The nations along the world’s longest river have intermittently engaged in wars over access to its water. But in this latest iteration, the potential effects of another conflict could be felt far from the banks of the Nile. Therefore, it is a good thing some of the parties involved are working to diffuse the tensions.
Currently at issue is the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD), a multi-billion-dollar project underway on the Blue Nile in the Benishangul-Gumuz region, about 300 miles northwest from Addis Ababa and near the border with Sudan. The dam, under construction since 2011, is expected to produce some 6,000 megawatts of power for the country when completed in 2022 — the first time Ethiopia has been able to exploit the river this significantly. In order to do so, however, the dam could restrict a significant portion of the water otherwise destined for the farms and fields of Egypt — particularly if drought conditions strike Ethiopia.
Therein lie the seeds of another war. Egypt relies on the Nile for up to 90 percent of its freshwater — 85 percent from Ethiopia — and fears the dam will threaten already tight supplies, perhaps severely. Ethiopia, meanwhile, worries that Egypt’s growing thirst could hamper its economic development.
The stakes run even deeper. Ethiopia was excluded from a 1959 treaty between Egypt and Sudan covering Nile water access. Ethiopia has regarded the exclusion as a source of national shame, and Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed warned in October that he would assemble an army of a million soldiers to protect the dam if necessary. Egyptians, meanwhile, have grown increasingly suspicious of the 2015 agreement negotiated by President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, which blocks Egypt from petitioning either the United Nations or the World Court in matters of dispute over Nile water issues unless both Ethiopia and Sudan — the other two signatories — permit the seeking of redress.
Talks over the past several months have not improved the situation, and a recent meeting between el-Sisi and Ahmed held in Sochi, Russia, failed to ease tensions significantly. After this meeting in Russia, El-Sisi has asked U.S. President Donald Trump to help resolve the conflict. Trump has responded by hosting talks between Egypt and Ethiopia, with Sudan attending as well, in the presence of representatives from the World Bank. Ministers of the three countries met in Washington last month, and the heads of state will convene on January 13, with January 15 as the deadline for resolving all issues surrounding GERD. President Trump’s decision to host the talks is a wise step, for several reasons.
First, involving the United States in the talks over such a vital regional issue diminishes the chances that Russia will become more influential in the Middle East and the horn of Africa.
Second, the participation by President Trump, as well as World Bank President David Malpass — who, along with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, presided over the November talks — should encourage all parties to reach an equitable and lasting agreement.
Third, because of recent escalating tensions between the United States and Turkey, the U.S. might be looking for alternative sites for U.S. military installations in the region. If the GERD talks went well, a grateful Egypt would likely welcome to replace Turkey in such regards if the U.S. needed it in the future.
Fourth, if war would break out between Egypt and Ethiopia, and the conflict spreads to Bab al-Mandeb at the mouth of the Red Sea, it would endanger the flow of shipping through the Suez Canal and force re-routing around the Cape of Good Hope. Such a slowdown of traffic between Europe and China, as well as Southern Asia, could spark a global recession.
Fifth, if Egypt failed to obtain a favorable agreement over long-term access to Nile water, the resulting chaos that would result from lack of enough water could permit a resurgence of the Radical Islamic groups in the country. Such a prospect would mean the increased persecution of Christians in Egypt and surrounding countries — particularly in the rural agricultural areas.
Success of the talks would head off these dangers and promote these advantages. Therefore, the Egyptian side should make clear to the international community that the repercussions of this problem, if it is not solved, will not stop at Egypt's borders and will negatively affect many other countries.
Apparently, some international pressure might already have begun. Ethiopia, following the November round of discussions in Washington — and after at first refusing — has agreed to permit outside arbitration if the negotiations do not succeed before January 15, 2020, the desired date for conclusion of the agreement.
In this context, it is reasonable to say that Israel's groundbreaking water ‘technology’ is a story of success that can help solve the water problems for Egypt. A better cooperation with Israel can significantly assist in avoiding a possible water war in such senstive part of the world.
Dr. Tawfik Hamid is the author of "Inside Jihad: How Radical Islam Works, Why It Should Terrify Us, How to Defeat It." Read more reports from Tawfik Hamid — Click Here Now.
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