Course:EOSC311/2021/Political Implications of Trans-boundary Water Resources in the Middle East

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The Middle East and North Africa (MENA) is the most water scarce region in the world, and contains multiple politically-contested transboundary water resources[1]. Demand for freshwater within most MENA states already far surpasses the available supply, even with water gained through desalination and wastewater treatment processes[2]. This trend is expected to continue. There are very few joint management and allocation agreements for the many transboundary water sources within MENA, and this absence has resulted in uncoordinated and unsustainable development of both groundwater and surface water sources[3]. Consequences of this include significant water depletion and quality degradation, which puts the water security of all nations sharing the transboundary water resource at risk. Water is an extremely valuable resource, and threats to a state's water access increase the risk of conflict between that state and others competing to use the same resource[4]. Correlations are present between the existence of joint management agreements between states sharing water resources and the risk of conflict between those states, and these trends are visible in many inter-state relationships in MENA.[3] States without joint management and allocation agreements concerning their shared water resources are more likely to experience conflict over water issues than states that do have such agreements.

Introduction and Connections

Water is an extremely valuable geological resource, and accessible freshwater supplies on Earth have limits.  Freshwater reservoirs such as major rivers and groundwater aquifers that exist within the political boundaries of multiple states have significant political implications, as the states must share these critical resources.  The manner in which states extract and use water from transboundary resources can have a significant impact on the ability of other states to access and use that same water source, particularly if the source is depleted or the water quality has deteriorated[3].  The geological characteristics of the shared water source and geographical locations of the user states relative to that source also have a major impact on the political relationships between those states.  Access to freshwater is increasingly considered to be a component of national security by many states, and numerous inter-state political disputes have arisen surrounding the use of transboundary water resources[5].  It is extremely important that states establish joint management agreements for transboundary water resources that go beyond simple quantitative allocations of water, and engage in cooperative action in order to preserve mutual access to the water source and avoid conflict between the states[2].  

Map of the countries included in the Middle East and North Africa region

The Middle East and North Africa region contains numerous politically contested transboundary watersheds where political tensions have arisen between states.  This project will focus on the Mountain Aquifer shared by Israel and Palestine, the major aquifers of the Arabian Peninsula, and the Nile River as case studies.  The Middle East and North Africa region was selected as the subject for this project due to the correlation between the lack of joint water management agreements in the region and the increased risk of conflict between neighbouring states.  The lack of cooperation concerning management of transboundary water resources in the Middle East and North Africa poses a threat to the viability of the resources as well as the security of the states involved[3].

Overview of Hydro-politics

What is Hydro-politics?

The term hydro-politics can be defined as the “transnational interaction, through norm creation and utilization, between a plethora of non-state and state actors … regarding the authoritative allocation and use of, and perception towards domestic and international water resources”[6]. Water as a resource has significant political dimensions and ramifications, and has played a role in shaping international relations between states sharing water resources for centuries.  Political scientist John Waterbury was the first to introduce the concept of hydro-politics in 1972 to represent the intersection of the water and political phenomena[5].  The framework suggested by Waterbury has since been used to understand conflictive and cooperative interactions between states concerning shared water resources, common political themes in the allocation of transboundary water amongst states, and the possible consequences of states’ failure to establish stable agreements regarding common use.

Recent decades have seen states increasingly perceive strong links between water, sovereignty, and national security.  Major concerns of hydro-politics in the twenty-first century include water scarcity and the political fallout resulting from that scarcity, particularly as demand for water is expected to increase while population growth, climate change, and rising nationalism threaten diplomatic efforts and put stress on existing resources[4].  Inter-state relations concerning transboundary water are commonly neither exclusively cooperative or conflictive; however, hydro-political analysis has permitted the identification of political and geological factors that impact states’ ability to jointly manage transboundary water and that therefore influence state security[2].  

Why is Water an Important Geological Resource?

Water as a resource is integral to both the functioning of modern society and the survival of human civilization.  Human beings require water to live; however, water is also critical for commerce, development, agriculture, and countless other essential purposes[4].  Water has often been compared to oil in terms of its value to humanity, and the global demand for water is projected to increase by between 20%-30% by 2050[7].  This trend is concerning, as the availability of freshwater resources is predicted to decline and the quality of many freshwater sources is expected to deteriorate over coming years.

Map displaying Water Stress Ratios throughout the world as of 2019. The Middle East and North Africa region shows high levels of water stress (i.e. high ratios of water withdrawals to water supply).

Water security is defined by the United Nations as the “capacity of a population to safeguard sustainable access to adequate quantities of acceptable quality water for sustaining livelihoods, human well-being, and socio-economic development, for ensuring protection against water-borne pollution and water-related disasters, and for preserving ecosystems in a climate of peace and political stability."[8] All states desire water security, which leads to progressively greater competition over water resources in a time of increasing freshwater scarcity in certain regions.  Water resources such as groundwater aquifers and river systems do not accede to state-imposed political boundaries, and many rivers and aquifers worldwide fall within the territories of multiple states[9].  Due to the increasingly prominent relationship between water security and national security in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, it is important that states engage in cooperative management of transboundary water resources in order to preserve shared access to and use of the source as well as avoid inter-state conflict.

Important Transboundary Water Resources in the Middle East and North Africa

The Middle East and North Africa (MENA) area is the most water-scarce region across the globe, containing less than 1% of the Earth’s freshwater yet supporting 6% of its population[1].  MENA also has a very hot and arid climate.  Many groundwater and surface resources in MENA are transboundary; however, active and effective joint management of shared water resources is very uncommon in the region.


30% of the Earth’s freshwater resources are contained within groundwater reservoirs[10].  Groundwater has grown increasingly important in MENA for domestic water supplies and agriculture, and this growing reliance is predicted to result in increased competition between states over access to their shared aquifers[1].  

Geological Analysis of Groundwater Resources in the Middle East and North Africa

This graphic provides a prototypical diagram of an artesian well. A network of artesian wells is used to exploit the Mountain Aquifer shared by Israel and Palestine[11].

Groundwater from the Mountain Aquifer is used by Israel and Palestine[1].  The hydrogeological characteristics of the aquifer present major political problems without an agreement for water allocation and management, as over 90% of the aquifer’s catchment area is located within Palestinian territory yet the majority of its sub-basins flow towards the Israeli side.  The Mountain Aquifer is a karstic limestone aquifer containing two main strata divided by an impermeable layer.  The upper stratum has limited capacity and recharges mostly from seasonal rainfall, while the lower stratum is very deep and is recharged by freshwater water from mountain infiltration areas.[11]  The aquifer itself contains complex fractures, allowing for fast movement of water throughout it.[11]  Natural springs and artesian wells are employed to exploit the Mountain Aquifer.

The Arabian Peninsula contains several transboundary aquifer systems existing at great depths with significant reserves.  The carbonate aquifers cover the peninsula and the sandstone aquifers are located throughout most of Saudi Arabia, northwestern Yemen, and southern Jordan[12]. Countries on the peninsula rely primarily on deep nonrenewable aquifers and less on shallow renewable groundwater.  The aquifers are recharged by flood runoff, infrequent rainfall, and irrigation return flows, yet withdrawals exceed the annual recharge of aquifers on the Arabian Peninsula[12].  Over-extraction has resulted in deeper groundwater being largely depleted and in some cases caused the reversal of groundwater flow across state boundaries.  Desalination has subsequently become critical for providing domestic water supply[12].

Challenges of Groundwater Management in the Middle East and North Africa

Joint management of groundwater aquifers can be difficult, and MENA states seeking cooperative management agreements must contend with numerous challenges.  One issue is that despite the significant quantity of existing literature on transboundary rivers, available knowledge and applicable international law regarding the cooperative management of shared groundwater is severely lacking[12].  This gap has likely contributed to many other factors threatening the availability and quality of groundwater in MENA and the growing risk of a tragedy of the commons scenario.  Without management agreements in place, countries in MENA are engaging in unsustainable overexploitation of both renewable and nonrenewable transboundary aquifers.  This practice has been made possible by recent advancements in drilling and pumping technologies, and will result in increased water scarcity and competition[9].  

Deteriorating water quality also presents a challenge for aquifer management.  Sea water intrusion is one cause of declining water quality, and has become a prominent issue in the Arabian Peninsula due to unsuitable drilling practices and over-pumping in coastal areas[12].  Other major contributors to poor groundwater quality in MENA are waste water and farm runoff[1].   Runoff from agriculture containing pesticides and fertilizer is common throughout MENA, and significant proportions of wastewater in areas such as the West Bank remain untreated and able to infiltrate the environment.  The location of transboundary aquifers below the Earth’s surface can make monitoring of levels and use difficult, and the absence of data-sharing arrangements enshrined in joint management agreements presents additional hurdles for coordination[12].  

Surface Water (Major Rivers)

The Middle East and North Africa region is home to numerous major international river systems[9].  Many of these run through multiple countries, including the Euphrates, Tigris, and Nile rivers.  The scarcity of available water has resulted in political tensions surrounding access to and use of the river water supply, particularly between those states located upriver and those located downriver. Surface water sources other than major rivers will not be considered in this project.

Geological Analysis of Major Transboundary Rivers in the Middle East and North Africa

This map shows the major path of the Nile River. Countries included in the Nile River Basin are Burundi, Rwanda, Tanzania, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Uganda, Sudan, South Sudan, Kenya, Ethiopia, Eritrea, and Egypt. Political disputes frequently arise between states located further up the Nile River and states located further downstream[5].

The Nile River is commonly considered to be the longest river in the world[5].  The Nile River Basin stretches through Burundi, Rwanda, Tanzania, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Uganda, Sudan, South Sudan, Kenya, Ethiopia, Eritrea, and Egypt.  The White Nile and the Blue Nile are the two main tributaries of the Nile: the White Nile is regarded as the headwaters and the Blue Nile is the source of most of the Nile’s water[13].  The Nile consistently rises in the summer season due to heavy tropical rainfall and falls to lower levels during the winter and spring[13]. Heavy rainfall in the southern basin can cause flooding on the basin’s plateaus and significant soil erosion in rivers such as the Blue Nile, increasing sedimentation[13].  The Nile is a vital waterway and resource, and many of the states sharing the Nile have a relatively conflictive relationship surrounding use of its water.  Frequent subjects of disagreements between upriver and downriver Nile river basin states include use of water resources, the construction of infrastructure such as dams, diversion of the rivers, and disruption of water flow[5].

Challenges for Major Transboundary River Management in the Middle East and North Africa

A satellite image of the reservoir created by the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam, taken October 2020. Downstream states may experience negative impacts as a result of this dam. The process of filling the reservoir could reduce the quantity of water available to downstream states such as Egypt and Sudan by up to 25%[5].

One factor that results in numerous challenges for the joint management and use of transboundary river systems has to do with the relative positions of riparian states.  There is an imbalance of power between states situated upriver and states situated downriver in terms of resource degradation and water supply[2].  Downstream states must contend with water quality problems such as pollution, salinity, and sedimentation originating upstream, and upstream development of infrastructure such as dams has a considerable impact on water flow downstream[2]. This imbalance of power can lead to unfair allocations of water and harmful consequences for states located downstream.  

Environmental Flow Management presents another significant concern for transboundary river management[3].  Environmental Flow Management is the quantity of water that must remain in the river system or be returned to the river system in order to sustain the ecosystems and livelihoods that depend on having sufficient water in the river.  Without joint management agreements in place to consider issues of Environmental Management Flow, such concerns are frequently seen as a lesser priority than overall allocation and national water security[3].  

Transboundary Water Resources and Interstate Relations

Correlation Between Cooperative Water Agreements and State Security

Many of the major surface water sources and groundwater systems located in the Middle East and North Africa region are transboundary.[9]  Cooperation and joint management between states sharing transboundary water resources has shown to be directly correlated with the security of those states[3].  Accordingly, numerous studies conducted by academics and international organizations have concluded that the lack of cooperation in the management and shared use of transboundary water resources in MENA has negatively impacted the security of people, states, and environment in the region[3].  Growing water scarcity in MENA has resulted in affected countries becoming increasingly dependent on: “(1) external renewable surface water resources that originate outside their national borders, (2) non renewable groundwater reserves with a trend towards exhaustion of many aquifers, and (3) non-conventional water resources in the form of desalinated sea and brackish waters as well as treated wastewater”[9].  Continued exploitation of these water sources without active inter-state cooperation guided by a joint management agreement risks conflict between these states as well as diminished water security[12].  By the nature of this risk, a lack of cooperation regarding the utilization and management of shared water sources threatens the security of the people and states involved.  

The two most conflictive issues in the management of transboundary water resources in MENA have historically been infrastructure and water quantity[2].  That trend continues in the present time; however, recent decades have also seen a relative increase in conflictive interactions concerning issues of water quality and unilateral development of infrastructure[2].  The manner in which states utilize shared water resources can have negative impacts on the ability of other states sharing that source to benefit from it equally.  Unsustainable or poorly managed use of shared water resources by one state can result in deteriorating water quality due to salinization or excessive sedimentation, and the unilateral construction of infrastructure such as dams can unfairly impact the share of water received by states located downstream from the dam[1].  Analysis has found that states that have agreements in place concerning the allocation of water from and the management of transboundary water resources are less likely to experience conflict regarding these issues and more likely to experience an improvement in their overall diplomatic relationships[1].  The factors signifying that the many states in MENA currently sharing transboundary water resources would benefit greatly from joint management and mutually-beneficial infrastructure also indicate that increased cooperation would address water quantity concerns and threats to state security.  

There are several regional examples that display the correlation between cooperative water management and low risk of inter-state conflict.  For example, Turkey and Georgia have a water cooperation agreement and a relatively peaceful relationship[3].  Conversely, there are no water cooperation agreements between Turkey and any of Syria, Iraq, or Greece.  Political tension and increased risks of conflict exist between Turkey and these countries on the issues of their transboundary water resources.  A water cooperation agreement also exists between Israel and Jordan, two countries which currently do not have a notable risk of conflict[3].  On the other hand, Israel has neither water agreements in place nor a cooperative relationship with either Syria or Lebanon.  

The Law of the Non-Navigational Uses of International Watercourses (UNGA 1997) is the only international legal instrument applicable to transboundary water resources[12].  The term “watercourse” is defined in this convention as referring to surface water or groundwater connected to a surface water system, excluding fossil groundwater resources and groundwater unconnected to a surface water body[9]. Draft articles intended to address use and management of transboundary aquifers were put forth for consideration by the United Nations in 2008 but have yet to be passed.  Despite this lack of progress at the international level, there also exists no regional legal instrument capable of guiding states in MENA to sustainably and cooperatively manage aquifers at this time[9].  However, both the Law of the Non-Navigational Uses of International Watercourses and the draft articles on transboundary aquifers highlight several key principles and obligations of transboundary water resource management that can assist national governments in forming joint management agreements[12].  These principles and obligations will be explored further in the next section.

The need to share a resource as critical as water in a region where it is very scarce presents immense challenges.  The potential for conflict over transboundary water resources is higher where there is no agreement for states to cooperate[3].  States that actively choose cooperation in these situations are protecting their water security and lowering their chances of conflict with neighbouring states.  

Guiding Principles for Joint Management of Transboundary Water Resources

Several common principles and obligations can be derived from international legal bodies such as the Law of the Non-Navigational Uses of International Watercourses and the Draft Articles on the Law of Transboundary Aquifers[12].  These principles can be used as guidance for national governments or regional organizations in developing frameworks upon which riparian and transboundary aquifer states can construct allocation and joint management agreements, and include[9]:

  • The principle of reasonable and equitable utilization
  • The principles of notification and consultation
  • The general obligation to cooperate
  • The obligation not to cause harm
  • The obligation to exchange information and data

The principle of reasonable and equitable utilization requires that states rationally utilize waters from shared sources without negatively impacting the ability of other states to do the same, and that allocations from transboundary water resources should be equitable between user states[9].  States typically agree on the importance of this principle, yet disagreements arise about how to decide which allocation amounts constitute reasonable and equitable utilization.  

The principles of notification and consultation are critical to joint management of shared water resources, as they introduce an effective mechanism for avoiding disputes between riparian and aquifer-sharing states.[3]  Any state intending to undertake an action that could negatively the interests of other states must provide notice to the potentially impacted states beforehand, and possibly engage in consultation and negotiation with these states in order to avoid conflict[3].  For example, these principles would require any state intending to construct a dam on a river to notify and consult with states downstream about the likely impact this would have on the amount of available water downstream.

The hydro-geology of the Middle East and North Africa region has given rise to circumstances in which simple quantitative allocations of transboundary water resources would be insufficient.  States sharing transboundary water sources need to actively engage in water cooperation and form a formal joint management agreement between them that includes ongoing commitment to most of the following practices[3]:

  • “Joint management of the water body with decision making authority on water allocation and resource management submitted to a river basin organization”[3]
  • “Joint investment programme and joint decision making on allocation of  financial resources pertaining to projects to accrue benefits from the river or lake”[3]
  • “Joint management of flood control”[3]
  • “Coordination of water quality and reduction of pollutants to harmonize quality between countries”[3]
  • “Joint programme of action for environmental protection of water body with deadlines which are implemented”[3]
  • “Consultation between riparian countries on construction of dams or reservoirs with data exchange accepted by all countries or joint construction and management of dams”[3]
  • “Joint management of water flows in all their aspects”[3]

Agreements for joint management of transboundary water resources that are built upon the aforementioned principles should reduce the risk of conflict over that water source, therefore protecting both the water security and national security of all states involved[9].  This requires active cooperation between states concerning all relevant aspects of sustainable water utilization and management.  

Case Studies

The following section provides broad overviews of several inter-state relationships existing between MENA states that share transboundary water resources, and briefly describes how the absence of an active joint management agreement may impact the future water security and national security of these states. These relationships are very complex in reality; however, this project seeks only to highlight major characteristics of each political dispute.

Mountain Aquifer

This map shows Israel, the Palestinian Territories (West Bank and the Gaza Strip), and the Golan Heights. The Joint Water Commission (JWC) has jurisdiction only over the parts of the Mountain Aquifer that lie within West Bank territory. This excludes Palestinian members of the JWC from participating in the joint management of portions of the Mountain Aquifer system falling inside Israel[1].

The Mountain Aquifer is a transboundary aquifer system shared by Israel and Palestine[1].  Despite the vast majority of the aquifer’s recharge area being located in Palestinian territory, over 80% of the water extracted from the Mountain Aquifer is used by Israel[11]. There is no joint water management and allocation agreement currently in place between Israel and Palestine that incorporates the principles and obligations critical to sustainable and equitable use of transboundary resources[1].  Political disputes between Israel and Palestine regarding the Mountain Aquifer are intensified by the long and ongoing political and military conflict between the two.  

Increased use of the Mountain Aquifer has resulted in unintended and negative consequences for all users.  Costs have increased as a result of having to drill to deeper depths to extract water[1].  The Mountain Aquifer’s three sub-basins are at risk from waste seepage originating in sewage channels and dumps[11].  Major desalination operations in Israel have allowed the state to somewhat reduce its reliance on groundwater; however, Palestine remains dependent on water pumped from aquifers[11]. As desalinated water is unsuitable for irrigation, Israel also treats its wastewater and reuses it for agriculture.  Treated wastewater reuse and desalination are minimally employed by Palestine, which is why its dependence on Mountain aquifer access is so great.

Israel defends its water rights by claiming that it has utilized the majority of the Mountain Aquifer’s water for many decades, and reducing the quantity of water it exploits from the aquifer would result in economic and social crises[11].  Palestinians argue that their water rights are supported by the position of the Mountain Aquifer falling mostly within their territory, that being indigenous inhabitants of the area gives them water rights, and that their need for Mountain Aquifer water in order to develop their agriculture and industry is most pressing[11].  The Israeli-Palestinian Interim Agreement on the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, known as Oslo II, describes a framework within Article 40 for the management of transboundary water resources[1].  However, the terms of the Article are problematic and were only intended as a temporary solution, despite both Israel and Palestine continuing to act as if the Article is still in force.

Article 40 established a Joint Water Committee (JWC) containing Israeli and Palestinian members that is responsible for managing the equitable allocation and management of water from the Mountain Aquifer[1].  However, the joint management authority of the JWC only covers the portions of the Mountain Aquifer system lying outside of Israel.  Additionally, Article 40 stipulates that the Israeli Civil Administration (CA) must be consulted on any decisions regarding infrastructure and development[1].  Under this system, numerous Palestinian water infrastructure and extraction projects have been delayed by an average of three years while waiting for approval from the CA or have been cancelled entirely.  

The imbalance of power between  Israel and Palestine on the matter of transboundary water resources is significant.  Amnesty International has stated that “the establishment of the JWC merely institutionalized the intrinsically discriminatory system of Israeli control over Palestinian resources that had already been in existence since Israel’s occupation of the OPT three decades earlier.”[14]  An agreement for active water cooperation and an updated allocation arrangement between Israel and Palestine appears necessary in order to prevent further conflict over the Mountain Aquifer and preserve the water security of Palestine.  It is essential for this process that water security be preserved and viewed outside of territorial sovereignty, so that Israel and Palestine may be willing to cooperate on this shared venture[1].  

Arabian Peninsula Aquifers

The Arabian Peninsula is a very water scarce region, and a variety of unsustainable groundwater exploitation practices currently threaten the quantity and quality of water accessible to the states situated on the peninsula[12]. Countries located on the Arabian Peninsula include Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Yemen[12].  Due to the absence of established joint management and allocation agreements for the transboundary aquifers in the region, states have been unable to coordinate utilization of these shared water resources and have subsequently increased the possibility of political conflict between competing users.  

Over-abstraction and improper drilling techniques on the Arabian Peninsula have resulted in the severe degradation of water quality and significant depletion of groundwater reserves.[15]  Saltwater intrusion is a prominent threat to the suitability of groundwater for both human and agricultural purposes, and is exacerbated by the aforementioned practices of over-extraction and poorly-planned drilling[15].  Poorly-regulated drilling frequently disregards guidelines for well spacing and results in large cones of depression and reduced piezometric pressure[12].  Without state-level or regional agreements in place to coordinate the utilization and management of transboundary aquifers, the future availability of usable freshwater in many areas of the Arabian Peninsula is uncertain[15].  The water security of any state reliant on these aquifers will be at risk and the threat of conflict between them will significantly increase.

Dialogue on the shared need to jointly manage transboundary aquifers on the Arabian Peninsula has been largely avoided in order to prevent political friction, but prolonged unsustainable use will cause such conflict regardless[12].  The need for coordinated joint management agreements between states on the Arabian Peninsula has become increasingly apparent in recent decades, as demand for water is expected to increase further as populations and development in the region continue to expand.  Examples of such cooperation exist, as Saudi Arabia and Jordan share the Saq-Disi aquifer and developed an agreement in 2007 to coordinate the aquifer’s future development[12].  By introducing dialogue on cooperation, working together on projects, and developing an effective mechanism for facilitating cooperation, the states of the Arabian Peninsula could preserve their water security and decrease their chances of experiencing conflict over shared water sources.

Nile River

Riparian states in the Nile River basin have been in dispute over the development and use of water from the Nile River for centuries.[4]  Egypt and Ethiopia have a particularly tense relationship concerning the Nile, as the river begins in Ethiopia and terminates in Egypt.  In the absence of a mutually beneficial joint management and allocation agreement within the Nile River basin, states sometimes fail to acknowledge the principles and obligations outlined in the UN Convention on the Law of the Non-Navigational Uses of International Watercourses intended to protect the interests of all riparian states[5].  As a result, conflicts frequently arise concerning allocation of the Nile water and controversial requirements such as the obligations of prior notification and to not cause harm[5].  

There are three major areas of conflict between Nile riparian states.  The first is conflict over the current legal applicability of the Nile water agreements signed during the latter half of the nineteenth century and the early decades of the twentieth century[5].  Signatories of these agreements included the colonizing states of Nile upstream countries and the agreements accord Egypt significant control over Nile water flow and exploitation.  Upstream Nile states (particularly, Ethiopia, Kenya, Tanzania, and Uganda) claim that these agreements are not valid and seek to amend or cancel them.[5]  Downstream states such as Egypt and Sudan disagree, claiming that their 'historic acquired rights’ reinforce the legality of the preexisting agreements[5].  

President Donald J. Trump and Secretary of the Treasury Steven Mnuchin met with the Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Sudan Asma Mohamed Abdalla, the Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Egypt Sameh Shoukry, and the Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia Gedu Andargachew, in the Oval Office on Nov. 6, 2019[16]. President Trump communicated his support for negotiations concerning the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam to result in a resolution amenable to all parties.

Another major area of conflict in the Nile River basin concerns the allocation of shared water[5].  Aside from the contested colonial Nile water agreements, there are no agreements in place regarding the management of distributing the Nile’s shared waters.  Some upstream states seek to avoid concessions to downstream states regarding concerns over water flow, and instead would rather establish firm allocations of water[5].  Conversely, Egypt and Sudan do not agree with implementing a reallocation regime and assert that they have a right to exploit whatever quantity of water reaches their position downstream.  Downstream states are far more likely than upstream states to be concerned about their water security, as the share of water they receive is largely dependent on how upstream states use and develop their portion of the river[4].  As a result, political conflict may arise between downstream and upstream states with neither cooperative relationships nor established agreements governing shared water usage and management[9].  

The third major domain of conflict between Nile riparian states has to do with the obligations of prior notification and negotiation[5].  Downstream Nile states want this obligation to be upheld by all, so that the actions of upstream states will not negatively impact the interests and water security of downstream states.  However, upstream states claim that this obligation infringes upon their sovereignty as well as imposes restrictions on their infrastructure projects[5].  This principle would help avoid a significant portion of conflict between Nile basin states.  The unilateral made decision by Ethiopia to construct the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam was highly controversial in Egypt, as the dam could result in a reduction of water available to Egypt[4].  Negotiations between Egypt, Sudan, and Ethiopia have been unsuccessful and the disputes over the dam and other proposed Ethiopian infrastructure projects continue to escalate as of 2021.  Other major water development in upstream countries without prior notification to downstream countries could be a major catalyst for conflict in the Nile basin[5].

Without effective dispute resolution mechanisms or cooperation frameworks in place, countries in the Nile Basin frequently experience political conflict and risk decreased water security[5].  In the absence of an agreement for the joint management of this transboundary water source and for the protection of all riparian states’ interests, the divisions and tensions between upstream and downstream Nile states risk escalating even further.  


States that develop and utilize transboundary water resources without joint management and allocation agreements in place risk a myriad of negative consequences for themselves and neighbouring states[3].  Uncoordinated development often leads to declining water availability and quality, which decreases the water security of states that depend on that source of surface or groundwater[12].  Water security has become increasingly associated with national security in water-stressed regions such as the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) over recent decades, and states that compete instead of cooperate in their pursuit of scarce water resources are more likely to experience conflict with other states[5].  States that establish joint management and allocation agreements to govern development of their shared water sources are far less likely to have conflicts or political disputes over that water source[3]. The Mountain Aquifer shared by Israel and Palestine, the aquifers of the Arabian Peninsula, and the Nile River are examples of transboundary water resources in MENA without active joint management and allocation agreements and where political conflict over the water resource is already occurring or has the potential to arise. By incorporating the guiding principles and obligations from the United Nations Law of the Non-Navigational Uses of International Watercourses into joint management and allocation agreements, states can ensure their continued access to transboundary water resources as well as avoid conflict and protect their national security[12].

Sharing a transboundary water resource has an enormous impact on the political relationships between states. When development of transboundary water resources is uncoordinated and unsustainable (as occurs in the absence of joint management and allocation agreements), the states sharing that water source are more likely to experience political tension and conflict[3]. When states engage in cooperative management of transboundary water resources, their diplomatic relationships even on matters unrelated to water have been shown to improve[1]. Cooperation between states regarding shared water resources protects states' water security and reduces overall negative impacts to the water body (such as depletion and pollution). Cooperation over transboundary water resources in regions as water-scarce and conflict-prone as MENA could have a considerable impact on the water security and subsequently the national security of any state involved.


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