From the Georgia Straight. Will war actually break out? Too soon to tell, but in the long run it's almost inevitable that nations will come to blows over water.
After he signed the Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty in 1979, Egyptian president Anwar Sadat said: “The only matter that could take Egypt to war again is water.” Well, the world kept turning, and now a potential war over water is creeping onto Egypt’s agenda.
Egypt is the economic and cultural superpower of the Arab world. Its 78-million people account for almost a third of the world’s Arabic-speaking population. But 99 percent of it is open desert, and if it were not for the Nile river running through that desert, Egypt’s population would not be any bigger than Libya’s (5 million). So Cairo takes a dim view of anything that might diminish the flow of that river.
Back in 1929, when the British empire controlled Egypt, Sudan, and most of the countries farther upstream in East Africa, it sponsored an agreement giving Cairo the right to veto any developments upstream that would decrease the amount of water in Nile. The rationale at the time was that the upstream countries had ample rainfall, whereas Egypt and Sudan (at the time ruled as one country) depended totally on the Nile’s waters.
Thirty years later, in 1959, when Egypt and Sudan were already independent but all of the upstream states except Ethiopia were still colonies, Egypt and Sudan signed another agreement that left only 10 percent of the Nile’s water to the seven upstream countries while giving Egypt almost 80 percent and Sudan the rest. The argument was still the same: the countries further upstream had rainfall, while it hardly ever rains in Egypt or Sudan.
Now the upstream countries that got almost no water in that deal are rejecting it. Thirteen years ago, they persuaded Egypt and Sudan to start talks on the river, but they have now concluded that the two Arab countries really only joined the talks to prevent any new deal. So they are now going ahead without them.
Tuesday, May 25, 2010
A war over water?
We're seeing some sabre-rattling on the part of Egypt about upstream uses of the Nile: