Conflicts at the international scale


Water Security Risk Index: The Water Security Index is produced by the firm Maplecroft. Maplecroft are a company that monitor political, social, economic and environmental risk. They create over 100 indexes, the water security index being one of them. They look at four variables, when making their index:
  • access to improved drinking water and sanitation
  • the availability of renewable water and the reliance on external supplies
  • the relationship between available water and supply demands
  • and the water dependency of each country's economy.

Two countries that the Nile flows through are considered to have an extreme water security risk; Egypt and Sudan.

Economic Water Scarcity: This is when the supply of water exists, but there is not enough money to extract, treat and transport it.

Physical water Scarcity: This is when the demand for water exceeds the supply of water. Arid areas don't necessarily have a physical water scarcity if the demands are low.

Water Stress: This is when there is a shortage of water for economic reasons, physical reasons or both. If there is water stress then wetlands, ecosystems, agricultural land, industrial production and ultimately humans can all be affected.

Map details Global Water Stress - BBC article

According to the UN, there are more than 250 internationally shared rivers covering nearly half the total land surface of the earth, as well as innumerable shared aquifers. Around 300 potential conflicts around the world have been identified.

How water raises the political temperature between countries - Guardian article
external image water-security-risk-index-2010.jpg?w=500&h=505

Conflict over water is likely to increase because of:


Population Growth: The World's population currently stand at about 7 billion. Demographers argue about when and how high the World population will peak at, but most agree that it will be at least 9 billion. Obviously as the World's population increases, so does the demand for water, for drinking, washing, cooking, etc.

Economic Development: Generally, the more developed a country, the more water that it uses. Looking at the graph below, it is obvious that the biggest consumers per capita are all MEDCs. As the World's population increases, so will the demand for water. As people are richer they have flush toilets, showers and buy washing machines, dishwashers, etc.

external image average_daily_water_usage_per_person.png

Increased Agriculture: As the World's population grows an gets richer, the demand for agricultural products will increase. As the demand increases so will the need to irrigate more arid areas. Also a populations develop, they tend to eat more meat, which needs even more water. It is estimated that it takes 10,000 litres of water to produce one beef steak.
external image Image-2.png
external image waterusebysector.jpg
Industrial Growth: Again as the World's population grows and becomes richer, the demand for industrial products grows. More people want cars and televisions, computers and cookers. Any industrial product or industrial process uses water, so as demand for the products goes up, so does the demand for water.

Global Warming: Global warming is affecting different regions, in different ways. Although some areas will become wetter and possibly colder, areas that already are arid and suffer drought are likely to become more arid and suffer more drought. There will be less precipitation, but there will also be more evaporation. The areas that are likely to get drier include the Sahel and the Middle East. So not only is demand going up, but supply will be going down.

Water Pollution: The supply of water is also being reduced by pollution. This might include natural groundwater pollution like in Bangladesh or more accidental (or deliberate) pollution like in Hinckley (Irrigation and agriculture). Acid rain and an increase in salinisation will also make more water unsuitable for human consumption.

Groundwater Depletion: Supply is also being reduced because groundwater is not only being polluted, but removed unsustainably. Over abstraction can cause subsidence and saltwater intrusion, but also conflict over reducing supplies e.g. Israel and the West Bank.

Shared Resources: Many countries share rivers and lakes. As the demand for water increases and the supply decreases, countries are going to come increasingly into conflict about who the resources belong to. One of the best examples of this growing conflict is the River Nile.

River Nile


The River Nile is the longest river in the world with a total length of 6,650km (the Amazon is actually bigger if you look at river discharge). The Nile has two main tributaries, the White Nile and the Blue Nile. Their confluence is in the Sudanese capital, Khartoum. The source of the White Nile is in Burundi. The source of the Blue Nile is in Ethiopia. In total the Blue Nile, the White Nile and the Nile flow through eleven countries; Burundi, Rwanda, Democratic Republic of Congo, Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Sudan, South Sudan and Egypt. The Nile has a huge drainage basin of 3,254,555km2, which is roughly 10% of the whole of Africa. The majority of the Nile's water (about 85%) come from the Blue Nile in Ethiopia.

It is believed that civilisations have used the Nile for over 6,000 years to irrigate land. However, it is only in recent years as the populations and development levels of African countries increased, have disputes over the Nile's use emerged.

South Sudan referendum: 99% for for independence - BBC article
external image nile-map.png

Key Dates of the River Nile and its Territories (recent history)


1888: Arrival of British East Africa Company in Kenya and Uganda, effectively beginning British colonisation of Kenya and Uganda
1899: Joint British and Egyptian rule begins in Sudan
1914: Egypt made official protectorate of UK
1929: Nile Water Agreement. The treaty signed between UK, Egypt and Sudan gave Egypt the ownership over the majority of the Nile's water (48 billion m3 a year), Sudan got 4 billion m3. Ethiopia, Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda and other East African countries were not allowed to use any.
1944: End of foreign interference from Italy and UK in Ethiopia (effectively independence)
1954: The end of British military presence in Egypt
1956: Sudan independence from UK and Egypt
1959: While most of East Africa was still under British control, Egypt and Sudan signed another treaty. They estimated the Nile's annual flow to be 84 billion m3. Egypt gave itself 55.5 billion m3 and Sudan gave itself 18.5 m3. They estimated a further 10 billion m3 would be lost through evaporation, effectively giving all other countries no rights to any of the Nile's water.
1961: Tanzania becomes independent from UK (before WWII, Tanzania was a German colony)
1962: Uganda gains independence from UK. Rwanda and Burundi separate and gain independence from Belgium
1963: Kenya becomes independent from UK and Democratic Republic of Congo becomes independent from Belgium
1993: Eritrea becomes independent from Ethiopia
1999: Nile Basin Initiative launched (Nile Basin Initiative website). All countries except Eritrea were members. It aimed to looked at sustainable usage of the NIle.
2010: Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda, Ethiopia and Tanzania sign the "River Nile Basin Co-operative Framework"
2011: Burundi becomes the sixth country allowing ratification of accord and possibly stripping Egypt of its historical claim over the Nile (Burundi Government signs accord on use of Nile River Water - Bloomberg article)
2012: South Sudan becomes an independent country

On numerous occasions Egypt has threatened to defends its historical claims over the Nile. It has even said that it will use air power against other countries to protect its flow of the River Nile. These tensions are going to rise with projects being carried out by countries along the Nile e.g.

HEP scheme on the White Nile in Uganda: White water torrent to die as nation gambles on huge Nile dam project - Guardian article

Three HEP schemes on the Blue Nile in Ethiopia: Egypt furious over secret Ethiopian Nile dams - Africa Review

HEP projects may not be as controversial as irrigation schemes. This is because HEP projects don't actually remove water from the Nile, they just create artificial stores eventually allowing all the water to continue its journey down the Nile. However, it should be noted that evaporation from these artificial stores is going to be higher than evaporation directly from the river (it is estimated that 10% of the water gets evaporated from Lake Nasser).

Why is the River Nile Important?

  • Tourism: The White Nile rapids in Uganda attracts thousands of tourists a year, as does Lake Victoria (fed by Nile) on the border of Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania and of course the River Nile in Egypt which is lined by ancient monuments.
  • Agriculture and Irrigation: We have already seen how Egypt depends on the Aswan Dam to irrigate the desert (Dams and Reservoirs). All other countries along the Nile's course would also like to increase agricultural production and possible increase agricultural exports. Ethiopia is meant to have the best coffee in the world and Kenya has a growing flower industry.
  • Transport: In countries that often lack good roads and railways, the lakes on the Nile and the Nile itself can make a vital transport link within and between countries. The waterways can help promote trade, particularly useful for landlocked countries like Burundi and Rwanda.
  • Wildlife: The Nile is home to many species; including the Nile crocodile and hippopotamus. Many areas along the Nile have been protected as National Parks e.g. Murchison Falls NP in Uganda.
  • Drinking Water: Most African countries are experiencing growing population as well as increasing economic development. With bigger populations, more water is needed. With economic development the demand for washing machines, dishwashers, showers, etc. also increase.
  • HEP: Egypt currently generates much of its power from the Aswan High Dam. Other countries along the Nile's course would also like to be able to use the Nile's power and reduce their dependency on wood and other fossil fuel imports.
  • Drought Control: East Africa regularly suffers from drought periods (northern Kenyan is suffering an ongoing drought). If the Nile's water can be stored in reservoirs, it might be able to reduce the effects of many of the regions droughts.

East Africa seeks more Nile water from Egypt - BBC article

How should the Nile's water be shared - BBC article

Battle for the Nile as rivals lay claim to Africa's great river - Guardian article

Ethiopia and Egypt dispute the Nile - BBC article

East African countries to challenge colonial Nile treaty - Telegraphgh article

Nile restrictions anger Ethiopia - BBC article