AKE Special Report: Damming the Nile

Date published: 20/10/2017

Analysis of the potential impacts of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) project

  • The River Nile is under the ever-growing pressures of population growth and climate change.
  • For Ethiopia, the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam represents a milestone in its development that could enhance growth and propel a shift to manufacturing.
  • For Egypt, where much of the population relies on the Nile, the dam represents a threat to their water security.
  • For the Nile Basin countries, the dam represents an opportunity to spur their own development through power purchase agreements (PPAs).
  • Greater cooperation will be necessary to ensure the peaceful allocation of resources at a time when multilateralism is on the wane.

Every country needs access to natural resources. Most important of these is water. However, ever-changing seasonality and population growth in many developing nations is placing increasing pressure on the delicate ecology that sustains this life-giving resource. As a result, disputes arising from the opposing interests of water users are becoming increasingly common, and are known collectively as ‘the water wars’.

Nowhere more iconic is under threat than the River Nile. Climate change has had a direct impact on river flows, disrupting the previously reliable precipitation season between July and September in Ethiopia. The decreased reliability of the river flows is combined with ever increasing demand from extraordinary population growth in all countries along the Nile. The Nile Basin’s total population could double to 500 million people by 2050.

The ‘water wars’ are not only set to determine relations between countries along the River Nile. Access to and management of water resources will become an important inflection point in many bi- and multilateral relationships in the years to come, for example between countries along the Euphrates River (Turkey, Syria and Iraq) and those on Lake Turkana (Ethiopia and Kenya). The move towards sustainable energy sources, including water, may conversely exacerbate increasingly unsustainable resource management.

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