Grande Renaissance Dam Sparking Water Tensions


Ethiopia's move to divert the Blue Nile, as part of the construction of the Grande Ethiopian Renaissance Dam, has sparked audible concerns from Egypt and has led to increased tensions between the two states. Despite the Ethiopian government's claims that the dam poses no threat to Egypt's water supply, the topic is likely to remain a point contention throughout the construction process.

Tensions between Ethiopia and Egypt have risen in early June, as Ethiopia progresses with the construction of the Grande Renaissance Dam by diverting water from the Blue Nile. The Ethiopian government has insisted that the construction of the dam will have no implications for any of the other Nile riparian countries' water supply. However the move sparked protests at the Ethiopian embassy in Cairo and it was also reported by the BBC that Egyptian politicians were inadvertently heard on live TV suggesting military action should be used in order to stop the dam's construction. Although, it was later announced that the statements made 'do not represent the Egyptian official stance', it highlights that the Nile water politics are still very much a 'hot topic'.

The Ethiopian government first announced plans to construct the US$5bn mega hydroelectric dam project on the Blue Nile (a tributary of the Nile) in 2011, with the ambition of constructing a plant with 6GW of capacity by 2017. However, the project was been met with resistance by some of the Nile's riparian states (11 counties in total), most notably Egypt and Sudan, who rely heavily on the river basin for their water supply. The issue stems back decades as colonial treaties still govern the rights of the water, with Egypt and Sudan being given the greatest share despite over 85% of the Nile flow originating from the Ethiopian Highlands.

Ethiopia's Grande Export Aspirations

Ethiopia's planned expansion of its hydropower industry is undeniably ambitious, with the country looking to establish itself as a regional energy hub ( see May 1, 'Hydropower Drives Export Ambitions'). With estimates placing Ethiopia's hydropower potential at a mammoth 45GW (second only to the Democratic Republic of Congo in terms of hydropower potential in Africa, according to the World Bank), the country is keen to harness this potential for export.

Hydropower Expansion Underway
Hydropower Generation and Capacity, 2012-2022

Although the Ethiopian government is arguing that the Renaissance dam will help secure power supply for the East African region, the downstream implications for downstream countries are a relative unknown , in terms of flow. Furthermore, an over reliance on hydropower for electricity generation is a risky strategy in itself, particularly considering the region is prone to drought.

Despite Egypt and Ethiopia being members of the Nile Basin Initiative (NBI ) - a partnership which aims ' to achieve sustainable socio-economic development through the equitable utilization of , and benefit from, the common Nile B asin water resources' - we anticipate tensions to remain relatively high between the two countries as construction work continues on the project. That said, in terms of project realisation, we believe construction will move forward, driven by the strong political backing of Ethiopia's hydropower industry.

This article is tagged to:
Sector: Power
Geography: Egypt, Ethiopia, Egypt, Sudan, Ethiopia, Ethiopia

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