From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :
Prelims level : Nile River, GERD
Mains level : Not Much
Africa’s longest river, the Nile, has been at the centre of a decade-long complex dispute involving several countries in the continent who are dependent on the river’s waters. At the forefront of this dispute, however, are Ethiopia and Egypt.
Note: You never know when UPSC might switch map based questions away from the Middle East and SE Asia.
Considering this news, the UPSC may ask a prelim question based on the countries swept by River Nile/ various dams constructed/ landlocked countries in the African continent etc.
Grand Ethiopian Rennaissance Dam (GERD)
- GERD is a gravity dam on the Blue Nile River in Ethiopia that has been under construction since 2011.
- At 6.45 gigawatts, the dam will be the largest hydroelectric power plant in Africa when completed, as well as the seventh-largest in the world.
- Once completed, the reservoir could take anywhere between 5 and 15 years to fill with water, depending on hydrologic conditions during the filling period and agreements reached between Ethiopia, Sudan, and Egypt.
Issues with the Dam
- While the main waterways of the Nile run through Uganda, South Sudan, Sudan and Egypt, its drainage basin runs through other countries in East Africa, including Ethiopia.
- Egypt has objected to the construction of this dam and in Sudan has found itself caught in the midst of this conflict.
- Due to the importance of the Nile as a necessary water source in the region, observers are concerned that this dispute may evolve into a full-fledged conflict between the two nations.
- The US has stepped in to mediate.
How can this lead to conflict?
- The mega project may just allow the country to control the river’s waters, and this is essentially what concerns Egypt because it lies downstream.
- Egypt has objected to these plans and has proposed a longer timeline for the project because it does not want the water level of the Nile to dramatically drop as the reservoir fills with water in the initial stages.
- For the past four years, triparty talks between Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan have been unable to reach agreements. Egypt isn’t alone in its concerns.
- Sudan is hardly a passive observer caught in the conflict just because of its location.
- It too believes Ethiopia having control over the river through the dam may affect its own water supplies.
Why does Ethiopia want this dam?
- Ethiopia believes this dam will generate approximately 6,000 megawatts of electricity when it is done.
- 65% of Ethiopia’s population suffers due to lack of access to electricity.
- This dam will reduce those shortages and help the country’s manufacturing industry.
- The country may also be able to supply electricity to neighbouring nations and earn some revenue in exchange.
- Neighbouring countries like Kenya, Sudan, Eritrea and South Sudan also suffer from electricity shortages.
- If Ethiopia sells electricity to these nations, they may also reap benefits.
What is happening now?
- In the latest developments on this front, Egypt announced that it is willing to resume negotiations with Ethiopia and Sudan concerning the dam.
- Ethiopia has however proceeded with the first stage of filling the dam saying that it does not need Egypt’s permission to fill the dam.
- In the letter to the UNSC, Egypt also implied that the dam would cause armed conflict between the two countries.
Back2Basics: River Nile
- The Nile is a major north-flowing river in northeastern Africa.
- It is the longest river in Africa and the disputed longest river in the world as the Brazilian government says that the Amazon River is longer than the Nile.
- The Nile is about 6,650 km long and its drainage basin covers eleven countries: Tanzania, Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Kenya, Ethiopia, Eritrea, South Sudan, Republic of Sudan, and Egypt.
- In particular, the Nile is the primary water source of Egypt and Sudan.
- The Nile has two major tributaries – the White Nile and the Blue Nile. The White Nile is considered to be the headwaters and primary stream of the Nile itself.