Africa’s Most Controversial Megaproject,2023

Ethiopia is building Africa’s largest  hydropower dam. With a reservoir more than twice the size of New York City, this  dam would double the country’s current power generation—providing clean and renewable  energy to millions of people in the region. However, neighboring Egypt and Sudan, are  not very happy abut the project. After the filling of the dam started, Egypt stated  that ‘they would not tolerate any moves that would reduce Egypt’s share of water  from the Nile’. They also stated that if tensions escalate further, the possibility  of military conflict is always on the table. So today, we take a closer look at Africa’s  most controversial megaproject and check whether the tensions can be resolved or  if the conflict might even escalate. The plans for this massive megaproject resulted  out of Ethiopia’s current situation.

The plans for this massive megaproject resulted 
out of Ethiopia's current situation. Following

Following an unstable and tumultuous past riddled with  colonialism and civil war, Ethiopia managed to massively grow their economy in the last 20 years.  However, the humanitarian situation is still bad, because of numerous reasons including the ongoing  civil war in the Tigray region. But also because every second person has no access to electricity.  To this day, the country still suffers from power interruptions and energy shortages and  sustaining the energy needs of an ever-growing population & economy becomes harder and harder. Ethiopia’s Solution: To combat this long-standing problem, the  country is currently investing billions of dollars into improving its energy sector.  And this single project is set to become the largest hydroelectric power facility the  African continent has ever seen. Standing at a towering 145 meters tall and 1,780 meters  long, the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam is by far Ethiopia’s biggest and most ambitious  megaproject that has the power to quite literally chart the course of the country’s  future. Situated around 10 kilometers from the border with neighboring Sudan, the GERD  sits atop one of the Nile’s main tributaries, the Blue Nile, which supplies around 85%  of the water to the Nile downstream. Work on the project began in 2011  with an estimated price tag of $5 billion dollars. Ethiopia’s government had  problems financing the construction with little to no international funding. But they still  managed to pay the bill for the project primarily through internal funding and the sale of bonds. When fully completed, it’s expected to generate as much as 6,500 MW of clean renewable energy.  This alone more than doubles the entire country’s already existing power generation. The  completion of the dam would not only solve Ethiopia’s decades-long power shortage,  but it would also mean that they could start exporting power to neighboring countries  like Djibouti, Sudan, Uganda, and Kenya. But before the full extent of the  GERD’s capability can be realized, Ethiopia has to do one final and crucial  step. Right now, construction is almost done, but they still have to fill a reservoir  with 74 cubic kilometers in volume. To put this into perspective, the reservoir  can hold more water than what flows through the Blue Nile in a whole year. That’s why the filling of the reservoir is a lengthy process that has already  taken Ethiopia more than two years now out of a potential seven. The resulting controversy: Meanwhile, just over 2000 kilometers downstream  from the GERD’s reservoir, Egypt is calling the megaproject an “existential threat”. For much  of human history, the Nile River has served as both the symbolic and literal heart of Egypt.  More than 95 percent of the entire population live within just a few kilometers of the Nile  in green fertile floodplains that are a stark contrast compared to the rest of the barren Sahara  Desert that covers much of Egypt’s land. Looking back the country has evolved from one of the  world’s most advanced ancient civilizations into the African powerhouse that it is today  – all with the Nile as a major lifeline. But today, the very waterway that has sustained  them for millennia is now threatening their very existence. With 97 percent of the freshwater  directly coming from the same water source, and an annual per capita water share of just 590 cubic  meters, it is an understatement to say that Egypt cannot and will not survive without the Nile. It is then to no surprise that the construction of the GERD, and the eventual filling of its  reservoir, is a major cause for concern for the Egyptians. With the completion of the dam,  both Egypt, and even neighboring Sudan who also relies on the economic and agricultural power  that the Nile offers, face the risk of losing control over it. To them, a foreign nation like  Ethiopia literally controlling the tap is not only a threat that upends their political power  and position, but also a matter of survival. With the new dam, Ethiopia now has to take  into account exactly when, and for how long, they can either open or close the floodgates  to prevent problems like excessive evaporation and massive flooding downstream.

With the new dam, Ethiopia now has to take 
into account exactly when, and for how long,

And Egypt and  Sudan want to be involved in those decisions. Tensions between these three countries rose  in July 2020 when Ethiopia began filling the reservoir. Despite numerous complaints  and requests for trilateral agreements, they pushed through with the first filling  saying that the process was a natural part of the dam’s construction and could not be delayed. In July 2021, Egypt’s foreign ministry called out the Ethiopian government and accused them of  undermining the collective efforts of Egypt, Sudan, and the United Nations to reach a mutual  agreement between the three parties. Egypt also accuses Ethiopia of violating a Declaration  of Principles that the three countries signed back in 2015 that prohibits any signatory  from undertaking Nile River projects without first consulting the other two. Over the course of this controversy, Egypt has stated before that if their demands  are not met and tensions continue to escalate, the prospect of a military move is always on the  table. On the other hand, Ethiopia prepared for a possible escalation of the situation by installing  anti-air missile systems around the dam. Since August of this year, the possibility  of armed conflict seems to be very unlikely.

Since August of this year, the possibility 
of armed conflict seems to be very unlikely.

Egypt and Sudan are now urging the United  Nations to intervene in the matter and act as an intermediary between the three countries  for negotiations to actually begin. Cooperation still seems to be a distant prospect though, as  the states involved continue to point fingers and accuse each other of delaying negotiations. So, can the tensions be resolved or not? The situation between the three parties seems  to have no clear resolution in the near future, but this doesn’t mean that it has to stay  this way forever. If the three countries were to work together and treat the Nile as a  multinational asset that everyone relies on, Egypt and Sudan could even profit from the GERD.  If done correctly, the dam can prevent massive flooding in the downstream countries where it is  a common problem. The dam could also organize the distribution of water downstream which could  preserve Sudan’s and Egypt’s own dams within their borders. Finally, the energy generated can  also be a huge benefit for the whole region. What do you think about the GERD? Can Egypt,  Sudan, and Ethiopia find a solution here? Or will negotiations continue for many years to come?

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