While world news has been centered on COVID-19, an international dispute has been raging in northeast Africa. The spat could have a lasting impact on the African riparian nations who depend on the Nile River for water consumption, agriculture, and navigation.
The dispute revolves around Ethiopia’s 2010 decision to build the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) on the Blue Nile about 20 kilometers upstream from Sudan. The dam, an approximately $5 billion hydropower project with an installed capacity of 5,150 megawatts, will double Ethiopia’s electricity production, contain about 74 billion cubic meters of water, and provide a significant economic boost for a still struggling country.
In addition to the practical benefits of the dam, it has also become a symbol of national pride and identity, with many Ethiopians having invested of their own money in purchasing bonds to fund the project.
However, the GERD, which has the capacity to hold 88 percent of the mean annual flow of the Nile River, poses a potential threat to the water security of downstream Sudan, and Egypt. It can potentially impact drinking water, household usage, agriculture, fishing, water transportation and tourism. Egypt relies on 90 percent of its water supply from the Nile and about 57 percent of that comes from the Blue Nile.
Although disputes over water rights between Nile riparians have been going on for decades, including after a 1959 agreement between Egypt and Sudan, the GERD has created a new disagreement with new issues that need to be resolved.
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