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Chapter One: Introduction


1.1 Background


Nearly half of the Earth’s land surface is occupied by transboundary lake and river basins (Towfique and Espey, 2002: 3). Many of these river basins are simultaneously perceived as important engines of regional economic development, crucial bases of livelihood resources, and as critical sites of biodiversity conservation. These rivers involve different hydropolitical features giving rise to major economic, environmental and political concerns (UNDP, 2006). The Nile and the Rhine are among the most important river basins showing such concerns.


Nile is the longest river in the world having a length of 6,825 km and the third largest with its catchment area of 3,352.710 km2. It covers about one-tenth of the area of the African continent including “one third of Ethiopia, a substantial portion of Sudan, almost the entire cultivated and settled lands of Egypt, the whole of Uganda, parts of Kenya, Tanzania, Burundi, Rwanda, Congo Democratic Republic and Eritrea” (Yacob, 2007, 25). Ethiopian highlands provide 86% of the Nile waters while the remaining 14% comes from the Equatorial Lakes region (ibid: 25- 26).


The River is economically significant where around 160 million people in the basin are directly dependent on the Nile for their livelihood. Most of all, the existing poverty in line with the current environmental degradation and high population growth, has increased this value of the river (Wondwosen, 2008: 34- 35). Witnessing this, the riparian states especially, Egypt and Sudan are heavily dependent on irrigated agriculture for food and cotton production from the Nile water (Abadir, 2011: 287). Though the upstream countries have not utilized it like the downstream countries, they have benefited to some extent. For instance, Ethiopia has built and is building different hydroelectric dams along the river’s main tributaries. Uganda has also built a dam along the Bujagali Falls (Martens, 2011: 3- 12).


For long time, downstream countries of the Nile have pursued unilateral and conflicting approaches to the utilization of the river based on their stand on historical and natural rights. This has lead them to tense relationships with the upstream countries. Unlikely, the upstream countries particularly Ethiopia is not willing to accept such claims rather they argue from the doctrine of absolute territorial sovereignty point of view. In addition, it does not accept any colonial or postcolonial agreements which the country is not part of it. These extreme stands of the two in line with the need to utilize the river lead long existing controversies in the basin.

However, this trend has started to change recently as the countries took different measures towards cooperation. The formation of NBI is one of the manifestations which after a decade of negotiations resulted in the signing of the CFA. Most of all, acceptance of the CFA by majority of the riparian states is a significant achievement in the area of cooperation (Abadir, 2011: 301-312). Though the riparian states have taken the way towards cooperation, one cannot conclude existence of an effective cooperation and fully integrated river basin management in the area. Instead it is still what the countries are trying to bring, making the above achievements a starting point but not an end.


On the other hand, the Rhine is one of the European rivers with different hydropolitical features. Originating from the Swiss Alps, it flows 1, 232 km through Switzerland, France, Germany and the Netherlands finally entering into the North Sea (Verwij, 1999: 455- 56). The 225, 000 km2 catchment area of the Rhine extends over parts of Switzerland, Italy, Austria, Liechtenstein, Germany, France, Belgium, Luxembourg and the Netherlands. Switzerland, France, Germany, and the Netherlands dominate the watershed, together comprising 92% of the Rhine River Basin area while the remaining five basin countries comprise the remaining 8 percent (Frijters and Leentvaar, 2003: 2).


Navigation and trade along the Rhine led to extensive urban, agricultural, and industrial development including chemical, mining, pharmaceutical companies and steel manufacturing. 50 percent of the basin is used for agricultural production with 60 million people settled in the basin (ICPR, 2014a). Most of Germany’s vineyards, the white wine production from the Alsace region of France and most of the Swiss red wine owe their existence to the River. In addition, the river is used to generate hydroelectric power. The Rhine’s long history as a means of border defense has left its banks littered with ruins of spectacular castles making it one of the huge tourist sites with the existing recreational and bathing waters in the entire Rhine watershed (Frijters and Leentvaar, 2003: 2- 4).

So many different claims exist on the Rhine River leading to controversies including water quality problems, problems in river ecology, and flooding. But the riparian states are able to improve the situation through cooperative relationships. The existing different legal instruments and institutions have proved their great importance in managing the tensions (ibid: 5-31).


The existing variation of the hydropolitics in these two river basins is the concern of the research where it compares the geographical, economic, and political features, and water related legal and institutional aspects in the two river basins requiring to draw a better and comparative understanding of effective river basin management in the two river basins.


1.2 Statement of the Problem


Since the time of earliest civilizations1, the Nile River is assumed by many to be the sole property of its downstream countries, especially those of Egyptians. Starting from the era of ancient civilization, the Egyptians have made most use of the water of the Nile. Herodotus described this reality when he claimed “Egypt as a gift of Nile” (Yohannes, 2008: 33). Their very existence depends on the Nile as it provides them with more than 95% of the total amount of water that is being used each year. This fact, in line with the increasing number of population and climate change rose Nile to the heart of Egyptians politics. So, any kind of development in upstream countries that may hamper the free flow of the river is considered as a national security matter for them which in turn brought tense relationships in the basin. In different times, they have indicated their claim to employ war in order to protect the free flow of the river. They strengthened this stand under their new constitution of 2014 (Zerihun, 2014: 1- 8).


But recently these tensions have surfaced, as the upstream countries openly defied the status quo that favors downstream countries (Abadir, 2011: 285- 286). For long the upstream countries have not benefited from the river though they are the major contributors. However, as a result of current progress like their increasing number of population, ecosystem degradation and constantly failing rains in addition with the existing poverty, they have started to see the Nile as one of the best resource for development (Wondwosen, 2008: 35). So, the upstream countries, especially Ethiopia is trying to utilize it. These progresses have highly increased the long standing tension particularly between Egypt and Ethiopia. Most of all, the perceived scarcity of water in the basin has aggravated the situation as the downstream countries refused to accept such developments due to fear of reduction in water volume. This in turn led to unwillingness to


  • Almost 5,000 years ago (Stebek, 2007: 45).


accept recent developments toward cooperation that expect them to compromise including the CFA (Abadir, 2011: 301- 312). As a result the two sides, the upstream and downstream states, have not come to agreement on the CFA. This results in lack of all inclusive basin-wide agreement in the basin.


Riparian countries in the Rhine basin on the other hand face different kinds of controversies and tensions related to the water of the river. The source of tension in the basin emanates from the existence of abundant water unlike the Nile basin. Abundance of water has led to flooding problems among the basin countries at different times. Though flooding is a natural phenomenon, various human interventions have altered the river regime and thus affected the flood patterns (Frijters and Leentvaar, 2003: 5- 10). Although have improved recently, pollution and salinazation problems are still adding to the problems to some extent (Verwij, 1999: 453-61).


Despite such challenges, the Rhine basin countries achieved different legal and institutional mechanisms for the basin management. At present different institutions exist in the Rhine with proved effectiveness like that of the CHR, ICPR and CCNR. These institutions have guided by different legal principles including International Convention on the Prevention of Chemical Pollution of the Rhine, the Rhine Action Programme, Action Plan on Flood Defence, EU Water Framework Directive, and Convention on the Protection of the Rhine (Frijters and Leentvaar, 2003: 5- 10).


Though a wide range of literature exists on the Nile and Rhine River basins, it lacks a comparative coverage. Most of the literature focuses on the hydropolitics of one or the other basin. Only few research works are engaged in comparing specific issues than comparatively treating the whole hydropolitics of the rivers (Bakker, 2009; Bernaver, 2010; Chase, 2012; Godana, 1995; Huisman, et al, 2000; IWAC, 2001). So, this study attempts to bridge the gap by comparatively studying the hydropolitical features of the Nile River basin with that of the Rhine River basin.


The Nile and Rhine River basins are chosen due to the riparian countries experience of active engagements marked by the histories of river basin management and institution development. Therefore, the study evaluates similarities and differences of river basin management and institution development in the two basins. The study focuses, among others, on comparing the major hydropolitical features in order to gain a better and comparative understanding of the hydro-politics in the two river basins.


1.3 Hypothesis


The existences of different hydropolitical features in river basins highly affect the conflictive or cooperative patterns of riparian states. Though there is no river basin which can be taken as a blueprint for an effective river basin management, such effect of hydropolitical features can be understood from the comparison of the Nile River basin, which lacks effective river basin management, to the Rhine River basin with a relatively better river basin management.


1.4 Objectives of the Study


1.4.1   General Objective


The general objective of the study is to compare the hydropolitics of the Nile basin with that of the Rhine basin.


1.4.2    Specific Objectives


The specific objectives of the study are:


  1. To show the existing geographical, economic and political features, and the relationships of upstream and downstream countries in the two river basins.


  1. To explore the major achievements and failures in the areas of legal and institutional cooperation in the two river basins.


  1. To understand the differences and similarities of river basin management between the two river basins.


  1. To explain the factors behind the similarities and the differences between the two river basins.


1.5 Research Questions


The study compares the hydropolitics of the Nile and Rhine basins by pursuing the following key research questions.


  1. What are the existing hydro-political features of the Nile and the Rhine River basins?


  1. What have been achieved in the areas of legal and institutional cooperation in the two basins?


  1. What are the similarities and differences of river basin management between the two river basins?


  1. What are the factors behind similarities and difference of river basin management between the two river basins?


1.6 Methodology and Method of data Collection


1.6.1    Research Design


Research design is the overall plan that gives direction and systematic process to the research where it helps to ensure that the evidences obtained enabled us to answer the questions raised (De Vaus, 2001: 8- 9). In other words, it is a design that articulates “what data is required, what methods are going to be used to collect and analyze data, and how all of this is going to answer ones research question” (Wyk, 2005: 3). Within this context, the study adopts Most Different Systems Design/MDSD/ of comparative approach. The underlying goal of comparative research is to identify similarities and variances between cases demanding a better understanding and elaborative social, political and economic phenomena (Lim, 2005: 43- 46). The most commonly used types of comparative approaches are Most Similar Systems Design/MSSD/ and Most Different Systems Design/MDSD/. MDS design engages in two systems that are different in almost every respect except for variables under investigation. It focuses on identifying the factors for and existing similarities. On the other hand MSS design deals with two or more very similar social systems. According to this design, the characteristics that the systems share are considered to be constant where they can explain a particular social or political phenomena that is identified to be different among the two (ibid: 41- 43).


In line with this, the study compares the hydropolitics of the Nile and the Rhine river basins requiring to obtain a better understanding of the two river basins. The two river basins are comparatively examined where the area of similarities and differences between their hydropolitical features are elaborated.


1.6.2   Methodology of the Study


The general approach that guides the study is qualitative method. This method is selected for various reasons. First, this approach is suited for the collection and analysis of relevant data on the two river basins. Since the research has mainly based on different literature, it helps to improve the validity of the findings. Second, there are some aspects of the object under investigation whose data cannot be expressed and analyzed through quantitative methods. Since the research is not concerned with quantifying its results through statistical summary or analysis, it is best to use the qualitative approach. The other reason for adapting qualitative approach is that this research seeks to describe the hydropolitical features of the two river basins. Hence, it is basically a descriptive and explanatory research which tries to understand and describe the existing hydropoltical features of the two river basins. Finally, since the researcher analyzes the experiences of the two river basins, the method helps to interpret and analyze the results obtained from those experiences.


1.6.3    Methods of Data Collection


Both secondary and available primary sources are used to deal with the questions of this study. Primary data are collected through interview with experts in key Ethiopian government ministries: Ministry of Water, Irrigation, and Energy, and Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The secondary data has been collected from the existing published and unpublished materials including books, articles, journals, reports, documents of governmental and nongovernmental organizations, and internet sources.


1.7 Significance of the Study


The study is about comparing the hydropolitics of the Nile and the Rhine river basins. It is gives a comparative understanding of river basin management in the two river basins by serving as a source of information about the hydro-political features of the two river basins. This in turn will serve as an important input in expanding the existing knowledge on hydropolitics in general and that of the Nile and the Rhine river basins in particular. The understanding of different river basin management systems may also indicate new ways of policy formation, and legal and institutional cooperation among co-riparian states. The knowledge obtained from the study will help to initiate new ways of engaging in research for scholars as it strives to comparatively understand the main hydropolitical features of the two rivers.


1.8 Scope and Limitation of the Study


The research compares the hydropolitical features of the Rhine and Nile river basins. Since, the comparative analysis of the hydropolitical features of the Rhine and Nile basins is a vast topic, this study attempts to compare geographical, economical, and political features and tension and cooperation patterns in these basins.


The inability to collect primary data through interviews, questionnaires and/or observations of the Rhine River basin can be a problem to have a valid comparison. The researcher has tried to fill this gap by using different secondary resources. In addition, scarcity of recent books and journals in this river basin coupled with interruption of internet connection to download journals and related documents have been a limitation in conducting the study.


1.9 Organization of the Study


The study is organized into six chapters. The first chapter introduces what the study is about, the problem to be examined, the objectives, research questions, hypothesis, significance, method and source of data, scope and limitation of the subject under study. Chapter two presents a highlight of pertinent reviews of the literature and conceptual framework relevant to the major theme of the study.


In the third chapter, the thesis deals with the hydropolitical features of the Nile River basin. It in particular discusses the geographical, economic, and political features of the basin and the patterns of tension and cooperation among the riparian countries. Chapter four of the thesis presents the hydropolitical features of the Rhine River basin focusing on the geographical, economic, and political features of the basin, and the patterns of tension and legal institutional developments under this basin.

The fifth chapter provides a brief comparison of the findings of the thesis from the two study basins. It analyses the impact of the geographical, economic and political feature in the riparian relations and the similarity and difference of river basin management in the two basins. The last Chapter summarizes the main points of the study and focuses on the key findings and conclusions that the researcher tried to address.



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