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Ever since workers first broke ground on the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) in 2011, international commenters have fixated on the Nile as a possible harbinger of future ‘water wars’ to come. And almost since then, water experts have pushed back against that narrative. There’s no reason for such giddy pessimism, they say. Nor does precedent support the likelihood of conflict. As Addis Ababa and downstream Cairo have slowly hashed out most of the technical details, they’ve so far been proven right.
But though this dispute’s potential to spark inter-state violence may have been overstated thus far, at least for the near-term, the Nile and its GERD lightning rod nevertheless offer an alarming insight into just how dangerous future transboundary water disputes are liable to become, particularly in the context of a changing climate. This might be the new normal. Because while most previous cross-border water wrangles played out among neighbors with histories of water woes or sudden supply shocks, many current disputes are ensnaring a much broader, significantly less experienced, and worryingly ill-prepared cast of riparian states.
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). (more…)