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Ethiopia and Egypt remain in a tight gridlock over the Nile

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The Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) is a 145-metre-high, 1.8-kilometre-long concrete colossus being built in Benishangul Gumuz regional at a place called Guba, 25 kilometers east of the Ethio-Sudanese border.

GERD is set to become the largest hydro-power plant in Africa. The project is designed to light up Ethiopia and the wider Horn of the African region.

Neighboring countries including Sudan, South Sudan, Kenya, Djibouti, and Eritrea are likely to benefit from the power generated by the dam which is scheduled to be fully completed by 2025.

Ethiopia is striving for universal electricity access by 2025, though currently, only 35 percent of its 110 million people have access to electricity.

Across Ethiopia, poor farmers and rich businessmen eagerly await for the completion of the dam with a projected power generation capacity of 6,000 megawatts.

Thousands of workers labor day and night to finish the project. Almost all Ethiopians are aware of the Blue Nile locally called Abay which originates from one of the highlands of northern Ethiopia and contributes 85 percent of the Nile water.

The over $4bn dam is at the heart of Ethiopia’s manufacturing and industrial dreams. The energy generated will be enough to have its citizens connected and sell the surplus power to neighboring countries.

Ethiopia also sees the dam as a matter of national sovereignty. The dam project does not rely on external funding. Rather, business relies on government bonds and private funds to pay for the project.

Public servants and private employees have been contributing one-month of their salaries, at least once, since the project was launched in 2011 to finance the project. Meanwhile, farmers living in the northern part of the country are involved in soil conservation activities to reduce silt that may be accumulated on the GERD’s reservoir and potentially affect the power generation capacity of the dam.

The Nile River’s two main tributaries – the Blue and White Niles – converge in the Sudanese capital Khartoum before flowing north through Egypt toward the Mediterranean Sea.

Egypt depends on the Nile for about 90 percent of its irrigation and drinking water and says it has “historic rights” to the river guaranteed by treaties from 1929 and 1959.

It fears the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) will restrict supplies of already scarce Nile waters on which its population of more than 100 million people is almost entirely dependent.

Tensions have been high in the Nile basin ever since Ethiopia broke ground on the dam in 2011. The International Crisis Group warned that the countries “could be drawn into conflict” given that Egypt sees potential water loss as “an existential threat”.

The biggest initial hurdle is the filling of the dam’s reservoir, which can hold 74 billion cubic metres of water. Egypt is worried Ethiopia will fill the reservoir too quickly, reducing water flow downstream.

The current impasse is rooted in Cairo’s fears that the dam could bring water and food insecurity for millions of Egyptians.

The latest talks hosted by the U.S. Treasury produced some progress but failed to achieve a comprehensive agreement on the filling and operation of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD).

Egypt and Ethiopia are still deadlocked over the dam, despite urging from U.S. President Donald Trump that parties should reach a “mutually beneficial agreement.”

The parties had agreed in November to a deadline of 15 January 2020, for reaching an accord on the dam. Egypt, Ethiopia, and Sudan are scheduled to reconvene in Washington on 28-29 January to finalise an agreement

Ethiopian authorities are focusing on the country’s push for power. Even in Addis, power is patchy, and the city suffered weeks of blackouts during the most recent period of electricity rationing in May and June 2019.

In 2013, there were reports of a secret recording showing Egyptian politicians proposing a range of hostile acts against Ethiopia over the building of the dam.

President Sisi has also been quoted as saying that Egypt would take all the necessary measures to protect their rights to the Nile waters.

In October last year, Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed told MPs that “no force” could stop Ethiopia from building the dam.

The fact that the US intervened shows the seriousness of the situation – and the need to break the deadlock.

Egypt sought the intervention of the US on the impasse after President Sisi requested that President Trump mediate the conflict, which Ethiopia was initially reluctant to accept.

Critics say a conflict between the two states, which are both US allies, could draw global interest as it would put millions of civilians at risk.

Ethiopia claims GERD will cause insignificant damage to downstream countries but Egypt maintains the opposite and doubts the strength of the dam.

– APA

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