Nile Water Lab launched
by Hermen Smit
On November 24 the Nile Water Lab was launched at UNESCO-IHE by 40 water professionals from more than 20 countries across the globe. They explored multiple understandings (maps, measurements, ethnographic studies, histories) of three modern irrigation projects along the Nile to discuss Nile controversies and how policy makers, journalists and civil society engage in them.
The collection and interpretation of the information presented on the Nile Water Lab is a collaborative effort by engineers, ethnographers, remote sensing experts, web designers who worked with stakeholders in the Salam Canal Project (Egypt), the Waha Irrigation Project (Sudan) and the Beles Sugar Development project (Ethiopia) as part of the Accounting for Nile waters project, funded by CGIAR Water, Land and Ecosystem programme.
Why the Nile Water Lab?
In the increasingly overbuilt Nile basin improved planning and management and governance of water is of utmost importance. Towards this end it is key that politicians, policy makers, and investors learn from recent irrigation, dam, and soil conservation projects. Information about user perspectives on these projects available to water students, professionals and policy makers is very limited. This is the combined result of the sensitivity of the subject, the remoteness of project sites which hampers on-site investigations and the fact that most research results are only disclosed in highly specialized journals. Moreover, it is often difficult to quickly grasp how ‘grounded perspectives’ and experiences of people relate to the more abstract cost benefit analyses, remote sensing analyses and projections of better futures that governments and development organizations use to promote projects. During conferences on New Nile Perspectives (Khartoum 2013, Addis Ababa 2014) and Water Security (The Hague, 2013 and 2015) diplomats, policy makers and researchers from the Nile Basin stressed the need for more insight into how expert knowledge is constructed, communicated and translated into new projects, and how this knowledge relates to grounded perspectives of Nile development projects.
The aim is not to integrate all understandings of the Nile together in one meta-framework in which all objectives for Nile development can be weighed and optimized, but to identify the stakes and possible alliances for more just irrigation investments in the fits and misfits of alternative knowledges of Nile basin development. Our starting point is that the production and use of any of these knowledges are never innocent and always partial. This shifts the focus from how to best represent the Nile waters in order to optimize their allocation, to exploring possible alliances between different people who have an interest in more just divisions of Nile waters.
What makes the difference?
The Nile Water Lab platform brings a range of ‘views from the field’ on irrigation projects along the Nile together with views that are usually presented in policy reports (e.g. statistics and satellite images analyses). This makes visible and available to decision makers, policy makers, investors and students debates on the Nile that are normally inaccessible as they are ‘hidden’ and ‘separated’ in undocumented stories, technical journals or in closed door meetings, and provides new entry points for discussion about the (gender-) inclusiveness, equity and sustainability of Nile projects. The platform is designed to be used for educational purposes and workshops – providing insights on how different types of knowledge and information produce different versions of a reality. The platform aims at sparking off discussions about interdisciplinarity and water-democracy. It also provides non-water experts a straightforward way to quickly grasp and navigate their own way through some of the Nile dilemmas.
Over the coming months more conceptual tools for the analysis, research publications, education material and case studies will be added to the Nile Water Lab. We invite you to have a look at NileWaterLab.org and hope that your browsing will spark new ideas to forge alliances to define more just and sustainable investments in future projects.