The Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) has been a 10-year project which started off by the then Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, back in 2011. It is located near the border of Sudan-Ethiopia, in the Ethiopia’s Benishangul-Gumuz region. With the $4.5 billion project now finished, it roughly equates to the size of London, making it Africa’s largest hydroelectric dam. Ever since the beginning of the project, there was tension between the Ethiopian and Egyptian government. However, now as the GERD has become finalized and started to fill up this June, tensions between Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia have begun to rise even further due to the dam filling up before negotiations have been finalised.
Ethiopian’s within the country and abroad have invested both their national pride and finances to see the dam to completion. The dam is seen to have a lot of potential, since major benefits include the production of hydropower, increased focus on irrigation projects and improvements to Ethiopia’s energy source . In terms of the neighbouring countries, the GERD is expected to reduce 10% evaporation of the current Aswan dam, as well as lower water levels in Lake Nasser to prevent floods in Egypt. The dam gives Ethiopia the potential to double its current energy outputs, as around 65% of the country is not connected to the power grid; surplus energy can be exported to neighbouring countries such as Djibouti and Sudan.
85% of Egypt’s water flows from the northern highlands of Ethiopia, at the source of the Nile, resulting in fears over Egypt not being able to cope during prolonged periods of drought. If the water is then not able to flow downstream, this could endanger Egyptian farmers’ abilities of irrigating their farmlands and as a result cause major food losses. Another major cause for concern is Egypt losing its sense of identity and nationalism; the dam has historically been associated with Egypt and building the GERD has moved focus towards Ethiopia. With Sudan, there are worries of the GERD possibly threatening its smaller dams; the opportunity of cheap electricity and reduced flooding also appeals to Sudan.
Nonetheless, there have been several rounds of talks between the three nations and there is still disputes over water management, the binding nature of an agreement and the legal precautions necessary. As the global warming impacts increase and fears of drought are rising, it’s important that Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia finds a means of collaborating. At the end of the day, water is a lifeline and resolving such an issue has the potential of connecting these three nations more than ever.
Do you think the dispute will be settled or could there be an eventual ‘water war’ ?
By Hanna Amanuel