The Brief, powered by FACEBOOK – The next war over water

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV Media network.

The Brief is EURACTIV's evening newsletter. [EPA-EFE/KHALED ELFIQI]

We Europeans take water for granted. Barring the occasional ban on using hosepipes during heatwaves, we use as much water as we like, when we like.

It won’t be like that for much longer. Climate change has already forced many cities in Europe to drill even deeper for groundwater.

Within the next decade, Europeans are likely to face the twin dilemmas of either too much or not enough water, as both droughts and floods become more frequent and extreme. As with other precious commodities, the question of access to this water will become intensely political.

By and large, policymakers are yet to treat water supply with the importance it deserves. Projections show that already by 2025, 1.8 billion people will live in countries or regions facing absolute water scarcity. Yet only 5% of international climate finance is allocated to climate adaptation, and 1% to protecting and providing clean water for vulnerable communities.

For the moment, Europe’s political battles over resources are primarily over energy supply, such as the controversial Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline and the extension of Russia’s Turkish Stream gas pipeline, known as Balkan Stream, through several EU countries.

In northeast Africa, meanwhile, a diplomatic battle over access to the vast reservoir linked to the River Nile has been running for several years, resulting in major diplomatic tensions and with little sign of resolution on the horizon.

The final cost of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD), which Ethiopia describes as its “lifeblood”, but is also a vital source of water supply for neighbouring Egypt and Sudan, is likely to be in the region of €4.5 billion.

Officials in Addis Ababa say the GERD talks are 90% complete but striking a deal remains elusive, particularly because of how the reservoir adjoining the dam is managed, and water distributed.

Talks mediated by Donald Trump’s administration on the filling and operations of the GERD collapsed last year, with Ethiopian officials complaining that the US was taking Egypt’s side. Trump had described Egypt’s Abdel Fattah el Sisi as his “favourite dictator”.

Although officials in Addis have told EURACTIV they are hopeful of a change in tack from US President Joe Biden, negotiations on the GERD have not formally resumed. In the meantime, Egypt and Ethiopia have threatened the other with military intervention and other sanctions.

“If we don’t fix this, our children will be waging wars over water and food,” Frans Timmermans, European Commission Vice President, said last month.

Most observers thought he was guilty of the sort of hyperbolic rhetoric that politicians are prone to fall into. But he wasn’t. Recent history is littered with wars over oil and gold. Water is no less valuable a commodity.


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The Roundup

The European Parliament’s committees dealing with legal affairs (JURI), civil liberties and home affairs (LIBE) met on Tuesday (11 May) to prepare a report on combating lawsuits aimed at intimidating journalists and civil society organisations in the EU.

The European Commission was sent back to the drawing board on the EU’s renewable energy directive overhaul after an internal assessment of its draft proposal concluded that it failed to analyse the potential environmental risks of increased bioenergy use.

Germany’s shift towards digitalisation due to the coronavirus pandemic has come with a significant rise in cybercrime, according to a report by the country’s Federal Criminal Police Office (BKA). EURACTIV Germany reports.

There is a large inequality of access to women’s cancer services and treatments across the EU, according to the bloc’s health chief, who highlighted the role of Europe’s Beating Cancer plan in bridging these disparities.

Implementing a border levy to price carbon-intensive imports and protect European industries will be “extremely complicated,” warned Jonathan Pershing, a member of the US climate envoy’s team.

One-third of fuel used in domestic flights by 2030 will come from sustainable sources, according to a new German roadmap on the market ramp-up of power-to-liquid (PtL) kerosene unveiled on Friday (7 May).

Like the Schuman Declaration in 1950, the Conference on the Future of Europe could pave the way for a reform of the EU, the Spinelli Group – which gathers federalist MEPs and national parliamentarians – with the Union of European Federalists and the European Movement International has said.

With the Greens increasingly likely to hold sway in the future German government after the 26 September election, EURACTIV took stock of the party’s position on gene-editing, which could prove to be a turning point for Germany’s position and the ongoing debate in the EU.

Look out for…

  • President Von der Leyen chairs Steering Board of the Recovery and Resilience Task Force.
  • Vice-president Schinas receives UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi.
  • College meeting on a communication on zero-pollution for water, air and soil, and a communication on a new approach for a sustainable blue economy in the EU.

Views are the author’s

[Edited by Josie Le Blond]

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