Water conflicts: When to be kind and when to take up arms

Abdullah bin Bajad al-Otaibi

Published: Updated:

Water wars will become the greatest war to ever erupt in our world in the future. Water is a vital resource for life on Earth, and without it, our blue planet is no different from the rest of the rocky spheres that about this vast universe. Life cannot exist without water, and thus, the looming water wars are wars over survival or extinction.

The conflict in southeast Africa that goes through Sudan and reaches Egypt over the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam being built by Ethiopia is a dangerous conflict that may lead to upheavals that will have repercussions on the entire region, and even the whole world. Despite all the previous conflicts that the Horn of Africa and the entire continent have witnessed, the conflict over the Nile and the rights of the countries on its basin will be a struggle fiercer than all preceding ones, and its effects will last for a long time.

A few days ago, Egypt and Uganda signed a military intelligence sharing agreement, which is a preparatory step in case the worst was to happen, especially in light of the political and diplomatic failure to find fair solutions that guarantee the legitimate rights of Sudan and Egypt in accordance with the international laws. Only the sane ones hope for the best and prepare for the worst.

Arab support for Egypt and Sudan is strong. No country wants the conflict to escalate, which is evident in their support of diplomatic and political solutions, such as negotiations, discussions and sincere inspections that can put an end to the crisis and guarantee the rights of all parties involved.

In a statement issued by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation (MoFAIC), the UAE also highlighted its keenness to continue negotiations and diplomatic dialogue to overcome the disputes related to the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) between Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia. Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Jordan and other countries have expressed similar sentiments.

The disagreement over the Nile brings back memories of a previous experience between Iraq and Syria over their rights of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, which were infringed upon by Turkey, where both rivers stem. This negative experience is a model of political failure in managing regional conflicts, particularly conflicts over water. The repercussions of this failure remain strongly present in Syria and Iraq’s present and future situations.

What this experience teaches us is that the consequences of any brutal war that Egypt and Sudan may be forced into – no matter how costly – will be less costly than tolerating the violation of their legitimate rights in the waters of the Nile.

Is Ethiopia seeking to antagonize Sudan, Egypt and, by extension, Arab countries? Ethiopian statements do not reflect such a sentiment, but it is important to understand some of the motives behind its determination to remain steadfast in its position. The most important of these motives is the internal disputes plaguing Ethiopia, which have tremendous pressures on Ethiopian decision-makers. These internal disputes can easily turn into a civil war, fueled by grave dissensions in the social, religious and tribal fabrics of the Ethiopian society. This is quite an understandable motive and Arabs can provide aid to Ethiopia to overcome its differences, consolidate its internal peace and support its development.

While Ethiopia’s motives are understandable, they cannot be deemed justifications for the starting conflicts with and violating the rights of other states. This is a failed policy that only invites additional problems Ethiopia may not be able to face, especially if stricter policies were to be adopted against it. The Sudanese and Egyptian rights in the Nile are historical, legal and humanitarian rights that most countries, including the previous US administration, understood as they supported the positions and policies adopted by Egypt and Sudan to protect their interests.

The bottom line is, those who are prudent search for wisdom, and peace is better than war.

This article was originally published in, and translated from, Emirati publication al-Ittihad

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