HotSpots H2O, November 26: Delays and Disagreements Hinder Africa’s Largest Hydropower Dam

The Rundown

The fate of a controversial dam that Ethiopia is building on a Nile tributary remains unclear, despite recurring negotiations with downstream neighbors Egypt and Sudan, who are concerned about reductions in water flows.

In October, Sudan’s irrigation minister said the three countries made progress on a timeline for filling the reservoir behind the dam, addressing one of Egypt’s key concerns.

Ethiopia began building the $4 billion Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam in 2011, aiming to boost economic output and expand energy access in a country where only one in seven people has electricity. Ethiopian officials had hoped to finish construction by the end of 2018, but acknowledged this summer that completing the dam may take up to 10 years.

Egypt, for which the Nile is a lifeline and marker of the country’s identity, fears the dam will give Ethiopian authorities too much control over the iconic river’s flow. Egypt’s hesitations, along with other delays, have hampered completion of the ambitious hydroelectric project, which will be the largest hydropower generating dam in Africa.

In early July, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi and Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed committed to a peaceful settlement of dam-related disputes. Weeks later, however, the dam’s project manager was found shot dead in his car–an event that sparked allegations of murder before being ruled a suicide by police investigators.

“I swear to God, we will never harm you.” –Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, speaking at a July 2018 news conference, after Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi asked Ahmed to swear that Ethiopia would not hurt Egypt’s share of the Nile. The countries have agreed to settle their disagreements peacefully, but negotiations have remained strained at times.   

By The Numbers

4,184 miles (6,695 kilometers) Length of the Nile River. The waterway plays a vital role in sustaining the populations of Egypt, Ethiopia, and Sudan.

6,450 megawatts Amount of energy that will be generated by the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam, which will be the largest hydropower generating dam in Africa.

800 square miles Size of the dam’s reservoir, which could hold up to 74 billions cubic meters of water. A rapid filling of the reservoir could decrease Egypt’s water supply in the short-term.

95 percent Proportion of Egypt’s population that lives on the Nile or along its delta. Eighty-five percent of the country’s water supply comes from the river.

On The Radar

Another round of talks over the dam are set to take place in coming weeks, according to Egypt. The country’s Prime Minister, Mostafa Madbouly, said he and Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed hope to reach an agreement on water flows and other issues.

Resources and Further Reading

In context reporting from Circle of Blue: HotSpots H2O, March 5: Spotlight on the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam

Egypt, Ethiopia agree to settle differences over Nile mega-dam (Reuters)
Egypt, Ethiopia vow to find solution for Nile river dispute (Independent Online)
Manager of Ethiopia’s $4 billion Nile dam project committed suicide: police (Reuters)
Sudan says progress on Nile dam timeline with Ethiopia, Egypt (Reuters)
Water Wars on the Nile (Foreign Affairs)

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