Ethiopia and Egypt face off over billion-dollar Nile dam project

Egypt is fiercely opposed to the dam but years of political turmoil have weakened the nation’s influence in the region.

The Blue Nile in Guba, Ethiopia, during its diversion ceremony. The $4.2 billion Grand Renaissance Dam hydroelectric project had to divert a short section of the river -- one of two major tributaries to the main Nile - to allow the main dam wall to be built.  William Lloyd George / AFP
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Nicholas Bariyo

Ethiopia, Egypt and Sudan will hold discussions next week over the effect of a new billion-dollar hydro plant along the river Nile, which Egypt fears will hurt water supply to its 84 million people.

The meeting will be the first since experts submitted their recommendations on the $4.3bn (Dh15.79bn) Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam project more than three months ago.

“The meeting is scheduled to take place ... on Oct. 22, 2013 between officials of the three countries,” the Ethiopian foreign ministry said.

Egypt fears the 6,000 megawatt plant is likely to hurt its water supply when it comes on-stream around 2017. The majority of the Egyptian population is centred near the Nile valley and the desert nation depends on the river for around 95 per cent of its water.

In June, former Egyptian President Mohamned Morsi said that Egypt would “defend each drop of the Nile with our blood”. Egypt is fiercely opposed to the dam but years of political turmoil have weakened the nation’s influence in the region.

The experts’ report is yet to be made public but according to Fekahmed Negash, the director of boundary and trans-boundary rivers at Ethiopia’s Water, Irrigation and Energy ministry, the experts recommend further studies to analyse the effect of the dam on Egypt’s water supply. Ethiopia plans to take up to six years to fill the dam’s 74 billion cubic-metre reservoir but insists this will not adversely affect the river’s downstream flow.

Addis Ababa, which is fully funding the project, has pledged to sell excess power to Egypt. Early this year, Ethiopia ratified the Nile River Cooperative Framework deal, challenging the colonial-era treaty that guarantees Egypt “natural and historic rights” over the Nile waters. Lower basin nations including Ethiopia, Kenya, South Sudan and Uganda are all opposed to the treaty. In June, Uganda’s President Yoweri Museveni said that Egypt should not continue to “hurt countries” in the Nile River basin by restricting power projects along the river. Uganda is developing several hydro power projects along the Nile.

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