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

    Video Democrats Clinton, Kaine Offer 'Very Different Vision' Than Trump

    In a jab at Trump, Clinton says her team wants to 'build bridges, not walls'; Obama Hails Kaine's record; Trump calls Kaine a 'job-killer'

    Turkey Wants Pakistan to Close Down institutions, Businesses Linked to Gulen

    Thousands of Pakistani students are enrolled in Gulen's commercial network of around two dozen institutions operating in Pakistan for over two decades

    AU Passport A Work in Progress

    Who will get the passport and what the benefits are still need to be worked out

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    In State of Emergency, Turkey’s Erdogan Focuses on Spiritual Movementi
    X
    July 22, 2016 11:49 AM
    The state of emergency that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has declared is giving him even more power to expand a purge that has seen an estimated 60,000 people either arrested or suspended from their jobs. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports from Istanbul.
    Video

    Video In State of Emergency, Turkey’s Erdogan Focuses on Spiritual Movement

    The state of emergency that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has declared is giving him even more power to expand a purge that has seen an estimated 60,000 people either arrested or suspended from their jobs. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports from Istanbul.
    Video

    Video Scientists in Poland Race to Save Honeybees

    Honeybees are in danger worldwide. Causes of what's known as colony collapse disorder range from pesticides and loss of habitat to infections. But scientists in Poland say they are on track to finding a cure for one of the diseases. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Wall Already Runs Along Parts of US-Mexico Border

    The Republican Party’s presidential nominee, Donald Trump, gained the support of many voters by saying he would build a wall to keep undocumented immigrants and drugs from coming across the border from Mexico. Critics have called his idea impractical and offensive to Mexico, while supporters say such a bold approach is needed to control the border. VOA’s Greg Flakus has more from the border town of Nogales, Arizona.
    Video

    Video New HIV Tests Emphasize Rapid Results

    As the global fight against AIDS intensifies, activists have placed increasing importance on getting people to know their HIV status. Some companies are developing new HIV testing methods designed to be quick, easy and accurate. Thuso Khumalo looks at the latest methods, presented at the International AIDS conference in Durban, South Africa.
    Video

    Video African Youth with HIV Urge More Support

    HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, is the top killer of teens in sub-Saharan Africa. But many youths say their experience with the virus is unique and needs to be addressed differently than the adult epidemic. VOA South African Correspondent Anita Powell reports.
    Video

    Video Poor Residents in Cleveland Not Feeling High Hopes of Republican Convention

    With the Republican Party's National Convention underway in Cleveland, Ohio, delegates and visitors are gathered in the host city's downtown - waiting to hear from the party's presidential candidate, Donald Trump. But a few kilometers from the convention's venue, Cleveland's poorest residents are not convinced Trump or his policies will make a difference in their lives. VOA's Ramon Taylor spoke with some of these residents as well as some of the Republican delegates and filed this report.
    Video

    Video Pop-Up Art Comes to Your Living Room, Backyard and Elsewhere

    Around the world, independent artists and musicians wrestle with a common problem: where to exhibit or perform? Traditional spaces such as museums and galleries are reserved for bigger names, and renting a space is not feasible for many. Enter ArtsUp, which connects artists with venue owners. Whether it’s a living room, restaurant, office or even a boat, pop-up events are bringing music and art to unexpected places. Tina Trinh has more.
    Video

    Video With Yosemite as Backdrop, Obama Praises National Parks

    Last month, President Barack Obama and his family visited some of the most beautiful national parks in the U.S. Using the majestic backdrop of a towering waterfall in California's Yosemite National Park, Obama praised the national park system which celebrates its 100th anniversary this year. He talked about the importance of America’s “national treasures” and the need to protect them from climate change and other threats. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
    Video

    Video Counter-Islamic State Coalition Plots Next Steps

    As momentum shifts against Islamic State in Iraq, discussions are taking place about the next steps for driving the terrorist group from its final strongholds. Secretary of State John Kerry is hosting a counter-IS meeting at the State Department, a day after defense ministers from more than 30 countries reviewed and agreed upon a course of action. VOA Pentagon correspondent Carla Babb reports.
    Video

    Video Russia's Participation at Brazil Olympic Games Still In Question

    The International Olympic Committee has delayed a decision on whether to ban all Russian teams from competing in next month's Olympic Games in Brazil over allegations of an elaborate doping scheme. The World Anti-Doping Agency recently released an independent report alleging widespread doping by Russian athletes at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi. So far, only Russian track and field athletes have been barred from the Summer Games in Brazil. VOA's Zlatica Hoke has more.
    Video

    Video Scotland’s Booming Whisky Industry Fears Brexit Hangover

    After Britain’s vote to leave the European Union, Scotland’s government wants to break away from the United Kingdom – fearing the nation’s exports are at risk. Among the biggest of these is whisky. Henry Ridgwell reports on a time of turmoil for those involved in the ancient art of distilling Scotland’s most famous product.
    Video

    Video Millennials Could Determine Who Wins Race to White House

    With only four months to go until Americans elect a new president, one group of voters is getting a lot more attention these days: those ages 18 to 35, a generation known as millennials. It’s a demographic that some analysts say could have the power to decide the 2016 election. But a lot depends on whether they actually turn out to vote. VOA’s Alexa Lamanna reports.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora