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Sharing Water After the Arab Spring

When the dust settles in the Arab world, there will be two major questions asked: who actually holds power now, and what are we going to do about water?

UPI recently reported on the numerous water-sharing agreements that are being negotiated and renegotiated as the nations of the Arab world simultaneously experience the institution-shaking phenomenon of the Arab Awakening, and an unusual string of punishing droughts (thanks to Andrew Holland at ASP for the heads up).

According to the article, “thirteen of the 20 states that make up the Arab League rank among the world’s most water-scarce nations.” Climate change projections for the region, as well as observable evidence demonstrating the effect climate change is already having on drought in the area, add to the stress, raising the specter of consistent water shortages in the near future.

Poor management, governance and cooperation doesn’t help. For example, UPI highlights tension between Iraq, Turkey and Syria, with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki growing increasingly frustrated with the “quality of water from the Euphrates and the Tigris rivers they [Turkey and Syria] allow Iraq,” and fearing that water shortages will lead to further violence in his fragile state.

The article also highlights Egypt’s prolonged transition, and what that may mean for sharing the waters of the Nile (see Patrick Keys’ series on Nile Water Security, and our own look at the complex issues involved from last July). As its stands, “Eight upstream states, led by Ethiopia, where the Blue Nile rises, have been demanding a more equitable share of the Nile’s waters that have been controlled by Cairo under British colonial era agreements.” There is no real sense yet of what a new Egyptian government will do in terms of water-sharing, particularly given continuing uncertainties about who in the country will actually wield power.

If the countries of the region wish to emerge from their transition periods as more stable, resilient and legitimate states, they will have to swiftly (and deftly) address the twin challenges of water and climate security. Close and good faith cooperation with neighboring states would be a start.

1 Comment

  1. Pat says:

    Great article. A very interesting dimension of the Nile is that a phrase like the following exists at all: “Eight upstream states, led by Ethiopia, where the Blue Nile rises, have been demanding a more equitable share of the Nile’s waters…”
    The fact that the nations feel it necessary to demand, rather than take, is a window into the power dynamics of the region.

    I wonder if in the future, the claims put forward now will be viewed as historical stepping stones towards either (a) outright appropriation (a la the Grand Renaissance Dam), or (b) as intentional steps forcing negotiations with Egypt and Sudan (the two dominant shareholders of Nile Water under existing allocations).

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