The Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) is a project initiated and conducted by Ethiopia. The purpose is to create a gravity dam on the Blue Nile River, which is under construction since 2011. The GERD project is very important for Ethiopia’s economic and energy development, offering the possibility to position it as a regional electricity exporter. The dam is set to cost around $5 billion and it will be able to produce 6 400 megawatts of electricity, which is very much considering that Ethiopia is currently generating 4 000 megawatts.
The project led to disputes between Ethiopia, on the one side and Egypt and Sudan, on the other side. Both Egypt and Sudan are concerned about the dam’s impact on water supplies and have urged for an international agreement to control the dam’s water flow. The project might lead to water scarcity in the two states. The controversy that started between Egypt and Ethiopia is due to the fact that the dam would affect the economic capacity of the former. For example, the Nile provides 95% of Egypt’s water needs. This means that the Ethiopian project would greatly impact more the Egyptian economic sectors, like energy, agriculture and farming, construction, manufacturing, transports, even traveling, and so on. Now, the discussions concerning the Great Ethiopian Renaissance Dam are in a deadlock. In what concerns Sudan, the implication comes as it relies on the natural resources offered by the Nile River waters. Also, the construction is just 45 kilometers away from the Ethiopian border with Sudan. The discussions between the Nile Basin countries have been going on for years now.
Egypt, backed by Sudan, had proposed to internationalize the dispute, by including the United Nations and the European Union as mediators, but Ethiopia rejected this. Furthermore, the two have called for global action after Ethiopia stated that it will begin a second filling of the GERD, on the 22nd of July. The refilling decision comes as a unilateral one, from Ethiopia and it has been rejected by both Egypt and Sudan. The two characterize the event as a violation of international law.
The only mediator in the conflict is the Africa Union. It has been trying to help find a resolution for the conflict. The continuous efforts to arbitrate a compromise that would resolve the tripartite discussions’ stalemate and secure an agreement on managing the GERD have failed so far.
The most recent round of discussions, held on April 4-5 in Kinshasa, did not result in an agreement to restart talks. Each side accused the other of sabotaging the negotiations.
The tensions are increasing as the Prime Minister of Ethiopia, Abiy Ahmed, issued a statement on the 31st of May and announced that they are planning to build dozens of dams in different parts of the country. More exactly, they want to build approximately 100 small and medium-sized dams. Responding to this affirmation, the Foreign Minister of Egypt said that the announcement: “reveals once again Ethiopia’s bad intentions when it comes to dealing with the Nile River and other international rivers that it shares with neighboring countries as if they were its own, subject to its sovereignty and harnessed to serve its own interests.”
Al-Azhar also intervened in the GERD debate. During a speech that marked the celebration of the United Nations’ World Environment Day, Al-Azhar Grand Sheikh Ahmed al-Tayeb said that monopolizing natural resources is an attempt to stealing a God-given resource, and that water is a collective property that no one has the right to undermine.
On the 5th of June, the spokesman for the Ministry of Irrigation and Water Resources, Mohamed Ghanem, stated that Egypt is facing significant challenges because of the Ethiopian initiative. Also, he pointed out that the state has taken action on four levels to resolve the water shortage situation. Some of the strategies include launching a project to rehabilitate water canals and water drains, promoting the use of modern irrigation systems, and using smart irrigation systems in agricultural lands, in order to realize effective water resource management and to assure that the farmers have the necessary amount of water.
Moreover, the former Egyptian Foreign Minister, Nabil Fahmy, told a local television station on June 6 that the current events might lead to an eventual conflict between the two sides.
Egypt has recently announced a new strategy to counter the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam project, entitled the Popular Front for the Preservation of the Nile River. The campaign intends to mobilize the public and the government to safeguard the country’s right to water and avert the dangers posed by GERD, which is set to be refilled during the forthcoming rainy season in July and August. Issuing an opening statement on June 1st, the officials belonging to the Popular Front stated: “The people are an authentic party and must be aware of everything that is going on. Instead of being a spectator of a fateful issue, rather be an active partner in supporting all efforts to advocate for national rights.”
Leftist and Nasserism-oriented parties and people make up the Popular Front for the Preservation of the Nile River, for instance: Socialist Party of Egypt, the Socialist Popular Alliance Party, the Egyptian Communist Party, the Bread and Freedom Party, the Dignity Party, the Conservative Party, and the Arab Democratic Nasserist Party. The campaign also includes a group of anti-government authors and journalists, which generated controversy because the forming of the Popular Front for the Preservation of the Nile River was seen as going against the government’s stated route by pro-regime media.
On Wednesday, June the 9th, Egypt and Sudan officially stated that they have coordinated their methods to try to make Ethiopia take part in negotiations on filling and managing the dam.
In this problem, Egypt has been looking for help from China, taking into consideration the great expertise that China has in the management of river waters. The Egyptian Parliament has urged Egyptian state agencies to consider working with China on initiatives aimed at developing and conserving water resources, such as desalination facilities and wastewater recycling for agricultural use. In this respect, the undersecretary of the Egyptian Parliamentary Defense and National Security Committee, Ahmed Al-Awadi, stated: “China has experience in projects for managing water resources and will share its experience with Egypt in light of the GERD crisis.” Still, it is important to remember that Chinese companies are involved in the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam project. But Mr. Ahmed Al-Awadi said that this is not a problem for eventual Chinese-Egyptian cooperation.
Magdy, Mohamed, 2021. Egypt, Sudan seek global action to end Nile dam deadlock. Arab News. Accessed June 13, 2021. https://arab.news/m87p6
Africa News, 2021. Egypt leader warns Nile water ‘untouchable’. Accessed June 13, 2021.https://www.africanews.com/2021/03/31/egypt-leader-warns-nile-water-untouchable/
Reuters, 2021. Egypt and Sudan urge Ethiopia to negotiate seriously over giant dam. Accessed June 13, 2021. https://www.reuters.com/world/middle-east/egypt-sudan-urge-ethiopia-negotiate-seriously-over-giant-dam-2021-06-09/
Hassan, Khalid, 2021. Egypt’s Al-Azhar clerics speak out against Ethiopia on Nile dam crisis. Al-Monitor. Accessed June 13, 2021. https://www.al-monitor.com/originals/2021/06/egypts-al-azhar-clerics-speak-out-against-ethiopia-nile-dam-crisis
Mahmoud, Rasha, 2021. Egypt steps up action as threat of water scarcity looms. Al-Monitor. Accessed June 13, 2021. https://www.al-monitor.com/originals/2021/06/egypt-steps-action-threat-water-scarcity-looms
Saied, Mohamed, 2021. Egyptian concerns grow amid Ethiopia’s plan to build dozens of dams. Accessed June 13, 2021. https://www.al-monitor.com/originals/2021/06/egyptian-concerns-grow-amid-ethiopias-plan-build-dozens-dams
Kadry, Abdulla, 2021. New front to protect Nile River raises controversy in Egypt. Al-Monitor. Accessed June 13, 2021. https://www.al-monitor.com/originals/2021/06/new-front-protect-nile-river-raises-controversy-egypt
Mikhail, George, 2021. Egypt turns to China for water advice amid Nile dam crisis. Al-Monitor. Accessed June 13, 2021. https://www.al-monitor.com/originals/2021/06/egypt-turns-china-water-advice-amid-nile-dam-crisis
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About the author:
Delia-Maria MOTAN is Intern research at MEPEI, and her research interest lies in international relations and political science in the Middle East. Currently, she is studying at the Faculty of the Political Science / University of Bucharest.