• Sullivan Valdez

Water wars

Art by Benicio Barbosa

The climate is changing. The land is dusty, empty and bare. Crops are failing and resources are becoming scarce, namely water. While here in the US most of the major rivers that flow through our country are located entirely within it, in other countries, this is sadly not the case. You would think that water is a basic human right, and waters that make their way through multiple countries are free from being damned or altered, right? If only this was the case. With the need for water for agriculture as well as clean power growing exponentially, some countries have seen it fit to dam major rivers that run through other autonomous states.

The first of these major rivers that are planning on being dammed is the Blue Nile in Ethiopia. While the Blue Nile is most famously known for running through Egypt, it actually starts in Ethiopia, makes its way through Sudan, and ends in Egypt. Sudan and Egypt have historically been extremely dependent on the flow of the Nile, and with Ethiopia’s Grand Ethiopia Renaissance Dam, or GERD, now reaching completion, and talks of how it should be filled and how water would be allocated during times of drought dragging on for almost 5 years now and still incomplete, it looks grim for Egypt which relies on the Nile for almost 85-90% of their water. Luckily for Egypt, the damming wouldn't completely shut off all water flow to Egypt and Sudan, but would instead significantly disrupt the water flow in the Nile. This doesn’t mean that Egypt and Sudan are going to let this happen willingly. As previously stated, there have been talks about how the dam should be filled, but seeing as the talks have broken down on many occasions, many fear that military action might be taken by Egypt.

The Blue Nile Falls, Ethiopia

If Egypt does decide to take action, this could prompt their other Sunni allies in the area, like Somalia and namely Sudan, to ally with Egypt against Ethiopia, although it is less likely that Sudan will ally with Egypt seeing as their government doesn’t trust their neighboring country with control of the Nile. If Ethiopia were to be threatened by Egypt, then that could cause the African Union (AU) to intervene, but if it were to be threatened by Sudan, AU intervention is a lot less likely, seeing as Sudan is also an AU member. A proxy war could ensue, with Sudan being armed by Egypt, where fighting would ensue in Sudan or the Ethiopian highlands over control of the Nile. Luckily this is very unlikely, seeing as Ethiopia and Egypt share many allies namely China. Additionally, the United States has been forced to intervene due to fruitless talks. For now this has kept both parties fed, but how long will it be until one of them grows hungry again?

Speaking of China, that is another country that has plans on damming rivers that would affect many other countries. If you were paying attention to the news about 2 months ago, you heard about a border clash between China and India. It was the most brutal in decades, and this shows the high tensions between China and India. China’s annexation of Tibet in 1950 caused a major stir and it still holds controversy and importance for many reasons. However, the focus is that the Tibetan plateau holds many of the major rivers in Asia. One of these rivers is the Brahmaputra river, which India severely relies on since the Brahmaputra feeds into the Ganges, Yamuna, Meghna and Padma rivers, which would cut off much of the water to northeast India where some of their most populous cities are, like Kolkata, Guwahati, Kanpur and even their capital New Delhi.

The Brahmaputra River, Asia

Additionally this would affect other countries on the Indian subcontinent like Nepal and Bangladesh. The reason for the damming stems from the Xinjiang region of China which is historically one of the most water poor in all of China. In 2015 China built the Zang-Mu dam, and is planning on building three more on the Brahmaputra river. With dams on the Mekong river also, which flows into almost all of East Asia through tributaries (Myanmar/Burma, Vietnam, Thailand, and Cambodia), water wars in Asia look like a striking possibility. While the dams being built are similar to those being built in Ethiopia (hydropower plants which do not stop water flow), they still pose an existential threat for the Indian-subcontinent and Southeast Asia as China could possibly damn up these rivers, causing mass famines.

Neither India nor Bangladesh (the two most likely to be affected) have been idle in the face of these dams being built, but as was seen with Ethiopia and Egypt, neither party is willing to budge on whether or not the dams should be built, nor how they should be filled. This has caused the jittery, anxiety-filled tensions of both countries to flare up like a flame fed kerosene. In some places, borders are quiet and peaceful, with lazy border guards relaxing at their posts. In others, the nuclear powers are staring each other down, sleep-deprived and thirsty, slowly taking steps then leaps toward lines on the ground, waiting to call the other the aggressor when one of them eventually takes the first ear-deafening shot.

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