The World Today for August 21, 2020

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Dam Politics

Scholars of geopolitics have long predicted that water would replace oil as the world’s most precious resource, becoming a new bone of contention that might fuel the so-called water wars.

Now, tensions over water are about to bubble over along the Nile River in North and East Africa, one of the first regions that the World Economic Forum has identified as ripe for a conflict over H20.

As Foreign Affairs explained, the waters in the reservoir behind the $4.5 billion Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam on the Blue Nile, a tributary of the Nile, are now filling up after nine years of construction, spelling the beginning of a new era in East Africa. The dam is slated to power millions of Ethiopian homes and generate a sufficient surplus for export as a way for the increasingly powerful country to earn much-needed foreign currency.

But the two nations downstream on the Nile River, Sudan and Egypt, aren’t happy. They could benefit from the dam. Instead, their leaders are angry over what they see as a breach of a 1959 treaty that gives most of the Nile’s water to Egypt, which depends on the river for nearly all of its freshwater. Ethiopia, incidentally, was not a party to that treaty. Officials in the Ethiopian capital of Addis Ababa, meanwhile, cite another treaty that Egypt and Sudan boycotted as their legal basis for building the dam.

Egypt and Sudan have asked Ethiopia to agree to rules on using the water and creating a legal mechanism to settle disputes between the three nations, Arab News reported. But Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed Ali, who won a Nobel Peace Prize for bringing his country’s war with neighboring Eritrea to an end, has not budged, viewing those demands as violations of Ethiopian sovereignty. Egypt and Sudan, in turn, have threatened to walk out of talks.

South Africa recently exhorted all the diplomats to keep talking to avoid more serious disputes, Al Jazeera wrote. Egyptian leaders have repeatedly said, “all options are on the table” for securing water, an unmistakable military threat, the BBC wrote.

Brookings Fellow John Mukum Mbaku suggested that the three countries as well as other nations along waterways that feed the Nile meet and create an international agreement that makes everyone happy. Egypt, for example, might give up its supposed rights to veto dams along the Nile if Ethiopia and other countries acknowledged Egypt’s special claim to, and absolute dependence, on the ancient river.

Still, Ethiopian leaders might need to see more carrots and sticks before they give up any say over the greatest project in their lifetimes.



Snap Back

Iran unveiled new ballistic and cruise missiles Thursday, a move aimed at poking the United States as it seeks to reimpose United Nations sanctions on Iran, CNBC reported.

Iranian officials said the two new weapons had a range between 620 to 870 miles and were named after Gen. Qassem Soleimani and Iraqi militia leader Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis – who were both killed in a US strike in January.

The unveiling comes as the US urges UN Security Council members to extend the UN-imposed arms embargo on Iran. The current embargo is set to expire in October as per the 2015 nuclear deal.

Last week, the Security Council voted against extending the embargo, prompting US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to file a complaint Thursday to revive sanctions on Iran – with the “snapback” mechanism: It would extend Iran’s 13-year arms embargo, as well as force it to suspend all nuclear enrichment-related activities.

The Security Council has 30 days to pass a resolution to keep the sanctions waiver, otherwise they “snap back,” ABC News explained.

Tensions between the US and Iran have increased since the Trump administration withdrew from the nuclear agreement in 2018, calling it “the worst deal ever.”


The Life of a Critic

Russian opposition leader and Kremlin critic Alexey Navalny was hospitalized Thursday after mysteriously falling ill on a flight to Moscow, with some suspecting he was poisoned, CNN reported.

Navalny was admitted to the acute poisoning unit of a hospital in the city of Omsk and is currently in a serious condition, according to physicians.

His spokeswoman said the anti-corruption campaigner was poisoned after drinking tea in an airport café. Doctors said poisoning could be “one of the possible reasons” for his falling ill but have yet to determine the cause.

On Friday, a medical plane arrived in Omsk to transport Navalny to Germany for treatment, but doctors citing his unstable condition have refused to move him abroad, Sky News reported.

Navalny’s condition has sparked concern internationally, with British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab saying the Kremlin critic “has been poisoned on a flight to Moscow and is now in a coma in intensive care.”

If Navalny turns out to have been poisoned, it would not be the first time critics of the Russian government have been attacked in that manner.

In 2006, a British investigation found that two Russian agents poisoned former Russian spy Alexander Litvinenko at a London hotel bar by putting highly radioactive polonium-210 in his tea.

In 2018, former Russian agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter were poisoned in Salisbury, England in what authorities believe was a nerve agent attack conducted by Russian military intelligence.

The Kremlin has denied involvement in both cases.



The former head of Mexico’s state-owned oil company accused former President Enrique Pena Nieto and other politicians of corruption, according to scathing testimony leaked this week.

Former chief of Petroleos Mexicanos, Emilio Lozoya, alleged that Pena Nieto and Secretary of Treasure Luis Videgaray used the state-owned oil company as a channel to “fulfill promises made during the (2012) campaign,” the Associated Press reported.

Lozoya is currently facing charges of bribery for allegedly taking more than $4 million in payments from Brazilian construction giant Odebrecht. He made a deal with Mexican authorities to avoid jail time by agreeing to testify about corruption in Pena Nieto’s 2012-2018 administration.

Among the many accusations, Lozoya said that Videgaray had told him to request $6 million from Odebrecht and tell the company it would be rewarded when Pena Nieto won. The rewards would include an opening for private companies in the wake of the 2013 reform of the state-controlled energy sector.

Lozoya added that opposition politicians had also been involved in the corruption scheme. Opposition politicians blasted that charge, criticizing them as “lies” and called the former chief an ally of current President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador. Some believe the case is deliberately targeting Lopez Obrador’s opponents.

Meanwhile, the president said Thursday that the report was “scandalous” and a “historic” step in the fight against corruption. He added, however, that authorities needed to gather more evidence.


Life Goes On

A new study found that even in the deepest and most uninhabitable parts of the planet, life always finds a way.

Lead author Yuki Morono and her team uncovered microorganisms 20,000 feet below the surface in the South Pacific Gyre – an area that lacks any nutrients and is considered as “the deadest spot in the ocean.” Then the scientists managed to revive the small group of microbes believed to be more than 100 million years old, the New York Times reported.

Despite the inhospitable conditions, the team was stupefied at how the bacteria survived hibernation 250 feet below the ocean floor for so long – even outliving non-avian dinosaurs.

“No theoretical microbiology can explain it,” said Morono. “But we found it.”

Morono’s team studied and fed the microbes in a lab by replicating their home environment. The authors noted that the specimens started multiplying fast after only a few days, and formed bigger communities nearly two years later.

They suspect that scarce resources prevented the microorganisms from reproducing and were simply waiting for the right conditions to “sit up and party on.”

Geomicrobiologist Nagissa Mahmoudi, who was not involved in the study, said the findings open up “a whole Pandora’s box for where we could find life elsewhere in the universe.”

COVID-19 Global Update

More than 180 nations worldwide have confirmed cases of the coronavirus. The following have the highest numbers worldwide as of 4 a.m. ET*:

  1. US: 5,575,323 (+0.82%)
  2. Brazil: 3,501,975 (+1.31%)
  3. India: 2,905,825 (+2.43%)
  4. Russia: 939,833 (+0.51%)
  5. South Africa: 599,940 (+0.65%)
  6. Peru: 558,420 (+1.66%)
  7. Mexico: 543,806 (+1.26%)
  8. Colombia: 513,719 (+2.38%)
  9. Chile: 391,849 (+0.46%)
  10. Spain: 377,906 (+1.90%)

Source: Johns Hopkins University

*Numbers change over 24 hours

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