I was recently involved in an assignment that involved communicating the ‘Nile Story’ for the World Bank. Communicating the challenges and achievements of the numerous projects along the Nile River which involved ten different countries (Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania, South Sudan, Sudan, Egypt, Ethiopia, Rwanda, Burundi, Democratic Republic of Congo) was never going to be straightforward.
Led by the Nile country governments, the Nile Basin Initiative (NBI) is a programme that has run for over 15 years which aims to develop the region through promoting knowledge and regional cooperation on water resource management, irrigation, hydropower, agriculture, watershed projects and fishing, etc. The transboundary aspect of shared waters adds political, technical, environmental, and financial complexity to any development efforts, but this is particularly so with the Nile River. The Nile country governments’ decision to advance technical cooperation in the midst of negotiations and disagreements in other spheres, was historic and unprecedented. In this context, it was all the more important to capture and represent a wide range of views of those involved in the Nile cooperative process in the report – national and local governments, donors, civil society groups, the private sector as well as farmers and villagers.
The Nile Story began in 1999, when the ministers in charge of water affairs in the Nile countries agreed to form the Nile Basin Initiative (NBI). Between 2003 and 2015, the Nile Basin Trust Fund (NBTF) comprising of international donors supported and coordinated cooperative work in the region, which has been delivered mainly through the NBI. At the request of the Nile countries, the World Bank served as the coordinator and trustee of the Nile Basin Trust Fund, to support the Nile countries in their pursuit of greater cooperative engagement. Three institutions were set up: the NBI Secretariat (Nile-SEC), Eastern Nile Technical Regional Office (ENTRO), and Nile Equatorial Lakes Subsidiary Action Program Coordination Unit (NELSAP-CU) as well as numerous sub-projects and programmes. Representatives from the Nile Council of Ministers (Nile-COM) and Nile Technical Advisory Committee (Nile-TAC), and other government officials across NBI member countries were instrumental in setting up the projects and programmes.
LTS International, the agency commissioned, undertook an extensive logistical task to collect information from the Nile countries and ensured a wide variety of stakeholders in the region were consulted. This was done through face-to-face interviews, telephone interviews, emails, Q & As, surveys as well as project documents, donor assessments and academic literature. After this exercise, came the job of putting the Nile Story together, a challenge in itself, but it proved to be successful in weaving together the many different elements – as well as demonstrating development impact.
The Nile Basin Initiative (NBI) is a transboundary organisation that considers benefits and impact for all – unprecedented since previously single country efforts were the norm and sometimes created conflict. Countries barely spoke to each other. Today, although there is still work to be done, much has been achieved. The NBI has developed sophisticated water management tools, established a respected knowledge base, implemented cross-border information sharing, and advanced an investment pipeline totalling over $5 billion (investment projects which includes irrigation, agriculture, hydropower etc).
Communicating these achievements and results is important, in part because it is hoped they might inform and inspire future cooperative water resources management and development in the Nile and in other areas of the world.