Friday, October 1, 2010


The N.Y. Times digs into a problem that's long puzzeled me:  Why don't the nations upstream of Egypt lay claim to more of the Nile's water?  Egypt takes 80%.  By many accounts, it uses the water in a terribly wasteful and inefficient manner.  Moreover, Egypt's legal claim over the water comes from a colonial-era treaty drawn up by the British.  All of this seems profoundly unfair to the seven upstream countries (most with rapidly growing populations)--Ethiopia, Uganda, Tanzania, Kenya, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Burundi and Rwanda.  Why should these countries honor the initial allocation of property rights? Why not engage in some kind of massive self-help?

Also, I think the article points out the danger of thinking of water as some kind of quasi-mystical, inaleinable resource.  The people of Egypt seem to regard the Nile's waters as a sacred birthright, not a commodity (imagine if we thought of food like this).  This seems really, really problematic because it leaves so little room for bargaining with the upstream neighbors.  No one wants to be the politican that sells away part of the Nile.

Steve Clowney

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