The Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam
Updated: Feb 19, 2019
Ethiopia is building a dam to create hydroelectricity along the Blue Nile that will increase its electrical production by more than 6000 megawatts. Egypt however, is not pleased with this project as they fear that their already low water supply will diminish even more which would have a disastrous outcome.
The Blue Nile’s basin covers 11 countries, namely: Tanzania, Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, The Democratic Republic of Congo, Kenya, Ethiopia, Eritrea, South Sudan, Sudan and Egypt. Nearly a quarter of a billion people rely on the water of the Nile and Ethiopia, where 60% of the water comes from, has plans to build a dam on this water to generate hydroelectricity.
This dam will be Africa’s biggest hydroelectric dam and it comes at a mere cost price of 5 billion USD. It will be 1800 meters long and 155 meters high. At this size, it will be able to produce electricity with an excess of 6000 megawatts. Currently, the country produces 4000 megawatts, and there is a shortage of supply to meet demand. With the extra 6000 megawatts being added to the grid, the country will not only be able to cater to the local demand, but it will also be able to export to countries as far as South Africa and in Western Europe. Currently, 60% of the dam has been completed.
Ethiopia’s dam is being built near the border with Sudan and building commenced in 2011. It is important to note that Egypt has been against the development of this dam. Thanks to colonial era treaties signed in 1929 and 1959, the lion share of the Blue Nile has been given to both Sudan and Egypt. With the latter even holding veto rights with regards to what gets planned/decided upstream.
Unfortunately, the project being done by Ethiopia is upstream. Because of this, a treaty was signed in 2015 between Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan with the former signing it grudgingly. However, this is with good reason as 90% of the water that flows into Egypt comes from the Blue Nile.
As you know, there are always 2 sides to a coin and a minimum of 2 sides to a story. Why am I mentioning this? Well, quite naturally, Egypt conducted some research into the impact this dam would have on their land. According to a professor from the University of Cairo, 51% of farm land would be lost if this dam fill was done in a mere 3 years.
He estimates that 17% would be lost if the dam fill was done spread over 6 years. According to internal papers from the government based on their own studies; per one billion cubic meters of water lost, would affect 200,000 acres of cultivated land. Which in turn affects 1 million people as 1 acre is shared per 5 people according to a senior irrigation ministry official. He said this on basis of anonymity because he did not have the authority to share the figures.
Egypt barely gets by with the water that it has. Let me put it this way; for Moses to escape in a straw basket this time around would be quite tough. Anyway, Egypt has one of the lowest per capita shares of water in the world. It has been estimated at 660 cubic meters per person and this strain has been worsened due to inefficiencies and waste.
The further prognosis is not promising as the situation is expected to worsen due to the population being expected to double in the next 50 years. However, shortages of water will happen even before that as it is predicted to happen by the year 2025. That’s in 6 years from now!
Flipping the coin over to Ethiopia’s side; their experts claim that the building of the dam and the filling of it will have little to no effect on Egypt’s land. Especially not if co-ordination is done between the two countries and information is being shared whilst the dam in Ethiopia is being filled. This will make sure that the reservoir that Egypt has itself by Lake Nasser will cater to the needs and demands of Egypt.
The truth of the matter is that 60% of the water that fills the Blue Nile comes from Ethiopia, and it is my opinion that Ethiopia has every right to use that water to improve the livelihood of its people. This view is bolstered by the fact that most of the country’s 102 million people are living without electricity. The building of this dam will not only create electricity but will also cultivate the farmland in Ethiopia.
That being said; it goes without saying that the fears of Egypt with regards to this project are real and they must be addressed. I firmly believe that their fears will be laid to rest through proper coordination between the 3 countries involved (Sudan, Ethiopia and Egypt). By having this proper coordination, we can guarantee that the reservoir by Lake Nasser will remain full enough to cater to needs and demands of the Egyptian people.