Challenge 20/20 on the Nile Basin and the Allocation of Water

Excerpts from the following reflection will appear in the spring GFA Alumni Magazine.  The magazine will feature articles from current students and alumni on the centrality that the global water crisis has taken in our curriculum and in our students’ interests in college and beyond.  As those who have been following this blog will know, this year’s World Perspectives Symposium will feature two Global Thesis presentations that are focused on water issues as well as the Challenge 20/20 presentation.

Regi Monroe '12, Aubrey Carter '12, Isabelle Canaan '12

By: Isabelle Canaan ’12

It seems to be the year of water. Everywhere you look, philanthropists, politicians, and scientists are coining water as this generation’s oil or gold, the root cause of many of the environmental and political conflicts, both contemporary and to come. It is impossible to avoid the growing water problem and our Challenge 20/20 group wanted to explore this. As a group, we have strengths in Environmental Science, International Relations and Black Gold and multiple history courses, and we felt that dealing with the water crisis best combined these strengths and interests.

We spent the first couple of months figuring out what the water crisis is and what facet of it we wanted to focus on, each doing individual projects on arid or depleted areas such as India, Central Africa, Australia and the Middle East.  Ultimately we decided that it was important for us to focus on the political and socio-economic parts of the water crisis rather than just the environmental factors. After much discussion, we settled not on one country, as has been typical of 20/20 groups in the past, but instead to zero in on a river system and a region that incorporates many different nations and different tensions and policies. As there are a number of Global Thesis projects on the issue of water, we wanted to steer clear of their areas of expertise (China, Middle East).

In choosing to focus on the Nile River Basin system, and specifically Ethiopia, Egypt, and Sudan, we settled on one of the oldest and most complicated river systems in the world. We have delved deep into colonial history, studying the time line of British imperialism in the region and the impact of this colonization on contemporary water issues. Each of these nations presents an extremely unique challenge as they are all very much at the forefront of world news today. Egypt was one of the first countries in the Arab Spring and has recently been going through a transition that has changed policy and priorities. South Sudan just broke away from the Republic of Sudan, a geopolitical shift that has changed the way we look at the Nile River Basin region. Ethiopia, long entrenched in conflict with Somalia, has recently been engaged in back-and-forth attacks. As these nations’ situations are so fluid, it has been very important for us to couple our historical reading and journal discoveries with news sources in order to avoid missing the facts on the ground as they are developing.

The Challenge 20/20 project is focused not only on identifying a problem but in proposing a solution. In forming our solutions, we are looking to interview members NGO’s and to take helpful information from a lecture by water expert Steven Solomon to propose both short-term and long-term solutions. As of right now, one of the coolest parts of the 20/20 experience was bumping into an Ethiopian cab driver in Washington DC and hearing his take on the water crisis. It made the whole project much more personal as we were no longer dealing with these large states and governments, but with the reality of thousands of people.

Challenge 20/20 on the Nile Basin and the Allocation of Water

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