Dam it: Fighting over Nile water

Dam it: Fighting over Nile water

Two weeks ago, Ethiopia started filling the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam on the upper Nile river, a $4.6 billion hydroelectric project that aims to bring electricity to tens of millions of energy-starved Ethiopians. Egypt and Sudan cried foul, warning that doing so too quickly will leave their farmers without enough water to irrigate crops. The main reservoir was filled in just a few days, a speed that Addis Ababa blamed on seasonal rains.

But this trilateral dispute is about more than just water — and even the US and China are getting involved. Why is the this dam such a big deal, and what happens next?


A bit of history. Egypt and Sudan argue that the dam is illegal under colonial-era water-sharing agreements that give Cairo — under terms agreed upon with Khartoum — control of the water flows of the Nile and its tributaries at the expense of its upstream neighbors (except Sudan). Addis Ababa accuses Cairo of unfairly perpetuating its monopoly over the water flow of the longest river in Africa, under treaties Ethiopia was not a party to.

These three countries share a vital interest in the Nile. Ethiopia not only wants to generate electricity for the 70 percent of its population who are off the grid, but also aims to become a net exporter of power to neighboring countries.

It's no exaggeration to call the Nile the lifeblood of Egypt. Almost all Egyptian economic activity is concentrated along the banks of the mighty river, and any disruption to its water flow could destroy Egypt's agriculture and tourism industries. Loss of Nile waters is also an existential threat in Sudan, because less water in the Blue Nile, the river's largest tributary, could be the death knell for poor Sudanese farmers already struggling to cope with droughts and floods exacerbated by climate change.

Negotiations have (so far) failed. The concerned parties have been trying to find a solution to their dispute since Ethiopia started building the dam in 2011. With construction now finished, Addis Ababa — fed up with the diplomatic stalemate — has turned on the tap to fill the reservoir, sending less water downstream toward Sudan and Egypt.

What does each side want? Cairo and Khartoum demand a binding agreement on exactly how much water Ethiopia will divert and how quickly it intends to divert it, warning that Addis Ababa must not fill the dam without their consent. Ethiopia wants a more flexible pact that gives Egypt and Sudan little say in Ethiopian management of an Ethiopian dam.

The dam has also stoked nationalist sentiments. In the 1970s, Egyptian President Anwar el-Sadat threatened to go to war with Ethiopia when Addis Ababa first floated the project. Many Egyptians resent that Ethiopia took advantage of the Arab Spring to start construction while Cairo was distracted. Ethiopia says it has every right to draw as much water as it needs from sections of the Blue Nile within its borders.

The threat of conflict has outside players worried. A US-brokered deal to end the dispute collapsed in February because Ethiopia found it one-sided in favor of Egypt, a longtime US ally. Washington may now use foreign aid to coax Ethiopia into a more flexible bargaining position. Beijing also has a stake because it wants to protect multiple Chinese infrastructure investments in the region — including several that depend on the dam itself (which Ethiopia has paid for on its own, by the way).

For now, a war over this dam is unlikely. But water will only become a more precious resource in years to come, and future governments in these three countries may exercise much less restraint. The bigger picture is that almost two-thirds of the world's rivers cross the borders of countries that are home to 40 percent of the global population.

In a world where climate change is wreaking havoc with water supplies, this fight over the Nile could be a warning of conflicts to come.

This week, the market value of Tencent, China's biggest video game company, nosedived after a state media outlet suggested that online gaming was as addictive and destructive as opium. Tencent immediately pledged to cap the number of hours people can play, and to keep minors off its platforms.

It's the latest example of a months-long crackdown on major Chinese technology firms that until recently were viewed as some of the world's most powerful and successful companies, as well as a source of national pride. Beijing's about-face on its own tech titans could have big implications for China, and beyond.

More Show less

On GZERO World, Ian Bremmer takes a look at the yin and the yang of alcohol's role in high-level diplomacy and society at large. Alcohol can bring people together just as easily as it can tear them apart. From a 1995 Clinton/Yeltsin Summit where a drunk Yeltsin almost derailed Bosnian peace talks, to Obama's Beer Summit and the recent G7 Summit, booze plays a part in how world leaders interact. Globally, alcohol consumption has been steadily increasing, by over 70 percent between 1990 and 2017, according to one report. . Low and middle-income nations like Vietnam, India, and China are a driving force behind that trend, with drinking in Southeast Asia rising by over 34 percent between 2010 and 2017. And yet, amidst this global booze boom, the world has only grown more and more divided.

Watch the episode: The (political) power of alcohol

Equestrian jumpers, and their horses, are disciplined species. They don't appreciate surprises very much.

But many participants were caught off guard during this week's individual jumping qualifiers in Tokyo by a very daunting statue of a sumo wrestler on the hurdle course (which is dotted with statues paying homage to traditional Japanese culture, like geisha kimonos, cherry blossoms, and taiko drums).

More Show less

For Dick Pound, the longest serving member of the International Olympic Committee, protesting at the Games is fine — as long as it doesn't "interfere" with the competition itself or awards ceremonies. The Olympics, in his view, are an oasis of calm in the middle of an increasingly tense world, and "we shouldn't be spoiling that by pointing out the obvious , which is that there are social and political problems." Watch his interview with Ian Bremmer on the latest episode of GZERO World on US public television.

India's rape problem: Hundreds of protesters have flocked to the streets of New Delhi for four days straight after a 9-year old girl was raped and murdered in a small village outside the capital while going to fetch water for her family. Some demonstrators burned effigies of India's PM Narendra Modi, saying that the government has not done enough — or anything, really — to address the country's abysmal rape problem: there were more than 32,000 rapes recorded in 2019, certainly a vast undercount given the stigma associated with reporting sexual assaults in India. The scourge of sexual violence against women and girls in India was brought to light in 2012 when a 23-year-old woman was gang raped and murdered while traveling on a bus in the nation's capital, prompting international outrage. Four men have been arrested in connection with this week's attack, though they have not been charged. The city of New Delhi, meanwhile, has ordered an inquiry to probe events surrounding the young girl's death, though Indians who have been sounding the alarm on violence against women for decades aren't expecting much to come of it.

More Show less

It's been 365 days since twin blasts at a Beirut port decimated Lebanon's capital. More than 200 people were killed and some 7,000 were injured, yet accountability has been scarce. There is ample evidence that multiple Lebanese officials knew that ammonium nitrate was being improperly stored at the port. Four high-ranking politicians, including former PM Hassan Diab, have been charged by a Lebanese judge, but they all refuse to cooperate with the ongoing investigation.

Since then, Lebanon's already-dire economic and financial crises have only intensified. The Lebanese pound, the national currency, has plummeted, losing 90 percent of its value since 2019, when the country's economic crisis erupted. And more than 50 percent of the population is now living below the poverty line.

More Show less

20,200: As the super contagious delta variant continues to spread, Thailand is now a COVID hotspot, recording more than 20,200 new COVID cases Wednesday, the highest daily toll since the pandemic began. Authorities imposed new restrictions in Bangkok and other provinces as the vaccine rollout remains sluggish; just 5.8 percent of Thailand's 66 million people are fully vaccinated.

More Show less

Subscribe to GZERO Media's newsletter, Signal

GZEROMEDIA

Subscribe to GZERO Media's newsletter: Signal

Does alcohol help bring the world together?

GZERO World Clips

How should athletes protest at the Olympics?

GZERO World Clips

Does alcohol help or harm society?

GZERO World Clips

GZEROMEDIA

Subscribe to GZERO Media's newsletter: Signal