Ethiopia began construction of the GERD in 2011 on the Blue Nile, about 30 km from the border with Sudan.
The two main tributaries – the White Nile and the Blue Nile – converge in Khartoum before flowing north through Egypt and into the Mediterranean Sea. Photo credit: Wikipedia
Ethiopia’s construction of a massive dam on a tributary of the Nile is causing regional tensions, particularly with Egypt, which makes 97 percent of its water supply dependent on the Nile.
After Ethiopia announced on Monday that it had achieved its goal for the second year of filling the mega-dam, here are some backgrounds:
At 6,695 kilometers (4,160 miles), the Nile is one of the longest rivers in the world and an important supplier of water and electricity for a largely arid region.
The Nile and its tributaries cover more than three million square kilometers of watershed in 10 countries: Burundi, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Egypt, Ethiopia, Kenya, Rwanda, South Sudan, Sudan, Tanzania and Uganda.
The two main tributaries – the White Nile and the Blue Nile – converge in Khartoum before flowing north through Egypt and into the Mediterranean Sea.
It is estimated that around 84 billion cubic meters of water flow along the Nile annually.
The largest dam in Africa
In 2011, Ethiopia began construction of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) on the Blue Nile, about 30 kilometers from the border with Sudan.
New satellite imagery from Maxar shows that the reservoir behind Ethiopia’s Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dan (GERD) has begun to fill. Read more in @APcurrent story from: https://t.co/hh9C19KJCx pic.twitter.com/IQy4YOpCaS
– Maxar Technologies (@Maxar) July 14, 2020
When completed, the $ 4.2 billion dam will generate more than 5,000 megawatts of electricity, making it Africa’s largest hydropower plant and doubling Ethiopia’s electricity production.
Ethiopia began the first phase of filling the 145 meter high reservoir in mid-2020.
Ethiopia confirmed on Twitter Monday that the second annual target had been met and that this move would allow the dam to operate the first two of its 13 turbines.
Egypt, a dry country of nearly 100 million people, depends on the Nile for most of its water needs, including for agriculture.
Cairo claims a historic right on the river from a treaty between Egypt and Sudan from 1929, represented by the British colonial power, which gave Egypt a veto on construction projects along the river.
A 1959 treaty increased Egypt’s allotment to about 66 percent of the river, with 22 percent for Sudan.
Ethiopia was not a party to these treaties and does not consider them to be valid.
In 2010, the countries of the Nile Basin, with the exception of Egypt and Sudan, signed another agreement, the Framework Cooperation Agreement, which enables projects on the river without the Cairo Agreement.
Ethiopia, one of the fastest growing economies in Africa in recent years, insists the dam will not interfere with water flow.
However, Egypt fears that its supplies will be cut for the time it takes to fill the 74 billion cubic meter reservoir.
Egypt sees the dam as threatening the very existence of the dam and Sudan has warned that millions of human lives would be “in great danger” if Ethiopia unilaterally backfilled the dam.
A decade of negotiations under the auspices of the African Union (AU) has resulted in no agreement.
The UN Security Council met earlier this month to discuss the project, although Ethiopia later described the meeting as an “unnecessary” distraction from the AU-led process.
In July 2020, Ethiopia announced that it had achieved its first reservoir fill target of 4.9 billion cubic meters. The goal for this year’s rainy season was an increase of 13.5 billion cubic meters.
Tensions from Tigray
Another source of regional tension is the conflict in the northern region of Tigray in Ethiopia since November, through which around 60,000 refugees have fled to Sudan, which is struggling with its own economic difficulties.
The Sudanese and Ethiopian armies recently remilitarized the fertile border region of Fashaga, where Ethiopian farmers are cultivating land that has long been claimed by Sudan.
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