News / Middle East

    Egypt, Ethiopia Square Off Over New Nile River Dam

    Ethiopia quietly began construction of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam two years ago. The hydroelectric power project plans to use the waters of Ethiopia’s Abbai River, which is the primary source of Nile waters for Sudan and Egypt.
    Ethiopia quietly began construction of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam two years ago. The hydroelectric power project plans to use the waters of Ethiopia’s Abbai River, which is the primary source of Nile waters for Sudan and Egypt.
    David Arnold
    Egypt and Ethiopia are doing their best to lower tensions after weeks of increasingly heated rhetoric over a giant Ethiopian dam project that Cairo believes will reduce the flow of water in the Nile River.
     
    The foreign ministers of the two countries met at the beginning of the week in Addis Ababa and agreed to hold further talks and review the recommendations from a panel of experts on what’s being called the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam, or GERD.
     
    Construction on the dam started two years ago on Ethiopia’s Abbai, or Blue Nile, river, whose basin accounts for about 75 percent of the water flowing into the lower Nile River. The project is about 20 percent complete and Egyptian officials worry that when it’s finished in 2017, it will severely reduce the flow of water through the lower Nile channel and turn the arable parts of their country back into a desert.
     
    A day after Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi visited Addis Ababa earlier this month, Ethiopia diverted the Abbai River’s flow temporarily to carry out the next stage of dam construction. Even though the water diversion was a brief, news of the interruption touched off a furor in Cairo.

    ​Morsi said Egypt would not tolerate losing “one drop” of Nile water and made thinly veiled threats of military action by saying “all options are open.”
      
    The Ethiopians, apparently, were not intimidated.
     
    “I don’t think they will take that option unless they go mad,” said Ethiopia’s president, Haile Mariam Desalegn. The foreign ministry in Addis Ababa said construction on the dam would not stop “for a second.”
     
    An expensive project
     
    The GERD project includes a 170-meter high concrete dam and a 6,000-megawatt hydroelectric power plant and will make Ethiopia one of Africa’s top electrical energy producing nations when it is completed. Its total cost is estimated at between $4.2 billion and $5 billion.
     
    Ethiopia has said all along that once completed, the dam would not reduce Egypt’s water resources, but Egypt wants proof. It also wants assurances that Ethiopia will not use the Abbai waters to irrigate Ethiopian farmlands.
     
    Egypt is also concerned about additional problems as Ethiopia begins filling a massive water reservoir twice the size of the country's largest lake.
     
    “Ethiopia is always saying ‘no impact’,” said Mahmoud Abu-Zeid, who was Egypt’s minister of water and irrigation for 12 years and is now president of the Arab Water Council.
     
    But Abu-Zeid cited studies predicting that during the three to five years it will take to fill the reservoir behind the dam, “there would be a reduction of 14 billion instead of the regular 55.5 billion cubic meters.
     
    “It’s time to go back to the negotiating table,” Abu-Zeid concluded.
     
    Other experts doubt the reduction would be that much. One of them is Paul Block, a civil engineer who has been consulting on Ethiopian water projects for the U.S. Agency for International Development and the World Bank.
     
    During the years it takes to fill the reservoir behind the GERD, Block says the loss of water flow into the Nile could be minimal. It all depends, he explains, on the amount of rainfall in the region.
     
    “Eastern Africa may experience a slight increase in precipitation,” Block said. “However there are models that range from a modest decrease [in rainfall] to a very significant increase.”
     
    It’s not just about the dam
     
    Ethiopia’s new dam project is only the beginning of Egypt’s concerns about its neighbors upstream in the Nile basin.
     
    During the last century, the British crafted agreements guaranteeing exclusive water rights from the Nile basin to Egypt and Sudan, shutting out countries further upstream at the Nile’s several sources.

    But now, seven upstream countries have signed the new Nile Basin Initiative on equal water rights: Ethiopia, Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania, Uganda, Burundi and newly independent South Sudan. Any of these nations could potentially begin projects that would reduce the flow of Nile water through Egypt.
     
    Now Egypt may have to come to grips with the fact that it no longer has a guaranteed lock on the Nile, source of 98 percent of its water.
     
    The response from Cairo
     
    The water resource challenge comes as Egypt is still struggling to recover from two years of political turmoil and social upheaval brought on by the Arab Spring uprisings. It’s only just recently, experts say, that the Egyptian government turned its attention to what was happening at the Nile’s source.
     
    “The problem is Morsi has handled this problem very poorly,” said Eric Trager of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. “Rather than engage with Ethiopia, he looked internally and pulled a national unity dialogue because he is … primarily concerned about his own domestic standing. He is not appreciating yet the magnitude of foreign policy.”
     
    While some Egyptian politicians have been calling for military solutions, Trager said, “the military gave a very clear signal it would not tolerate that.” The generals, he said, are “not prepared to fight a war right now.”
     
    “The question is whether President Morsi is wise enough to know how to work foreign diplomacy when faced with a challenge,” Trager added. “Unfortunately, he has not shown the ability to do that.”

    You May Like

    In Britain, The Sun Still Doesn’t Shine

    Invoking Spitfires and Merlin, Leave voters insist country can be great again, following surprising 'Brexit' vote last week

    Double Wave of Suicide Bombings Puts Lebanon, Refugees on Edge

    Following suicide bombings in Christian town of Al-Qaa, on Lebanon's northeast border with Syria, fears of further bombings have risen

    US Senators Warned on Zika After Failing to Pass Funding

    Zika threats and challenges, as well as issues of contraception and vaccines, spelled out as lawmakers point fingers

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Slow Rebuilding Amid Boko Haram Destruction in Nigeria’s Northeasti
    X
    June 29, 2016 6:15 PM
    Military operations have chased Boko Haram out of towns and cities in Nigeria’s northeast since early last year. But it is only recently that people have begun returning to their homes in Adamawa state, near the border with Cameroon, to try to rebuild their lives. For VOA, Chris Stein traveled to the area and has this report.
    Video

    Video Slow Rebuilding Amid Boko Haram Destruction in Nigeria’s Northeast

    Military operations have chased Boko Haram out of towns and cities in Nigeria’s northeast since early last year. But it is only recently that people have begun returning to their homes in Adamawa state, near the border with Cameroon, to try to rebuild their lives. For VOA, Chris Stein traveled to the area and has this report.
    Video

    Video Clinton Leads Trump, But Many Voters Don't Like Either

    In the U.S. presidential race, most recent polls show Democrat Hillary Clinton with a steady lead over Republican Donald Trump as both presumptive party nominees prepare for their party conventions next month. Trump’s disapproval ratings have risen in some recent surveys, but Clinton also suffers from high negative ratings, suggesting both candidates have a lot of work to do to improve their images before the November election. VOA National correspondent Jim Malone has more from Washington.
    Video

    Video New US Ambassador to Somalia Faces Heavy Challenges

    The new U.S. envoy to Somalia, who was sworn into office Monday, will be the first American ambassador to that nation in 25 years. He will take up his post as Somalia faces a number of crucial issues, including insecurity, an upcoming election, and the potential closure of the Dadaab refugee camp in Kenya. VOA’s Jill Craig asked Somalis living in Kenya’s capital city Nairobi how they feel about the U.S. finally installing a new ambassador.
    Video

    Video At National Zoo, Captivating Animal Sculptures Illustrate Tragedy of Ocean Pollution

    The National Zoo in Washington, D.C., is home to about 1,800 animals, representing 300 species. But throughout the summer, visitors can also see other kinds of creatures there. They are larger-than-life animal sculptures that speak volumes about a global issue — the massive plastic pollution in our oceans. VOA's June Soh takes us to the zoo's special exhibit, called Washed Ashore: Art to Save the Sea.
    Video

    Video Baghdad Bikers Defy War with a Roar

    Baghdad is a city of contradictions. War is a constant. Explosions and kidnappings are part of daily life. But the Iraqi capital remains a thriving city, even if a little beat up. VOA's Sharon Behn reports on how some in Baghdad are defying the stereotype of a nation at war by pursuing a lifestyle known for its iconic symbols of rebellion: motorbikes, leather jackets and roaring engines.
    Video

    Video Melting Pot of Immigrants Working to Restore US Capitol Dome

    The American Iron Works company is one of the firms working to renovate the iconic U.S. Capitol Dome. The company employs immigrants of many different cultural and national backgrounds. VOA’s Arman Tarjimanyan has more.
    Video

    Video Testing Bamboo as Building Material

    For thousands of years various species of bamboo - one of the world's most versatile plants - have been used for diverse purposes ranging from food and medicine to textiles and construction. But its use on a large scale is hampered because it's not manufactured to specific standards but grown in the ground. A University of Pittsburgh professor is on track to changing that. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Orphanage in Iraqi City Houses Kids Who Lost their Parents to Attacks by IS

    An orphanage in Iraqi Kurdistan has become home to scores of Yazidi children who lost their parents after Islamic State militants took over Sinjar in Iraq’s Nineveh Province in 2014. Iraqi Kurdish forces backed by the U.S. airstrikes have since recaptured Sinjar but the need for the care provided by the orphanage continues. VOA’s Kawa Omar filed this report narrated by Rob Raffaele.
    Video

    Video Re-Opening Old Wounds in a Bullet-Riddled Cultural Landmark

    A cultural landmark before Lebanon’s civil war transformed it into a nest of snipers, Beirut’s ‘Yellow House’ is once again set to play a crucial role in the city.  Built in a neo-Ottoman style in the 1920s, in September it is set to be re-opened as a ‘memory museum’ - its bullet-riddled walls and bunkered positions overlooking the city’s notorious ‘Green Line’ maintained for posterity. John Owens reports from Beirut.
    Video

    Video Brexit Resounds in US Presidential Contest

    Britain’s decision to leave the European Union is resounding in America’s presidential race. As VOA’s Michael Bowman reports, Republican presumptive nominee Donald Trump sees Britain’s move as an affirmation of his campaign’s core messages, while Democrat Hillary Clinton sees the episode as further evidence that Trump is unfit to be president.
    Video

    Video NASA Juno Spacecraft, Nearing Jupiter, to Shed Light on Gas Giant

    After a five-year journey, the spacecraft Juno is nearing its destination, the giant planet Jupiter, where it will enter orbit and start sending data back July 4th. As Mike O'Sullivan reports from Pasadena, California, the craft will pierce the veil of Jupiter's dense cloud cover to reveal its mysteries.
    Video

    Video Orlando Shooting Changes Debate on Gun Control

    It’s been nearly two weeks since the largest mass shooting ever in the United States. Despite public calls for tighter gun control laws, Congress is at an impasse. Democratic lawmakers resorted to a 1960s civil rights tactic to portray their frustration. VOA’s Carolyn Presutti explains how the Orlando, Florida shooting is changing the debate.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora