Egypt and Ethiopia on a collision course as Addis tells Cairo it’s resuming filling the Nile dam

The formal notification by Ethiopia that it has resumed filling the Grand Renaissance Dam is a critical moment. [See below]

For Egypt this is an existential question – since the country relies on the Nile for over 95% of its water.

Egypt’s Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry has stated that if there is a 2 per cent drop in the Nile’s flow this amounts to the loss of 100,000 acres of farming land and one million jobs lost.

But for Ethiopia this is an equally critical question: its policy of electrifying and modernising its economy relies on the dam.

One path could lead to Egyptians going thirsty, the other path leads to Ethiopians going hungry. For both governments this is not a question they can afford to compromise on.

Talks are due to be held at the UN Security Council on Thursday, but talks have been going on about the use of the Nile waters for decades. When – in 2010 – Ethiopia announced that it would build the dam these negotiations took on a new urgency. But they led nowhere.

As the Wilson Centre pointed out:

“The two countries held countless talks, hired commissions of experts to report on the impact of the dam and in 2015 even agreed on a declaration of principles not to inflict damage on each other. However, they could never agree on the crucial details: the timetable for filling the reservoir and what to do in years of drought — in early 2020 Egypt insisted the filling should take from twelve to twenty years, depending on the amount of rainfall while Ethiopia, with a $5 billion investment in the dam and urgent need to show returns, insisted on five to seven. In 2019 the United States offered to mediate, but the effort got nowhere because these crucial details were never finalized and eventually Ethiopia suspended its participation.”

The military option

Going back to the UN Security Council is unlikely to magically produce a solution, which leaves only one other alternative for Egypt and their Sudanese allies – and that is to turn to their military. Cairo and Khartoum signed a military agreement in March this year. Will they put it into action?

It is difficult to see how a military option would work against the dam, but there are few other alternatives for Egypt or Sudan. The time appears to be fast approaching when they either take some kind of action or do what they have sworn not to do – accept the dam on the Blue Nile as a fait accompli.

If they accept the dam on Ethiopia’s terms then Cairo and Khartoum will be left appealing to Addis Ababa not to fill the dam too fast and to release waters in a severe drought. But they would be in a weak position, without the binding international agreement regulating the dam that they have always wanted.

This could be a decisive moment.


Egypt notified that Ethiopia has resumed filling of dam

Ethiopia's Grand Renaissance Dam is seen as it undergoes construction work on the river Nile in Guba Woreda, Benishangul Gumuz Region, Ethiopia September 26, 2019. REUTERS/Tiksa Negeri/File Photo

Ethiopia’s Grand Renaissance Dam is seen as it undergoes construction work on the river Nile in Guba Woreda, Benishangul Gumuz Region, Ethiopia September 26, 2019. REUTERS/Tiksa Negeri/File Photo

CAIRO, July 5 (Reuters) – Egypt’s irrigation minister said on Monday he had received official notice from Ethiopia that it had begun filling the reservoir behind its giant hydropower dam, the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD), for a second year.

Egypt has informed Ethiopia of its categorical rejection of the measure, which it regards as a threat to regional stability, Irrigation Minister Mohamed Abdel Aty said in a statement.

Ethiopia says the dam on its Blue Nile is crucial to its economic development and providing power to its population.

Egypt views the dam as a grave threat to its Nile water supplies, on which it is almost entirely dependent. Sudan, another downstream country, has expressed concern about the safety of the dam and the impact on its own dams and water stations.

Egypt and Sudan have been engaged in a diplomatic campaign for a legally binding deal over the dam’s operation, but talks have repeatedly stalled.

The diplomatic push intensified ahead of the first filling of the dam with last summer’s rains in Ethiopia, and again in recent weeks ahead of the second filling.

The U.N. Security Council is expected to discuss the issue on Thursday, and Abdel Aty had written to the council to inform it of the latest developments, the statement said.

12 comments

  1. Just consider of how much are the 3 countries are going to spent on war, with out counting the human loss. Ethiopia, Sudan and Egypt are all located in a sunny place why don’t they spent the money in investment of SOLAR ENERGY and use the water only for irrigation of the agriculture the use of their respective populations.

    1. I would like to express that Egypt is miscalculatig because of recent internal problem. I can assure you we are going to win 100% when it turns to be external conflict.

    2. Dear
      What about using tbeir own underground water, which could serve for 100 years, in tbe budget of tbe war?

      what about planting more trees to assist the afforestation ?

  2. I am just curios and I ask the writers/editors of this article…From all the data crunching and algorithms available and all the scientists that can help, are the options just two? Either fill or go to war?
    How do they manage the Euphrates and Tigris? or there is no information they can share?
    Just curios?

  3. The Amharas are challenging their fate with all. Ethiopia is like a filling card house thanks to the Amharas.

  4. SOME FIVE YEARS AGO WE WERE ABLE NOT ONLY TO COMPLETE THE DAM BUT ALSO TO DIVERT THE FLOW OF THE RIVER EAST WARD. NOW, WE ARE NOT ON THE FORMER POSITION. ACCEPTING THE EGYPTIANS DEMAND IS A MUST. SHAME!

  5. Dear
    What about using tbeir own underground water, which could serve for 100 years, in tbe budget of tbe war?

    what about planting more trees to assist the afforestation ?

  6. There is No panic. Egypt & Sudan will have water more than their needs. Since the GERD is a dam for the production of electricity, the down stream countries will enjoy the regulated /constant flow of water. Why do they need to make the region unsafe for the people of the respected countries? The dam will benefits all.

  7. Amazing! It’s always fascinating to witness intellectual dishonesty at such level. First and most, the framing of the issue is simply childish and immature; it is not a zero-sum game as it is being presented by the writer. As a shared resource, the Nile Basin requires a coordinated and collective management approach from head to toe. Unfortunately, only Egypt finds this approach terrifying. Regardless, the #GERD is a reality and there is nothing that #Egypt can do to reverse the situation. Still, the primary reason for all this saber rattling is domestic politics. Political elites, especially when they are dictators, need an external enemy to survive. For Egypt, Ethiopia remains a major focus and vise versa. Fortunately for #Ethiopia, the winds are blowing it’s way for the first time in over seven decades when it comes to the Nile ☺️ As for the writer, it would help to be impartial. However, seeing how extremely negative the writer is towards positive developments in Ethiopia, it’s not a surprise to read a proposition that calls for a military action. The good thing is Egypt doesn’t have the capability to act militarily some 2,000km away from it base, even if the dam was empty. As for the use of Sudan as a launching pad, Sudan is not that stupid and just announced that they are able to manage the impact of the second filling, if necessary. As for the writers motive, it is safe to assume that the military option is being recommend to benefit his #TPLF friends. Thus, good luck 😉 while the dam fills up and starts generating 700MW of power next month!

  8. Egypt is lying and misleading the World by maliciously stating “if there is a 2 per cent drop in the Nile’s flow this amounts to the loss of 100,000 acres of farming land and one million jobs lost.” A great amount of Nile water flows into the Mediterranean Sea. Egypt is selfish and malicious!

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