The water resources in the Nile Basin is serving multiple purposes and are essential for sustaining life, the economy and a healthy environment. Water is used off-stream (withdrawn e.g. for agriculture, municipal or industrial use), in-stream (e.g. hydropower, fisheries, environment) or on-stream (e.g. navigation, tourism and recreation). By far, the largest consumptive use is for agriculture/irrigation (roughly 2600 m3/s) although part of the abstraction is returned as drainage water. Egypt and Sudan are the largest users accounting for 96% of the total. Municipal and industrial consumption is estimated at over 400 m3/s. Population in the Nile Basin is forecasted to double by 2030 and municipal water demand will grow fivefold during the same period due to urbanization and increase in standard of living. Industrial demand will be likely to grow at a comparable rate. The largest municipal and industrial consumption is taking place in Egypt (close to 97%) followed by Sudan and Uganda. Drainage water from irrigation and sewage from urban areas and industries present pollution threats to the aquatic environment. A survey made in 2014 showed the existence of 14 storage dams basin-wide. The existing dams are highly beneficial from a power generation point of view and are also helping equalizing flows. However, there is substantial evaporation from the reservoir surfaces causing loss of water. The loss reaches an estimated 540 m3/s with 70% occurring from the reservoir of the High Aswan Dam
The total reservoir capacity per capita in the basin is very low compared to world benchmarks. In a region with severe seasonal and inter-annual variability and anticipated climate change, absence of adequate storage capacity adds to the vulnerability of the population as prudent reservoir operation can help reduce flood and drought impacts.
Hydropower is generated primarily in Uganda, Sudan, Ethiopia and Egypt but is only meeting a small part of the power demand. However, there is a large untapped potential for hydropower especially in the Blue Nile, where the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) is under development and will become Africa’s largest hydroelectric power plant with an installed capacity of 6000 MW
Fisheries and aquaculture are important users of water although not consumptive. Nile Basin fisheries are mainly seen in freshwater lakes, rivers and marsh sources as well as in human-derived aquaculture and has significant impact on the socio-economy. Fisheries require particular water qualities, quantities and seasonal timing of flows and water depths in lakes, rivers and wetlands.
The environment is another, though silent user. A sound aquatic environment is essential to maintain the productiveness of the water bodies and the wetlands and providing suitable habitats for diverse fauna and flora populations. Water pollution from urban and industrial sources endangers the soundness of the environment and the furthest downstream environment is at greatest risk.
Nine of the 11 Nile riparian nations have navigable water bodies and a total of 72 inland water ports with Egypt and Uganda having the highest numbers. Navigation is a sector that does not consume water. It depends on the water resources in terms of quantity (minimum water depths) and quality which can cause excessive amounts of, for instance the water hyacinth. Such plants can block harbors and prevent the launching of small crafts at landings.
In a not too distant future, the Nile Basin will be in a critical situation, where increases in consumptive use in one sub-basin will have to be covered by decreases in consumptive use in another sub-basin and reallocation of water will have to be negotiated. Changes in climate could very well aggravate the situation. These conditions require a very high degree of trust, cooperation and sharing of water and benefits between the riparian nations. The Nile Basin Initiative has a vital, strategic mission in facilitating the cooperation, promoting Integrated Water Resources Management, providing access to Decision Support Systems and reliable databases and raising awareness on known or innovative ways of demand management, water conservation and efficiency in water use.