International Water Conflicts

By Mallika Sondhi

“Water is the nectar of life”. It is the centre of our civilization, we cannot
live without it. We depend on it to advance, feed and clothes ourselves,
so in times like these where water is becoming scarce, the desperation
we feel to protect its reserves is just that much more maximized.
With climate change altering monsoon cycles everywhere, it has
become hard to predict the rainfall pattern and therefore, it is difficult to
plan out the best way to collect and store water. Most Governments and
localities depend on highly innovative or even basic Dam structures to
help regulate the water usage. But what happens when these Dams
need to be built on rivers that provide water to more than a single
country?
Each country wishes to provide for and protect the welfare of its own
citizens but in the case of attempting to safeguard their water resources,
a lot of countries start infringing on the water rights of other nations. This
leads to legislation upon legislation, tons of deliberations and bilateral,
sometimes even multilateral talks that are aimed at finding a common
solution for all states involved. 
However, these negotiations always get heated and mostly fail because
the power dynamics are skewed in the favor of the country that is home
to the source of the river. It is well within a nation’s right to create Dams
on water bodies within their territories, so when such action shall affect a
neighboring state, they must play nice and endeavor to be in the good
graces of the other. But to bow down and be one-sidedly gracious is not
a position most governments are fond of playing, thus resulting in acute
diplomatic tensions. 
The longest river in the world, the Nile, flows through ten North African
countries and has unsurprisingly been the cause of large-scale disputes
among these countries. Nine out of ten of the countries that the Nile
basin stretches over the territories of, have formed the NBI (Nile Basin
Initiative). While this organization has diverted major conflicts from
arising by resolving and looking into minor issues, today however with
rising temperatures and increasing populations, these relationships have
been strained. Violent measures were thwarted in 2015 when tensions
were at their peak due to Ethiopia’s hydroelectric dam construction on
the Nile river. This created an uproar from downstream countries like
Egypt and Sudan, which would be severely affected by this structure.
Finally, in 2015, a framework was created through trilateral negotiations

among these riparian nations, although this too was very vague about
the future and the exact terms of an agreement between them were
ambiguous. The result of this ambiguity is being witnessed now as just
last year Ethiopia began adding water to the so-named, Great Ethiopian
Renaissance Dam (GERD) and this February the dam started fulfilling its
purpose of producing hydroelectricity. While talks with Sudan were
continuing at that time, it has been predicted that they shall yield no
result. 
This dam shall soon become the largest hydroelectric power station on
the continent, doubling the amount of energy currently produced in
Ethiopia and is regarded as the beacon for economic progress in the
nation. While Ethiopia has promised that water shall continue to flow to
its downstream neighbors and that their allocation of water shall not be
affected by the dam’s activity, Egypt continues to remain perturbed and
calls this action an infringement of the 2015 agreement.
India too has been facing similar concerns in regards to China’s
proposal to begin construction of a dam on the Brahmaputra which was
recently approved by the Chinese Parliament. The Dam set to be built in
the Tibet Autonomous Region of China has downplayed the concerns of
the downstream riparian nations, India and Bangladesh, both of whom
have large populations that rely on the water from this river. The
downstream states, especially India have, in present times, been having
sharp tensions with the Communist nation and India fears that the water
from this river might be held at stake for any other future conflicts
between the two as this is the second dam that China is building on the
Yarlung Zangbo river (name of the Brahmaputra in China). The first
dam, which is also a hydroelectric dam, did not cause much concern for
India as it was designed to be a run of the river dam, thus it wouldn’t
disturb the amount of water that flowed into North-East India. 
India, China and Bangladesh annually discuss matters of research and
data on the river with each other with India and China creating Expert
Level Mechanism (ELM) for cooperation on issues about their inter-
border rivers.

Speaking on this current issue, a spokesperson for the Chinese Foreign
Ministry, Hua Chunying, stated that, “For a long time the three countries,
China, India and Bangladesh have been in close communication on
sharing hydrological information, flood prevention and disaster reduction
and contingency management. Going forward China, India, Bangladesh
and other concerned countries will continue to have good
communication. There is no need for any anxiety on this matter.”While

there hasn’t yet been any cause for concern, India and Bangladesh are
keeping the project under vigilant scrutiny. 
However, in another prominent river basin of the Asian Continent, the
conflict has not been quite so diplomatic. The Tigris-Euphrates basin
provides water to Turkey, Syria, Iraq and parts of Iran. These co-riparian
states have struggled in building cooperation in harnessing the
resources of the river and have reached varying degrees of discord on
multiple matters. With each country wanting to utilize the river to provide
for themselves and their growing populations and economies, each of
them began building development projects in their territories in the same
period of time. These uncoordinated activities created chaos in the river
basin and led to many violent and armed conflicts. 
One of the most dangerous and escalated clashes took place in 1975,
when Turkey and Syria began using their respective dams on the river
due to a drought that had stricken both nations. Greater violence was
stalled by mediated efforts made by Saudi Arabia. However, the project
that has the potential to absolutely ruin all tactful niceties is Turkey’s
Southeastern Anatolia’s Development project (aka GAP). An ambitious
initiative, it is truly formidable in its plans to build a total of 22 dams on
these two rivers, with 19 hydroelectric power plants. This project is
currently predicted to haul over 70% of the total flow of the Euphrates.
Iraq has already threatened that if this issue becomes a fact then they
shall initiate immediate violent action against the upstream European
country. Syria, which shall also be adversely affected by GAP has,
however, asked for the International Court of Justice to step in and
arbitrate matters between them. But the Syrian militant organization,
PKK, has threatened to launch attacks on Turkey if their demands are
not heard and the issue is not negotiated.
All these conflicts only help in shedding light on how important it is for all
of our nations to work together and to help each other, with good faith
and cooperation being absolutely necessary for everyone to benefit.
Without a collective effort being made, we shall see ourselves lose this
battle not to each other but to nature herself and then, we shall be truly
helpless.

This is the introductory piece to our series about International Water
Conflicts.

Mallika Sondhi is a student of Jindal Global University

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