Living in an age where water is the source of war

Living in an age where water is the source of war

Egypt is iconic with its ancient architecture set amongst a stark and sandy landscape. With more than 94% of its land area classified as desert, 99% of its population crowds along the fertile banks of the Nile River. As its sole water supply, President Sisi has said that the Nile is a “matter of life and death” for Egyptians. This anxiety over the Nile has become fiercer in recent years as Ethiopia constructs its  $4 billion hydroelectric Grand Renaissance Dam upstream along the Blue Nile which is considered to be the main water source for the Nile River.

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The Grand Renaissance Dam hydroelectric project in Ethiopia. William Lloyd George / AFP

Whilst still under construction, the dam is controversial as Nile river water rights have been a source of great tension for centuries. The 1959 Nile Waters Agreement between Egypt and Sudan, which was made without reference to any other riparian state, gave Egypt extensive rights over the river. The agreement resulted in Egypt gaining 55.5 billion cubic metres of river flow, compared to Sudan’s 18.5 billion.

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The Nile River from Cairo Tower, Egypt. / Harvard Political Review

Egypt have sought ways to stop Ethiopia’s construction of the Grand Renaissance Dam, going so far as to consider bombing the project, however it is unlikely that the situation will give rise to an armed conflict as 60% of the dam is already complete.

With the dam is predicted to take 3 years to fill, Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia entered into an agreement for a study to be conducted by two European Firms in order to determine how best to fill the dam. However, once the studies came back in August 2017 there was disagreement, and ongoing dispute has continued ever since.

The best way to resolve the issue of Nile River Water Rights is via co-operative development throughout the whole basin and a Nile Basin Agreement between Egypt, Sudan, Ethiopia and the six other riparian states.

This dispute is only one global example of how water is becoming a source of conflict that has the potential to amplify into war. The issue of ‘water wars’ will become a more prevalent political issue in our global community as climate change worsens and the impact is felt by more populations.

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Renaissance Dam in Ethiopia [Business Monthly/Facebook]

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