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Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam [Nile River Conflict Egypt vs Ethiopia]

A couple of weeks ago, Ethiopia concluded the construction of The Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam, and it is ready to start filling the dam. However, this triggered serious tensions with neighbours Egypt and Sudan. In this post we will provide a short introduction of the reasons for this tension.
Ethiopia Egypt water war

What is The Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam?

This 155 m high dam with an installed capacity of 6.45 GW is the biggest hydropower dam in Africa,  and one of the biggest hydropower dams in the world. It will have an annual generation of 16 153 GWh that will not only fulfill the need of Ethiopia, but will also supply energy to some neighboring countries.

However, the dam will have impacts on the Sudan and Egypt. The dam will reduce the water availability in those countries, and will also reduce the sediment carried by the river, hence reducing the fertility of the lands and the Nile Delta, and reducing the agricultural capacity of the mentioned countries.

Why the controversy regarding Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam?

Right now, the main controversy is the filling policy. Ethiopia want to fill the dam in a period between 3-5 years. However, Egypt states that is should be filled in at least 20 years.

There are huge difference between those options. On one side, Ethiopia will have to wait another 20 years to enjoy the benefits of the dam. On the other side, Egypt and Sudan could severely affected by the reduced inflow.

We present a short comparisson of the scenarios filling the dam in 5 years vs filling the dam in 21 years (based on data from Aljazeera).

Filling the dam in 21 years

Egypt would reduce its annual water budget in 5%
Egypt would reduce its agricultural area in 2.5 %

Filling the dam in 5 years

Egypt would reduce its annual water budget in 50%
Egypt would reduce its agricultural area in 67 %
Nile river delta Egypt
The Nile Delta current condition
Nile delta Egypt
The Nile Delta if the dam is filled in 5 years
Nile River
The Nile Delta if the dam is filled in 21 years

Rainy season in Ethiopia and the Nile

The best moment to start filling the dam is during the rainy season.

The rainy season in Ethiopia is between July and August. Therefore, they must start filling the dam soon, otherwise, they will lose a whole year and will have to wait until the next rainy season. For this reason, it is critical for all the involved nations to reach an agreement.

Negotiations and previous Nile Water Agreements

The Nile basin initiative has been leading negotiations regarding this dam and for more than 10 years.

One of the key elements that stops any agreement is the current Nile Waters Agreements from 1929 and 1959. 

The 1929 agreement between Egypt and England (as representative of the other countries) recognized Egypt’s right to the waters of the Nile as well as the right to veto any irrigation projects that would affect its share of the river's water..

The 1959 agreement between Egypt and Sudan states that Egypt has the right to use 66% of the Nile waters, Sudan has the rights to 22% of the water, and the remaining 12 % is lost by evaporation.

Ethiopia claims that they also have rights on the Nile, especially because 85 % of the Nile water originates in Ethiopia (the so called blue Nile).
Nile river water use
Nile River Water Use (Source: Aljazeera)

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