The waters of the Nile : sharing or war ?
The 4 160-mile-long Nile – the result of the confluence of the White Nile and the Blue Nile – is the longest river in the world. It is a synonym for survival and wealth for the eleven countries that it crosses (Egypt, Sudan, South Sudan, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Tanzania, Uganda, Kenya, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Rwanda and Burundi), but which are still not on an equal footing in terms of water rights.
It was in 1929 that the British Empire decided to grant 87% of the river’s water to Egypt and the Sudan alone, with a right to veto all upstream dam projects. The other countries deem the situation unfair and they have been trying to change it for more than 10 years. On 14th May 2010, led by Ethiopia, four East African countries have signed a new agreement on sharing the Nile waters, despite a boycott by Egypt and Sudan, fiercely opposed to the project.
More than ever, Egypt is hanging on to what it considers to be an inalienable right, but Ethiopia is not taking any notice. Often described as Africa’s “water tower” because of its altitude, Ethiopia plans to finalize its masterpiece on the Blue Nile – the Grand Millennium Dam – in 2015. The construction is aggravating relations with countries further north and will cause internal population displacements because of the enormous reservoir which will be bigger than Lake Tana, the sacred source of the Abay (the Blue Nile). Moreover, we often forget that the Nile has already experienced a water war which started in 1983 with the second conflict between South and North Sudan. The government was going to finish building the Jonglei canal on the White Nile to increase flow and reduce water loss by draining the water away from the swampy Sudd area and its inhabitants. The first water war broke out and led to the independence of South Sudan on 9th July 2011. Tension is tangible in the various countries concerned and the big issue has raised its head: will they manage to reach an understanding, or will they go to war? Only time will tell, but in the meantime ordinary people are suffering.
Franck Vogel works as an independent photographer for the international press (Paris Match, GEO, Le Monde magazine, NRC Weekblad, etc.) on social and environmental issues. Since 2007 he has been taking an interest in the privileged relationship between Nature and Man in order to show the world that it is possible to live in harmony. Most reports reveal the worst to us, but Franck wants to bring us hope. In India his study of the Bishnois, who have been ecologists since the XVth century, is the best example of this. His work has been awarded the Prix International des Médias Planète Manche 2009 and has been published and exhibited throughout the world and in particular exclusively in GEO magazine for their special 30 years edition in March 2009. He also dedicated two monumental frescos to them, with texts by Irène Frain, in the Paris Metro (12 million visitors) in Montparnasse station (2011) and Luxemburg station (2012), as well as a documentary film Rajasthan, l’âme d’un prophète (52 minutes, France 5, 2011), which received the Phoenix d’Or 2011 and of which he is author and co-director.
His report denouncing the Massacre of Albinos in Tanzania made page one of the biggest Dutch magazine, NRC Weekblad, on 6th June 2009, and was shown across the world (SCOOP d’Angers 2009, MK2 Bibliothèque in Paris, Rencontres d’Arles 2010, Visa pour l’Image 2010, and in the Pingyao Festival in China). Editions Michel Lafon are to publish his book on the Albinos on 4th October 2012.
He is currently focussing on access to water and the resulting tensions. His last report on the Nile will be exhibited exclusively at the Photo Reporter Festival in Saint-Brieuc in October 2012.