Nile disputes threaten Africa’s largest hydropower project

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kainji damThe largest Hydropower project in Africa, the 6,000MW Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam, is under threat as Ethiopia and Egypt remain unable to come to an agreement over the flow of the River Nile.

The giant dam is being constructed on the Blue Nile River, the largest tributary of the Nile, and Egypt is fearful that it might restrict the flow of the river which provides almost all of the country’s water. Historically, as one of the most powerful countries along the length of the Nile, Egypt has benefitted from almost complete control, but recent attempts to secure almost all rights in the future have just been rejected by Ethiopia.

Egypt claims that it signed a 1959 agreement with Sudan that granted them the rights to 55.5 billion cubic metres of water from the total 84 billion cubic metres flowing through the river. However, Ethiopia and other upriver countries have rejected the agreement, which they were never a part of, and claim that Egypt’s monopolisation of the Nile would deprive them of a vital resource that runs through their country.

In 2010, Ethiopia, along with five other countries based along the river Nile (Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda, Tanzania, and Burundi in 2011) signed a Cooperative Framework Agreement that addressed issues of using the water in ways that do not cause significant harm to other countries reliant on the water. Basically these countries were fed up with always having to ask permission from Egypt before they could attempt to use the river in any development project. The agreement lays the foundations for creating a Nile River Basin Commission that would manage all water rights and development projects along the river.

Ethiopia claims that the $4.2 billion hydroelectric dam would benefit agriculture and any energy consumers in East Africa, whilst at the same time not affecting the flow of water downstream; even Sudan has shown its support for the project.

Egypt remains determined to retain its dominance of the River Nile, claiming that it is a matter of national security and that they actually need an even larger share of the water now due to the growing population. Politicians have even suggested the use of force against Ethiopia to prevent the dam from being completed.

Mohamed Abdel-Moteleb, the Egyptian Irrigation Minister, said that the country “has escalatory steps to assert our historic rights to the Nile waters.”

Egypt suggested that a panel of neutral experts should be appointed to study the dam’s impact on the river and the surrounding environment however Ethiopia was quick to reject this proposal. Eventually a committee was created, that included members from Ethiopia, Egypt, and Sudan, on the recommendation of international experts who were worried by the lack of understanding about the dam’s downstream impact.

 

[James Burgess, Oilprice.com]

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