What We're Watching: The fight for the Nile

What We're Watching: The fight for the Nile

The fight for the Nile: In recent days, the Trump administration has tried to mediate three-way talks between Egypt, Sudan, and Ethiopia on their long-running dispute to access the waters of the Nile. In short, a 1929 treaty gave Egypt and Sudan rights to nearly all Nile waters and the right to veto any attempt by upstream countries to claim a greater share. But in 2011, Ethiopia began work on the so-called Grand Renaissance Dam on the Blue Nile tributary from where 85 percent of the Nile's waters flow. The project, due for completion next year, will be Africa's largest hydroelectric power plant. Egypt, which draws 85 percent of its water from the Nile, has made threats that raised fears of military action. We're watching as this conflict finally comes to a head early next year.


China's Plague: Doctors in Beijing have diagnosed two people with pneumonic plague, a highly-contagious disease more deadly than the bubonic version—one that can prove fatal within three days. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the lung-based pneumonic plague is very contagious and "can trigger severe epidemics through person-to-person contact via droplets in the air." Both patients come from sparsely populated province of Inner Mongolia, but are now being treated in a city of more than 20 million. Outbreaks of disease inside China raise special concerns because Chinese state secrecy undermine international confidence that published information is accurate. In this case, the WHO has confirmed that Chinese authorities have notified them about these cases. How China's government might handle information that the disease has spread is another question.

War crimes by Turkish-backed forces? US officials have surveillance footage that appears to show Turkish-Supported Opposition forces (TSO) targeting civilians in northeastern Syria. The (unverified) imagery appears to show extra-judicial executions of Syrian Kurds. State Department officials say they're also investigating a report of chemical weapons used against Syrian Kurds. US Secretary of Defense Mark Esper has called Turkey's reported violations "horrible," and said, "if accurate – and I assume they are accurate – they would be war crimes." It was against this backdrop that President Trump welcomed Turkey's President Recep Erdogan to the White House on Wednesday and pronounced himself a "big fan of the president."

Australian universities' China crackdown: The Australian government unveiled new cybersecurity guidelines on Thursday to address growing concerns over Chinese infiltration at Australian universities. The voluntary guidelines – which set out steps to enhance cybersecurity and improve due diligence in research collaboration – are safeguards against what the government has called "unprecedented" levels of foreign interference in the sector. In September, the University of Technology Sydney found itself in hot water after collaborating with a Chinese company with ties to mass surveillance technology used to track the persecuted Uighur minority. Beijing hackers are accused of stealing a trove of personal data from the prestigious Australian National University. Australia's responses come at a cost: Anti-foreign interference laws passed by Canberra last year exacerbated tensions with Beijing at a time when Chinese students contribute about $12 billion a year to the Australian economy.

The future of democracy: Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt, authors of the 2018 book How Democracies Die, have a compelling new article in the most recent issue of The Berlin Journal. In it, they warn that the greatest threats to democracy today "begin at the ballot box." The examples, they say, are many. "Like [Hugo] Chávez in Venezuela, elected leaders have subverted democratic institutions in Georgia, Hungary, Nicaragua, Peru, the Philippines, Poland, Russia, Sri Lanka, Turkey, and Ukraine...The tragic paradox of the electoral route to authoritarianism is that democracy's assassins use the very institutions of democracy—gradually, subtly, and even legally—to kill it."

What We're Ignoring:

Aeroflot Rules: Mikhail Galin's cat Viktor is a little overweight, but there's no reason Viktor shouldn't be allowed to travel safely between Moscow and Vladivostok. Russian airline Aeroflot has a rule that pets weighing more than 8 kilos (17 lbs) can only travel aboard its flights in the cargo hold rather than in the cabin. Click here to read about Mr. Galin's elaborate plot to get Viktor safely aboard the flight. (It involves a skinny decoy cat.) But Aeroflot has discovered Galin's scheme and stripped him of his frequent flier miles. We hereby call on all GZERO readers to devise clever new ways to smuggle fat cats onto Aeroflot flights. #FightThePower

A sector that's rapidly expanding, domotics - domus (home) plus robotics - are smart houses that manage temperature and lighting to minimize wasted electricity. For example, smart thermostats sense your presence and set the temperature according to your needs, saving 20% a year on heating bills. Watch this episode of Eni's Energy Shot series to learn how domotics save money and increase a home's value.

Even if the US, Europe, China, and India reduce carbon emissions at the rate they've promised, much climate damage has already been done. That shouldn't stop these and other countries from doing all they can to meet their net-zero emissions targets, but they also better start preparing for a world of people on the move.

Climate change will displace an unprecedented number of people in coming years, creating not just a series of humanitarian crises in many parts of the world, but lasting political, economic, and social upheaval as those of us who live on higher ground try to find a sustainable place for these climate refugees to live.

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When will it be safe for the world's children to be vaccinated against COVID-19? The World Health Organization's chief scientist, Dr. Soumya Swaminathan, says that vaccines are being tested in children down to the age of six or even lower, and promises that data on children will be shared as soon as it's available. She also notes that there are not enough studies on transmission in schools, and the WHO has advised governments to prioritize schools "over other things like shopping malls or cinema halls or pubs." Dr. Swaminathan spoke with Ian Bremmer in an interview on GZERO World, airing on US public television stations starting April 9. Check local listings.

Watch the episode: Vaccine nationalism could prolong the pandemic

Over the past half century, climate change has had an immense impact on the farmers who produce the food we eat. A new study by Cornell University shows that global warming has knocked 21 percent off of global agriculture productivity growth since 1965, equivalent to seven years of normal growth if humans had not polluted the planet. But not all countries have been affected in the same say. Farmers in warmer parts of the world have been hit hard as conditions grow more arid, but sub-polar regions in Canada or Siberia are now actually better for agriculture because they are not as cold as they used to be. Here we take a look at how climate has affected farming productivity growth around the world.

On Tuesday, a major US intelligence report said the top threat to America right now is China. A day later, John Kerry, the Biden administration's "climate czar," got on a plane to... China.

Such is the drama of ties between the world's two largest economies these days.

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A Castro-less Cuba: Raúl Castro, younger brother of the late Fidel, is expected to retire on Friday as secretary-general of Cuba's ruling communist party. When he does, it'll mark the first time since the 1959 revolution that none of Cuba's leaders is named Castro. The development is largely symbolic since Castro, 89, handed over day-to-day affairs to President Miguel Díaz-Canel in 2018. It's worth noting that US sanctions laws do specify that one of the conditions for normalizing ties with Cuba is that any transitional government there cannot include either of the Castro brothers. So that's one less box to tick in case there is a future rapprochement across the Straits of Florida. But more immediately, we're watching to see whether a new generation of leaders headed by Díaz-Canel will bring any serious reforms to Cuba. COVID has killed the tourism industry, plunging the island into an economic crisis that's brought back food shortages and dollar stores reminiscent of the early 1990s.

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16: Brazil's new plan to save the Amazon promises to curb deforestation, but not too much. Although it would reduce annual forest loss to the average recorded over the past five years, next year's target is still 16 percent higher than the Amazon's total deforestation in 2018, the year before President Jair Bolsonaro — who favors economic development of the rainforest — took office.

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Should the Biden administration "reverse course on China" in the hope of establishing a friendlier relationship, as diplomat Kishore Mahbubani argues in a recent Financial Times op-ed? Ian Bremmer and Eurasia Group analyst Michael Hirson take out the Red Pen to explain why it's not that simple.

And today, we are talking about the United States and China. The relationship between the two most powerful nations in the world is the worst it's been since the Tiananmen Square massacre in 1989. Pundits and policymakers alike all around the world are trying to figure out how Washington and Beijing can at least stop the bleeding because a reset is nowhere in the cards.

That's the topic of the op-ed that we are looking at today. It's from the Financial Times, written by Singaporean diplomat Kishore Mahbubani, and the title summarizes the key argument: "Biden should summon the courage to reverse course on China." Meaning, he should throw out the Trump era approach and open the door to more cooperation and kinder, gentler relations.

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