15 February 2014
The issue of water resources deficit is becoming more acute in many regions of the world. Northern Africa is currently one of the «hot spots». Sergey Lavrov, Russia’s Foreign Minister, while meeting in Moscow heads of the foreign and defense ministries of Egypt especially stressed the need for reaching mutually acceptable agreements in resolving that problem.
The Arab world is in a very difficult situation as far as the sufficiency of water resources goes. While 5% of the planet’s population lives on the territory of the Middle East and Northern Africa, only 0.9% of the global water resources are located there. Many countries practically draw their livelihood from one source. Specifically, the basin of the Nile River is divided between a dozen countries. Every country gets a quota for the use of water resources. Egypt, which is located the lowest down the stream, uses the lion’s share of the Nile water. Today, many are not content with that situation, points out Prof. Marina Sapronova of the Oriental studies Department at the Moscow State Institute of International Relations.
«Back in mid-1950s an agreement was signed between Egypt and Sudan regarding the division of the water of the Nile River. But the thing is, the situation that existed in the industry and agriculture as well as ecology in mid-1950s and the situation in those areas in the XXI century are absolutely different. Cities are developing in an accelerated way, the population is growing, and the production volumes go up as well. All that requires greater usage of fresh water. That is why the legal base that existed back then could be taken as the basis for various agreements, but nevertheless it has to be updated».
While Egypt was the main regional force, its right to water resources was practically not contested. At some point Ethiopia tried to build a dam, but an Egyptian airplane sunk the ship carrying the necessary construction equipment and the issue was closed for many years.
Today the situation in the region has changed. Addis-Ababa has started a project called «Renaissance» – erection of a huge hydro power station in the upper part of the Blue Nile River, which is the main artery of the great river. Among Ethiopia’s allies are Kenya, Sudan, Southern Sudan and Djibouti. The Ethiopians have promised to sell part of the electric power produced, which is in deficit in the region. Egypt, which can lose a great part of the Nile water as a result of that construction, is trying to oppose the project. But today flag wagging is not an option. Cairo has admitted the need for mutual agreements. Egypt’s talks with Ethiopia and Sudan regarding the water issue have already started although with no result. The world community, including Russia, is trying to be instrumental in working out a mutually acceptable solution.
It is worse when parties to a conflict have no chance or wish to sit down to negotiate, thinks Marina Sapronova, an expert in international relations.
«The Jordan River and its affluents are the main water sources for the Middle East. Thus, the water issue is quite acute in the Jordan-Syria relations, as well as those between Jordan and Israel, Syria and Iraq, Lebanon and Israel and Palestine and Israel. In other words, all states that draw water from one source have conflict relations with their neighbors. But besides Jordan other states in the region have no diplomatic relations with Israel. That is why the problem is caused by the lack of opportunity to resolve the water issue in a bi-lateral way in these or those relations».
The water situation is no better in the Central Asian region. Uzbekistan is openly threatening Tajikistan to start a war if Dushanbe builds Rogunskaya hydro power plant on the Vahsh River thus limiting the supply of water downstream. The problem did not come up today, but previously the countries managed to resolved it politically, points out Valery Vuglinsky, deputy director of the State Hydrological Institute.
«In the Soviet times the Central Asian republics where irrigation was developed resolved those problems at the state level, at the level of the government of the USSR. The residents of those regions could not resolve that issue between themselves. Today the neighboring countries cannot resolve the issue of water resources deficit even by political means. Especially when a country located up the stream is building a water reservoir in the upper part of the river, thus intercepting a part of the flow. A deficit of water and related political tension appear in the state located down the stream».
The Earth’s population is growing and is consuming more and more natural resources. According to UN data, inn ten years 45% of the planet’s population will face an acute deficit of fresh water. It is all getting to the point that the water issue will become the key issue in the international diplomacy.