Tension mounts over Renaissance dam

The tension caused by the disconnect between Ethiopia’s economic ambitions and Egypt’s fears for its water security mounted even further last week. Less than a fortnight after the UN’s Security Council convened an urgent session to discuss protocols over the filling processes for the new Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) during drought and extended drought seasons, Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed announced that his country would begin filling the dam later this month during the current heavy rain season, regardless of any trilateral agreements it had previously reached with Egypt and Sudan.
Formerly known as the Millennium Dam, the GERD is a gravity dam approximately the size of London that is located on the Blue Nile River 15 km upstream from where the river flows in to Sudan. First proposed some 50 years ago by the late Emperor Haile Selassie, the Renaissance dam will eventually have the capacity to generate 6,000 MW of electricity and so simultaneously turn Ethiopia into Africa’s largest power exporter, diversify its economy, and raise the country to middle-income status within as little as five years.
Now more than 70% complete, the GERD has been a bone of contention ever since Ethiopia began its unilateral construction in 2011. It is also rapidly validating predictions that water will soon become more valuable than oil and that industries such as chemicals, drugs, mining and energy will regularly find themselves competing with people and farmers for supplies. There are several such disputes simmering in the Middle East, India and Central Asia already. If Ethiopia continues to diversify its economy into water-hungry industries such as textiles and ready-made garments (RMG), the Horn of Africa could soon top that list the next time the rains fail  –  as they  have done so frequently in the past 35 years.
Abiy has sought to play down the significance of his country’s unilateral move to begin filling the Ethiopian dam before agreement has been reached over the longer-term control of the Blue Nile’s waters, “Ethiopia will not harm Egypt….” he said. “We will not deprive Egypt of water and will reach an agreement soon.”
Neither Egypt nor Sudan appear to have taken much comfort from these words and see Ethiopia’s decision to start filling the Renaissance dam as a threat to regional peace and security. Egyptians with long memories will recall that in the 1970s, their then-leader Anwar Sadat threatened war when the idea was first tabled. Reaching a long-term agreement over the dam’s management could therefore be a matter of life and death in more ways than one.
All three countries were due to submit their final reports to the UN today.