Can GERD bring positive change to water issues in Eastern Africa?

With more news being published or broadcasted on the local media both in Egypt and Sudan about the 3rd filling for the GERD Lake and its potential threat to development and even life in the Nile basin region, some political analysts believe that the risks of the dam will not be catastrophic and that it may give the peoples of the East African region the desired growth, which was expected to be achieved in the 2nd half of the twentieth century

The dam that has been under construction on the Blue Nile in Ethiopia since 2011 is located in the Ethiopian Benishangul-Gumuz region, 15 km (9 miles) east of the Ethiopian-Sudanese border, at an altitude of about 500-600 meters above sea level

Most issues of challenge that arise between the upstream (Ethiopia) and downstream countries (Sudan and Egypt) are not related to the construction process only, but also the method of construction and filling the lake. The Ethiopian desire to change water quotas according to new agreements was not taken into consideration

Historical and political dimensions

Colonialism had a pivotal role in the formulation of agreements between the three countries. The three countries had no choice but to succumb to the will of their colonizer. 1929 agreement over the water quotas between the three countries was the guideline of the relationship between them 

This situation hindered the progress of formulation and execution projects in either of them, through decades after their independence. The existence of the Organization of African Unity, and then the African Union, did not indicate the possibility of serious cooperation between the three countries

The need to create well balanced diplomatic and political relations between the three countries to resolve the political and economic problems in Eastern African region was absent and the border problems between Sudan and Ethiopia aggravated the crisis further

As for Egypt, the matter is completely different with the construction of the High Dam in the 60th of the last century, and its positive economic and social impact, made it essential for most African countries to increase their water resources and improve their development plans

In 2015, Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia signed the framework agreement of the Renaissance Dam. Egypt and Sudan welcomed the agreement and did not mind giving Ethiopia its right to implement its long awaited project

The Ethiopian intransigence represented in the lack of coordination by notifying the downstream countries of the development of the construction of the dam, as well as the quantities of water that will be stored

The Ethiopian government did not allow experts from Egypt and Sudan to be part of a tripartite committee to supervise construction and water storage operations

Ethiopia deliberately circumvented the thorny issues in this sensitive file in the governmental negotiations rounds that took place in Khartoum between the three parties in the presence of a representative of the World Bank

Unilaterally, Ethiopia announced in June 2020 that it would start the first filling of the dam lake, which angered the two downstream countries

A media war broke out on television screens and on social media. This media battle coincided with Ethiopia’s accusation of Egypt and Sudan of supporting the Tigray Front rebel movement

Climate change COP27, the hidden opportunities

The challenges associated with the construction of the Renaissance Dam are diverse and may contribute to increase tensions of the scene. From engineering point of view, the volcanic nature of the Eastern African region especially in Ethiopia makes it impossible for the soil to withstand the construction of giant dams


The climate of the region is highly volatile, as it fluctuates between severe drought and the occurrence of floods. The climate change will have a severe impact on the region in this and the coming decade which will represent in increasing soil erosion as a result of the spread of weak rocks, severe slopes of the land surface, and heavy rains in a short rainy season, in addition to an increase in the rate of deforestation with an increase in the population

The Nile Basin in the upstream countries is surrounded by large heights that prevent the possibility of transferring the Nile’s water to places that suffer from water shortages, especially in the dry season

More questions will arise related to the Renaissance Dam file while Egypt is going to host the 27th session of the Conference of the Parties (COP 27) to the UNFCCC which will take place from 6th to 18th November in Sharm El-Sheikh

Many of these questions may be legitimate, in light of the presence of the Sudanese side, whose participation will be a mainstay in addressing this file

The vision of the Egyptian and Sudanese leaderships, in this international event, will become clearer both on the political and diplomatic sides, as well as the Ethiopian reaction to these moves in terms of how to address potential threats of the dam

Climate and Geological studies and research will be of great importance because they will reveal the paths that the two countries can take if the negotiations complicated further in with the Ethiopian side

Or we can expect the best and that potential threats will turn into opportunities for work and construction so that the peoples of the region enjoy peace. This is the path that we can take away from useless conflicts. We always should hope for the best to happen

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