Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Who owns the NIle?

Geeska Africa Online: After years of conflict about control over the Nile, Ethiopia, Egypt and Sudan have now apparently chosen the path of co-operation over open dispute. Politicians are demonstrating unity, but observers warn that not all differences have been resolved. Many residents of the Ethiopian capital are well equipped with candles, generators and an ample supply of patience in order to cope with the regular power outages in Addis Ababa. During a recent state visit, Egyptian President Abdul Fattah al-Sisi experienced first hand a power blackout that lasted a number of hours. It was almost as if the Ethiopian capital wanted to demonstrate to him the urgent need for electricity from the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD).The gargantuan project, located on the upper course of the Blue Nile in Ethiopia, has been a source of tension between the neighbouring states for years. The reason for this is that Egypt is also heavily dependent on the river. In 2013, Sisi’s predecessor, Mohamed Morsi, even indirectly threatened Ethiopia with war out of fear his country could suffer a water shortage.

For the past few years, the government in Addis Ababa has been ambitiously pursuing the construction of the largest hydroelectric project ever to be built in Africa, located in the Benishangul-Gumuz Region of Ethiopia near the border with Sudan.

With a population of around 90 million, Ethiopia is the second most populous country on the continent after Nigeria. This aspiring economic power aims to satisfy its energy requirements through the construction of a series of dams along the Blue Nile. The centrepiece of this policy is the over 3-billion-euro GERD project, which upon completion should produce 6,000 megawatts of electricity – as much as five nuclear power plants. Ethiopia thereby aims to achieve greater independence from crude oil imports and simultaneously provide a stimulus for its emerging industrial sector. In addition, the government in Addis Ababa plans to alleviate its chronic shortage of foreign currency by selling up to 2,000 megawatts of energy to its African neighbours, including Egypt. Although the first supply agreements have already been signed, many conflicts remain unresolved.

Some 160 million people live in the Nile Basin. The desert nation of Egypt fears that upon completion, GERD will quite literally leave Egyptian farmers high and dry with nothing to irrigate their fields, claiming that once the 1,680-square-kilometre reservoir has been flooded, water will evaporate in the heat. Egypt already experienced something similar with the opening of the Aswan Dam in 1971. Egypt and Sudan have even invoked colonial treaties dating back to 1929 and 1959, which guarantee both countries an almost 90 per cent share of the water flow from the Blue Nile and the White Nile as well as ensuring the right of veto over any construction plans....

The falls of the Blue Nile in Ethiopia, shot by A. Davey, Wikimedia Commons via Flickr, under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license

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