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Water: Leading towards World War III?

Water: Leading towards World War III?

Water: Leading towards World War III?

Is the world eventually coming to an end? From global warming to climate change; Severe droughts to mighty floods; still water scarcity overwhelms us all. The United Nations recognizes the importance of redressing the global water crisis each year on World Water Day, March 22 and has established the UN Sustainable Development Goal 6 calling for clean water and sanitation for all.

According to the UN, over 2 billion people are currently affected by water crisis and 844 million people lack basic drinking water access, more than 1 of every 10 people on the planet.

Water Conflicts over the World.

The Nile River Conflict

The Nile River is the saviour of over 160 million people and over 300 million people live within its fertile plain basin. After Egypt and Sudan refused to sign the agreement to surrender shares of the Nile River, Ethiopia began to build the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) on the Nile River in April 2011.

Ethiopia has claimed geographical rights, since 85% of the Nile waters run naturally through the Ethiopian wetlands. For Ethiopia, the dam is of utmost necessity for its water needs and economic development, as it is set to supply the country with more than 6,000 megawatts of electricity, pre requisite for the country’s development.

For Sudan there is the added advantage ; the dam would regulate the flow of the river - meaning it would be the same all-year round. Usually the country suffers from serious flooding in August and September which destroys its crops. The dam also promises economic benefits for Sudan.

While, Cairo is suffering from a water deficit of around 10 billion kiloliters. 1 billion kiloliter reduction would cause more than 200,000 acres of land to go out of production half a million farmers to be unemployed and the dam would decrease the river’s flow for at least that period by 25 percent. Egypt has threatened violent battle as a last resort since an attack on its water is an attack on its supremacy.

Egypt has proposed in the latest negotiations that it be guaranteed at least 40 billion cubic meters of water annually and that Ethiopia take a longer time to fill its reservoir. However, Cairo’s leverage is limited, and so Ethiopia has accepted just 31 billion cubic meters.

A trilateral meeting is supposed to take place on Jan 15, 2020 and there is hope for a resolution, temporary if not concrete, to be formed.

Euphrates-Tigris (ET) Conflict

It is shared between Turkey, Syria and Iraq, with Iran comprising parts of the Tigris basin. Since the 1960s, disputes have prevented the three governments from effectively sharing the basin’s rivers. Although cooperation efforts were renewed in the 2000s, these have yet to result in a formal agreement on managing the basin waters.

In the 1980s-1990s, as Turkey started to use water as an instrument to put pressure on the other co-riparian states and linked it to issues not related to water. For instance, in 1987 Turkey and Syria brokered an agreement, in which Turkey committed to release 500 m³ water per second to Syria while the latter committed to put an end to its support to the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK).

Turkey cut off the Euphrates flow when Iraq invaded Kuwait in 1990. Then Turkey's refusal to sign the 1997 UN Water Convention, being one of only three countries to vote against it in the UN General Assembly, added to the tension.

In 1998, Syria expressed the will to re-start Joint Technical Committee meetings. And so in 2001, a Joint Communiqué between Syria and Turkey was formed which acted as a basis for future agreements. The most significant are the Memorandums of Understanding (MoU) on water management signed between Iraq and Turkey and Syria and Turkey in 2009. Also both co-riparians agreed to jointly build a dam on the shared Orontes River in the province of Hatay, which used to be a bone of contention between the neighbors.

Now, collaboration on the ET basin has grounded to a grinding stop. Both MoUs could not be ratified as they did not fulfill the legal requirements in parliament and were therefore rejected by both the Syrian and the Iraqi parliament.

UN predicts major temperature increases in Turkey – 2 to 3 degrees Celsius – by the end of the century, which could cause a reduction of the Euphrates flow by 30% and of the Tigris flow by 60% by then. And thus it is direly important for all three riparians to come to agree an agreement protecting each ones needs and sovereignty while improving the water situation.

The Brahmaputra River Conflict

The Chinese leadership in 2003 launched a gigantic South-to-North Water Transfer Project. To satisfy its insatiable demand for electricity and as a part of its shift away from coal, China went on a dam building spree.

The Brahmaputra basin possesses about 44% of India’s total hydropower potential, and flows from China to India to Bangladesh and Pakistan.

The main tool used by the Chinese in de- securitizing the matter is the signing of Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) regarding sharing hydrological data with India and Bangladesh, not leaving any space for downstream to point finger to China for being uncooperative upper riparian country. However, these MoUs are non-binding and there is no overseeing organizational body that can ensure a fair implementation of the agreement.

In 2017, India stopped receiving hydrological data from China, while downstream countries like Bangladesh still received data. Beijing had said that its hydrological stations were being constructed and so it can’t share data. However, in 2018, data continued to flow, and Beijing assured this flow to continue.

However, handing the control of water, every country’s lifeline, to China is, termed by foremost hydrologists “highly dangerous” but as of now there are no new bilateral conversations being held amongst the two countries but further research is being done about the conversation and sanitation of water.

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