A dam of contention

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The Egypt and Ethiopia are at daggers drawn over the escalating crisis over the construction of 'Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam' across the Blue Nile River in Ethiopia. Egypt, as the lowest riparian state with the highest stake over the Blue Nile watercourse, consider the potential water scarcity as an existential threat. 

About the Dam

  • The 1.8 km dam, almost 30 percent complete, will be the largest hydroelectric dam in the continent.
  • Its expected to boost the Ethiopian agriculture by better water management for irrigation, and nation's economy by generating hydroelectricity.
  • Ethiopia hopes to convert itself into a regional power hub, such is the hydroelectric potential of this massive dam. 
  • It might also attract further revenue through tourism.

Egypt concerns

  • Egypt is the largest beneficiary of Nile water owing to a colonial era treaty inked between Egypt and Britain in 1929.
  • The agreement, apart from handing a major chunk of water to Egypt, also mandates other riparian states to take its prior permission before setting up any project (major or minor) on the river.
  • Egypt consider that this move will cut down on its water share while also slashing away its leverage over the river. 
  • Egypt is now scurring around to rally global support to bring Ethiopia into submission.
  • Nearly all of its 83 million population is dependent on Nile water (both Blue & White Nile).
  • It must be noted that the Blue Nile contributes around 85 percent of the total water that the Nile has.

The Negotiation

  • The negotiations in Addis Ababa in February 2014 have failed due to Egypt's adamant demand to include an international experts in a technical committee meant to implement the recommendations of aforementioned panel (which Ethiopia refused).
  • Earlier, International panel of experts (IPOE) constituted to study the project and its possible impact submitted a report in May last year.
  • It stated that long-term impact of the dam would not be alarming though it might result in minor hiccups in the short term as less water would reach Egypt while the reservoir was being filled.

The Contradictions

  • Egypt now ironically cites the UN Watercourses Convention 1997 principle to advocate its case, the same convention it refused to sign.
  • It unilaterally went on to build Aswan High Dam in the 1960s on the river for the same purpose despite opposition.
  • Now a likewise construction has got this country in splits.

The Nile Basin Initiative 

  • A regional initiative, to better manage and develop Nile water by all the stakeholders in the river Nile.
  • It was launched in 1999 by the nine riparian states namely Egypt, Sudan, Ethiopia, Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania, Burundi, Rwanda, the Democratic Republic of Congo.
  • Egypt (Sudan as well) is not ready to sign it until it guarantee its current share of Nile water, which seems impossible.
  • That's why the treaty is still in the pipeline. 

UN Watercourses Convention 1997 

  • Its about the uses and conservation of all waters that cross international boundaries, including both surface and groundwater.
  • It aims to help conserve and manage water resources for present and future generations.
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