The coming fight over the Nile

This has been playing out for a few years already, and is worth keeping an eye on. For Egypt, Sudan’s political future is crucial to this issue and is one reason Cairo is so adamantly opposed to the partition of Sudan and to foreign intervention in Darfur. The thing is, this year had the biggest volume of water coming into the Nile in decades (presumably a consequence of climate change), and I’m not sure what the scientific impact of diverting more water upstream would be on Egypt. But no matter what, Egypt will fight tooth and nail to preserve the status quo:

The distribution of Nile River water has been regulated by the 1929 Blue Nile agreement between the United Kingdom and Egypt, and the 1959 agreement between Sudan and Egypt. The latter gave Cairo a de facto right to veto any project using Nile water in other riparian states. Although this treaty remained unchallenged over the years, this is no longer the case. Indeed, many African states have experienced robust G.D.P. growth rates in recent years — with the notable exception of Eritrea, which suffers immensely due to its border war with Ethiopia and its devastating economic policy of self-reliance — and this has increased their need to develop their infrastructure, produce more energy, and provide more water to their populations. Understandably, the majority of the Nile River countries now want to re-negotiate the decades-old treaties.

Considering Egypt’s considerable fall in regional stature over the past few years, it won’t be in a great position to re-negotiate the treaty when the time comes. And while in the past some officials have threatened military action over this issue, I can’t imagine they would really be able to carry them out considering that the other states have a pretty strong case that they would be righting an unfair treaty.

0 thoughts on “The coming fight over the Nile”

  1. I dont think you can outright say that the treaty is unfair. The treaty assumes a flow of 84 bcm/a (i could have the units wrong) at Atbara – a point in northern sudan where all tributaries have poured into the river. The treaties divide the water giving Egypt and Sudan the two largest shares. Yes, they are far from equal. The question is, are they equitable? I would say that both sides would have trouble making an argument based on Int’l watercourse law. When it comes down to it, though, i think Egypt does kind of win legally because a) it already has a treaty to support its position and b) it is very difficult for the countries to make the argument that the UK signed on their behalf because in Intl Law this would be probably be considered a territorial treaty and thus not subject to tabula rasa, or clean slate succession.

    Law aside, i think people should keep in mind that the treaty provides Egypt with a volume of water per year. If construction projects such as wells, raintraps and the jonglei canal are undertaken, they could provide other countries with additional water. Also bear in mind, that of the riparian states, Egypt has the fewest alternate sources of water (even ignoring per capita). The others at least get rainfall. Of course, i would strongly advocate environmental impact assessments before any projects are undertaken.

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