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War clouds gather as nations demand a piece of the Nile

June 4, 2010

Full article at Times Online

The Nile supplies almost all of Egypt’s fresh water and three quarters of Sudan’s. Both countries claim historic rights over it but neither controls its sources. For thousands of years Egypt has jealously defended its right to use the Nile’s waters as it pleases.

Now, amid warnings of conflict and crop failure, the balance of power is starting to change as other countries make new claims on the water.

Last month most of the countries that occupy the Nile’s headwaters signed an agreement granting themselves greater control of the river and removing a colonial-era veto, held by Egypt for more than 50 years, over how it is used. Ethiopia, Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania and Uganda have already signed up, disregarding a refusal by Egypt and its ally, Sudan, to co-operate. Burundi and the Democratic Republic of Congo are expected to follow.
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Egypt has threatened legal action and said it will not sacrifice a drop of its historic entitlement. Yet a new Ethiopian hydroelectric dam, which opened last month, further emphasises Egypt’s diminishing control over the river that is its lifeblood.

Behind the intensifying competition is rapid population growth, running at 2 to 3 per cent in the countries that line the Nile. This means the water that barely sustains 200 million people today will have to provide for half a billion within a generation. Farmers in northern Egypt took to the streets this week to protest against a lack of water for their crops but their seasonal water shortages garner little sympathy from a country such as Ethiopia, where millions face drought and famine.

The old treaties need to be renegotiated. If they are not — or if disputes cannot be resolved — analysts warn that conflict is all but inevitable. Dr Gleick said: “Without some kind of negotiated agreement on how to share the waters, the risk is growing that conflicts will occur and those conflicts will be violent.”

Water rivalry is most acute in poor, arid regions such as northeast Africa but are not confined to Africa.

Experts point to hotspots between India and Pakistan over the Indus, in the Middle East over the Tigris and Euphrates, and in South-East Asia over the Mekong. “Conflict over water is becoming a huge issue globally,” said Steven Solomon, author of Water: The Epic Struggle for Wealth, Power and Civilisation.

Full article at Times Online

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