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Seeds of water war

There have been persistent tensions between Egypt, Sudan, on the one hand, and Ethiopia, on the other, which observers warn may escalate into skirmishes and…

There have been persistent tensions between Egypt, Sudan, on the one hand, and Ethiopia, on the other, which observers warn may escalate into skirmishes and even full-scale war. 

The countries have been locked in disputes over the Nile River since Ethiopia began the construction of its almost five billion-dollar gigantic Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) on its part of the river. After a decade of construction, the dam is 80 per cent done, and the process of filling it with water has already begun.   

The Nile River flows across northeastern Africa through many countries flowing from Ethiopia into Sudan, then Egypt. Its freshwater constitutes a significant percentage of the already extremely scarce natural freshwater in the world. 

Interestingly, though water makes up about 70 per cent of the Earth’s surface, natural freshwater is less than three per cent; more than 97 per cent is salty hence basically unsuitable for human consumption, agricultural and most industrial purposes. 

Anyway, all along, Egypt and Sudan kicked against the GERD project arguing that it would hugely obstruct the flow of the Nile water into them. 

Egypt, in particular, almost entirely depends on the Nile River water, which covers more than 90 per cent of its agricultural, industrial and, of course, consumption needs of its more than 100 million people. It, therefore, considers the dam an existential threat to it. It’s also worried that it may end up at the mercy of Ethiopia and indeed vulnerable to blackmail not only at its hands but other countries with influence over it, as well.  

For over a decade, Egypt had tried, albeit unsuccessfully, to foil the construction of the dam; and since its completion, it has engaged various global, continental and regional bodies, and various countries to impede its commissioning. It has equally maintained a threatening rhetoric warning of its readiness to go to the extent of taking military measures against Ethiopia. 

On its part, Ethiopia has insisted that it needs the dam to improve its poor electricity generation among other developmental purposes for its almost 120 million people. It has, therefore, resisted Egypt’s moves to frustrate the dam project while equally reiterating its readiness to engage militarily. 

Though militarily speaking, Egypt is by far stronger than Ethiopia, realistically speaking, military measures cannot stop the dam operation. Also, though Egypt could, at some point, and out of sheer frustration, disrupt the dam operation by military attacks on it, which would certainly trigger Ethiopia’s retaliation hence war, it’s not likely to change the situation in the long run anyway.  

Besides, now that Ethiopia has already begun filling the dam with water, attacking the dam may cause devastating floods in the surrounding areas within both countries, Sudan and perhaps beyond, which would expose Egypt to an international backlash among other measures.  

Furthermore, the involvement of other countries in the underlying politics of the dam construction and its operation further complicates the situation. For instance, for its own strategic and geopolitical interests, Israel has been deeply involved in ensuring the success of the project; it has already installed advanced air defence systems all around the dam in anticipation of possible attacks by Egypt to blow it up. 

Interestingly, though Israel and Egypt are supposedly friends since the end of the war era between them and the start of their diplomatic relations in 1979, they have been locked in a geopolitical struggle. 

As it has planned all along, and thanks to its sheer financial, diplomatic and strategic investment in the dam project, Israel is now literally in a position to influence, if not dictate, the amount of Nile water that would be released into Egypt. It’s indeed a highly effective blackmailing tool against Egypt, which Israel can manipulate to blackmail it into concessions on many issues including the Palestinian issue.  

After all, some developments suggest that the strategy seems to have already begun to prove its effectiveness. For example, Israel that has for decades yearned for access to the Nile freshwater for which it necessarily needs Egypt’s cooperation due to geographical constraints, appears to be finally getting its way. After decades of successive Egyptian governments’ refusal to cooperate, Egypt is now reportedly building six gigantic underground tunnels to channel the Nile water into Israel. 

The obvious explanation of this development is that having come to terms with the reality about the Ethiopian dam, Egypt is, apparently, reluctantly pursuing a compromise with Ethiopia to secure the inflow of the maximum possible share of the Nile water. And considering the influence that Israel has over Ethiopia, Israel’s interests apparently influence Ethiopia’s terms. 

Anyway, Turkey equally supports Ethiopia against Egypt to spite the latter in the context of the Cairo-Ankara geopolitical face-off. Turkish particular interest in Ethiopia is partly informed by its desire to equally be in a position to likewise blackmail Egypt over the Nile water-sharing arrangement. After all, with the recently signed defence agreement between it and Ethiopia, it may support it militarily in the event of a military confrontation between it and Egypt. 

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