, Nairobi University, Juba University, University of Peredeniya, University of Jaffna, Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology, Institute of Technology of Cambodia, Telemark University College, University of Life Sciences, and UiB.

The University of Peredeniya in Sri Lanka is leading  WaSo-Asia, while WaSo-Africa is led by Makerere University in Uganda.

Tricky treaty for the Nile
The Nile Council of Ministers (Nile-COM), the highest council of Water Ministers in the region, points to water management and climate change adaptation as two priority areas to prepare for future challenges in the river basin. Regional research to address these issues is needed and the WaSo projects aim to help develop that capacity through collaboration and synergies.

The Nile basin is not short of challenges in 2014: the treaty of 1959 was a product of colonial times and includes only Egypt and Sudan. However, there are eleven riparian countries along the Nile, which have sought to develop a new agreement on how the shared resource should be managed. But not only has the negotiation of a new ‘Cooperative Framework Agreement’ (CFA) stalled - it does not include Egypt and the Sudan, which rely on the other nine upstream countries for uninterrupted access to the Nile’s water.

“We need more livelihood research on water, society and climate change adaptation to help shape policies and to inform the work on the CFA. Peaceful academic exchange and networking may be one approach to lasting stability in the region”, says Tore Sætersdal.

The eleven partner universities join disciplines from meteorology, humanities and social sciences in an effort to mitigate and adapt to climate change with special reference to water and society.

“PhD students often take far too long to complete and supervision is often marred by low quality, over-loaded supervisors and gender biased values. To increase teaching and research capacity, we will provide staff the training to supervise MA and PhD students, but also the capacity to participate in and execute research on climate and water issues”, explains Dr Sætersdal.

Three of the African partner institutions are large, old public universities with long traditions in research and teaching. South Sudan has a crucial position in regards to the Nile, with a major part of the river within its borders. Juba University recently moved to Juba from Khartoum and is in need to develop its academic, technical and management capacity. Its graduates are in demand for the country’s young public service.

Dr Sætersdal sees an urgent need to improve interdisciplinary policies and develop the research-to-policy capacity of higher education institutions in the Nile basin.

“Together the three larger South partners and Norwegian partner institutions can approach climate change adaptation in a multi-disciplinary way and through that collaboration also build capacity at Juba University. Strong institutions are even stronger when joining forces and Juba will benefit from their strengths”, says Sætersdal.