One Step Closer to a Water War in Northeast Africa
In Ethiopia, the Grand Renaissance Dam reservoir is filling up today. As those waters rise, so rise the perceived threats to Egypt and Sudan’s water supply. Both countries are downstream from Ethiopia on the Nile River, and both countries are desperately dependent on the consistent flow of the Nile River for their populations to survive. Ongoing negotiations between the countries failed Monday when all parties walked away from the negotiation table without an agreement in place.
Few nations rely so heavily on a single water source as Egypt does upon the Nile. More than 90 percent of Egypt’s water supply comes from the Nile. The farmers of Egypt depend upon the great river’s annual flooding of its banks to water their crops in an area of the world where rains are unpredictable. Specifically, due to their need for its freshwater, most of Egypt’s population is located in the Nile River Valley.
Despite Egypt’s dependence and historical association with the famous waterway, geography has not deemed the Nile River as inherently Egyptian. Around 60 percent of Egypt’s Nile River waters originate in Ethiopia. These same sources also provide water to Sudan. Thus, we have three very thirsty and growing populations vying for the same water resource. As those populations grew over the last century, the resource of the Nile River became increasingly strained. All three countries made serious efforts to better manage (or control) the Nile waters in recent decades. Still, in a battle for non-negotiable self-interests versus a limited resource, they are ultimately deadlocked.
Egypt has one of the lowest per capita shares of water in the world. Each Egyptian consumes about 660 cubic meters per year. Compare this to the per capita water consumption in the United States, which is almost three times that amount. Population experts expect the Egyptian population to double in the next fifty years, which will result in even more significant water reductions and shortages anticipated as early as 2025.
Meanwhile, Ethiopia needs water too. Ethiopia hosts one of the least developed infrastructures in the world, and the Grand Renaissance Dam would help in providing access to electricity for 95 million Ethiopian citizens, doubling the country’s current power capacity. The project would also go far toward the Ethiopian objective of becoming the continent’s premier power exporter.
In the 1950s, when Gamal Abdul Nasser constructed the Aswan Dam on the Nile, Egypt was following the same tactics Ethiopia is pursuing today. The nation we know as Sudan today did not even exist at that time.
Determining who has the right to shrinking water supplies in various areas of the globe is a life or death consideration for many. The potential for conflict and regional war here is already high. The decisions made by Ethiopia today just escalated that potential.