The Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam: A sticking point in regional relations

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2024-02-12 | 13:17
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The Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam: A sticking point in regional relations
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3min
The Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam: A sticking point in regional relations

Report by Nicole Hajal, English adaptation by Yasmine Jaroudi
 
Between Egypt and Sudan on one side and Ethiopia on the other, the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam issue is caught in a deadlock of negotiations.

For eight years, failure has persisted between the downstream and upstream countries regarding the rules for filling and operating the Ethiopian dam.

After the latest round of negotiations reached an impasse in December 2023, Egypt recently declared that it would closely monitor the filling and operation process of the Renaissance Dam, preserving its right, under international conventions, to defend its water and national security in case of harm.

What are the dimensions of the Renaissance Dam, and why does Egypt fear it?

Egypt, suffering from water scarcity with a deficit in its water needs reaching up to 50%, is in conflict with Ethiopia as it fears the impact of the dam that Addis Ababa is constructing on the Blue Nile, the sole source of water Egypt relies on to secure 97% of its water needs.

Since Ethiopia began construction in 2011, this dam has been a subject of regional conflict. Egypt sees the dam as an existential threat, while Ethiopia views it as the heart of its development plans.

In February 2022, Addis Ababa announced it began generating electricity for the first time.

Can an agreement be reached on the dam's future? Why is international law not being applied?

Two agreements signed in 1929 and 1959 granted Egypt and Sudan the lion's share of the Nile's waters. These agreements also allowed them to reject projects by upstream countries (such as Ethiopia) that would deprive them of their water shares.

The problem arose when Ethiopia announced these old agreements would not bind it and decided to start building the dam during the Arab Spring when Egypt witnessed political turmoil. The cost of building the dam amounted to $4.2 billion.

When Ethiopia refused to abide by the agreements, Egypt and Sudan had the option to resort to the International Court of Justice to compel Ethiopia to halt dam construction, a choice the countries did not pursue.

Between Egypt's condemnation and threat of Ethiopia's obligation to stop filling the dam until an agreement on its operation methods is reached and Ethiopia's announcement of completing its filling last September, the crisis of negotiating the Renaissance Dam has resurfaced.

Addis Ababa's reassurances to Cairo and its readiness to resume the negotiation process are being met with caution in Cairo, and concerns about Ethiopia's unilateral actions and its continued policy of imposing facts on the ground in the crisis have also emerged.

The issue of Ethiopia's agreement with Somaliland to build a military base at the Berbera Port, granting Ethiopia access to the sea, has further intensified the dispute.
 

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