A vast section of northern Ethiopia has been turned into a giant building site as Ethiopia is pressing ahead with construction of a major new dam on the River Nile, despite stiff opposition from Egypt. The whole project which spans an area of 1,800 sq km , the construction of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (known as Gerd) is now about 30% complete.
At a cost of $4.7bn, once completed, in three years, it will be Africa’s largest hydropower dam, standing some 170m (558ft) tall.
Downstream, Egypt – which relies almost totally on the waters of the Nile, says their supply will be under threat.
Egypt and Sudan currently get the lion’s share of the Nile’s waters under colonial-era treaties. While Sudan recently backs Ethiopia’s plans because of the benefits it has already seen, Egypt has remained opposed.
Talks to ease tensions between the two countries have collapsed. The concern in Egypt is about the potential threat to its dominance over the Nile.
Egypt fears Ethiopia’s dam will restrict the flow of this strategic waterway – the main source of water in a country where rainfall is scarce.
The row started in 2011, and Egypt has been worried ever since that its annual quota of the Nile water might be reduced.
This conflict comes at a time when different parts of Egypt are already suffering from a shortage of water. In the northern Nile Delta, the agricultural heart of Egypt, a lot of farmers are waiting with a heavy heart to see if they will be able to cultivate their land next summer.
Ethiopia says its hydro-electric dam will not harm either of its downstream countries, Egypt or Sudan. However, Egypt is highly skeptical.
But Egypt says, it is a matter of life or death, a national security issue that can never be compromised on.
Since Egypt is aware that some 30% of the Ethiopian dam is completed, it is still unclear what’s Egypt’s next step will be as it has earlier threatened to go to war should Ethiopia continued to build the dam.
As it was predicted that most wars will be fought over water, not oil and gas in this 21st century, there is a raging diplomatic confrontation between Ethiopia, Egypt and Sudan, which could result to a full blown military war if it is not properly handled.
Just imagine what would happen to millions of Nigerians whose livelihood is dependent on our River Niger if it is dammed at its source; wouldn’t it be genocidal?
The Ethiopia diversion of a stretch of the Blue Nile to make way for a $4.7bn hydroelectric is the source of this raging diplomatic war between Ethiopia and Egypt.
The Dam which is currently under construction is said to be part of a $12bn investment project by the Ethiopian government to boost power export, which is considered as the ‘Rule of the jungle’ by the Egyptian government.
The Blue Nile, one of the world’s longest rivers, is one of two major tributaries of the Nile.
According to the Ethiopian government, the Dam, which is being built in the region bordering Sudan, will not stop the river from flowing down stream as feared by Egypt.
The problem with the controversial dam is that it is being built in the middle of the river which has stopped the river from flowing. To Ethiopia “you can’t carry out construction work while the river flowed,” while it continued to deny that the construction will not stop the river from flowing.
This, Ethiopia says will enable engineering civil work to be carried out without difficulties. “The aim is to divert the river by a few metres and then allow it to flow on its natural course.”
But Egypt disagreed that the dam itself was of concern. For Egypt, water is a matter of national security, as it particularly dependent on the water supply, with growing populations placing it under increasing strain, which Sudan also relies on.
Ethiopia claims to be the source of about 85 percent of the total water in the Blue Nile, originates in the country’s Lake Tana and flows hundreds of miles north into Sudan and then Egypt before eventually flowing into the Mediterranean.
Earlier on, Egypt and Sudan had objected to the dam, as they say it violates a colonial-era agreement which gives them rights to 90 percent of the Nile’s water.
There was palpable anger among the upstream countries which include Uganda, Rwanda, Tanzania and Ethiopia saying it is unfair and want a new deal but nothing has been agreed in 13 years of talks.
In 2010, Ethiopia, Tanzania, Uganda, and Rwanda signed the agreement in Entebbe, which would lead to experts determining how much water each country would be entitled to.
Kenya did not sign the agreement as its minister could not attend. Like Burundi and the Democratic Republic of, but is able to make relatively little use of its natural resource.
Egypt has dismissed the Entebbe agreement, saying it “is in no way binding on Egypt from a legal perspective”. Egypt will not join or sign any agreement that affects its share.
The group says Egypt has been requesting to defer the signing of the Cooperative Framework Agreement as they couldn’t wait any longer, since they have been negotiating for over 13 years.
Egypt and Sudan say they will not sign a new deal unless they are first guaranteed an exact share of the water.
Egypt and Sudan needed water more than those in more fertile regions, as they have a lot of rain.
With populations soaring, demand for water increasing and climate change having an impact, there are warnings that wrangling over the world’s longest river could be a trigger for conflict.
It has been reported that experts from Ethiopia, Egypt and Sudan are set to announce findings of a study into the impact of the Ethiopian dam on the Nile’s flow soon, as Ethiopia moved to dispel fears over the dam’s impact.
I hope that at the end of the day, River Nile will not provoke the first war on waters as predicted in this Century.