This week, Egyptian leaders publically expressed their concerns over the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD)—an Ethiopian hydroelectric dam project that has been under construction along the Blue Nile River since May 2013. Once completed, the GERD is expected to be the largest hydroelectric dam in Africa, capable of delivering 6,000 megawatts of electricity to Ethiopia and its neighboring countries.
The dam project has exacerbated long-standing tensions between Ethiopia and both Egypt and Sudan, which have articulated their concerns over the effects of the dam on their water supplies since they are located downstream from the dam. On Monday this week, Alaa Yassin, a spokesperson for the Egyptian irrigation ministry, called on Ethiopia to reduce the dam's capacity of 74 billion cubic meters, which he called "unjustified" and "technically unacceptable" due to the major reduction it would have on Egypt’s water supply (according to studies performed by the ministry). The Egyptian National Planning Institute also stated recently that Egypt will need to add 21 billion cubic meters of water per year to its current water supply (of 55 billion cubic meters) in order to meet its growing water needs by 2050, making any reduction in the Blue Nile’s water supply potentially disastrous for the country.
Also on Monday, Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi held talks with Mathias I, the patriarch of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, and stated that while he respected the right to development of the Ethiopian people, the Nile constitutes a vital “source of life” for Egyptians, so measures to protect the rights of both countries must be taken as political agreements over the dam are negotiated.
In September 2014, a tripartite commission involving leaders from Sudan, Egypt and Ethiopia decided to commission a study on the possible environmental impacts of the dam. The commission is expected to meet again this month to select an international firm to conduct the study. In the meantime, Egyptian trade and foreign affairs ministers have been touring the Nile Basin region, engaging in trade talks in Nairobi this week, and will continue on to Kampala for similar talks next week. Some observers have noted that Egypt’s heightened engagement with other riparian countries might reflect its long-term strategy of rallying political support for Egypt in the row over the Ethiopian dam.
For more insight into the potential benefits and adverse effects of the GERD on the Nile River Basin, please see the following piece by AGI scholars: While Egypt Struggles, Ethiopia Builds over the Blue Nile: Controversies and the Way Forward.
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