On the River Nile, a Move to Avert a Conflict Over Water

Ethiopia’s plans to build Africa’s largest hydroelectric dam on the Nile have sparked tensions with Egypt, which depends on the river to irrigate its arid land. But after years of tensions, an international agreement to share the Nile’s waters may be in sight.

For thousands of years, Egyptians have depended on the waters of the Nile flowing out of the Ethiopian highlands and central Africa. It is the world’s longest river, passing through 11 countries, but without its waters the most downstream of those nations, Egypt, is a barren desert. So when, in 2011, Ethiopia began to build a giant hydroelectric dam across the river’s largest tributary, the Blue Nile, it looked like Egypt might carry out its long-standing threat to go to war to protect its lifeline.

But last weekend, all appeared to change. Ministers from Egypt, Ethiopia, and Sudan agreed on the basis for a deal for managing the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam, which would be the largest hydroelectric dam in Africa. So is peace about to break out on the River Nile? Longtime Nile observers Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam construction are warning that a dispute that has lasted for a century may not end so easily.

Some 8,000 Ethiopian construction workers are currently at work building the Ethiopian dam at a site close to where the Blue Nile crosses into Sudan, before joining the White Nile and heading on to Egypt and the Mediterranean Sea. The scheme currently is about a third completed. Ethiopia says the dam is essential to its own economic development, while Egypt has called for construction to halt.

It looked like a stalemate until Sudanese foreign minister Ali Karti emerged from a week of talks with his counterparts from Ethiopia and Egypt in Khartoum to declare that “a full agreement has been reached ... on the principles of the use of the Ethiopian Renaissance Dam.” The agreement would be submitted to their respective heads of state for approval, he said, calling it “the beginning of a new page in relations between our three countries.”

For the complete article, please see Yale Environment 360.