Context:As the July deadline draws closer for the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) on the river Nile to become functional, the dispute between Ethiopia and Egypt, with Sudan caught in between, has escalated into a diplomatic stand-off.

More about the news:

  • Ethiopia recently skipped the latest round of tripartite negotiations with Egypt and Sudan in Washington, being mediated by the U.S. and the World Bank.
  • The Arab League’s recent opinion:Earlier this month The Arab League underscored Egypt’s historical and civilisational links to the river region and opposed any unilateral action by Ethiopia.

About Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD)

  • It is formerly known as the Millennium Dam.
  • It is under construction in the Benishangul-Gumuz region of Ethiopia, on the Blue Nile River.
  • It is Africa's biggest hydropower project, concerns control of the flow of water in the world’s longest river among the riparian states. 
  • Ethiopia views the mega dam as a symbol of its sovereignty and it began construction of the dam in 2011 at a cost of $4 billion. 
  • Ethiopian government wants to extend power supply to some 60% of the country’s population and bridge the infrastructure gap.The government is thus impatient to fill the gigantic reservoir within six years, and generate 6,000 MW of electricity.


Source: Al Jazeera

Egypts reservations

  • High reliability on Nile for freshwater supply: 
    • GERD’s storage capacity of 74 billion cubic meters of water has raised hackles in Egypt. 
    • Egypt relies on the Nile for 90% of its freshwater supply, and is apprehensive that a rapid filling of the reservoir in upstream Ethiopia would cause a drastic reduction in supplies. 
  • Demand of delayed filling of the reservoir:
    • The President of Egypt has insisted on a staggered approach to fill the reservoir in between 10 and 21 years, and for the release of a minimum of 40 billion cubic metres annually. 
    • Egypt also perceives the risk from the diversion of waters to its own High Aswan Dam.

Ethiopia’s view

  • Threat to return on investments:It is concerned that a long delay in filling the reservoir would jeopardise returns on its investments and hamper the prospects for overall growth. 
  • Resistance against the global funding
    • The GERD is said to have been financed almost entirely from domestic resources, in part due to the resistance mounted by Egypt against global funding for the project. 
    • There is in addition the element of national pride in the timely completion of the GERD, as Ethiopia’s recent economic resurgence has revived the old vision of Great Ethiopia. 
  • Upcoming elections:There is also a lot at stake for the current government who faces a difficult general election this year after the euphoria of the 2018 peace process with Eritrea has largely faded.

History and geopolitics over Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD)

  • Egypt’s strong reservations over the GERD are also rooted in history and geopolitics. 
  • Nile Waters Agreement,1959 
    • The two downstream riparian states Egypt and Sudan were allocated 55.5 billion cubic metres and 18.5 billion cubic metres respectively on an annual basis.
    • That settlement reduced Egypt’s control of the waters, compared to the virtual veto over utilisation it was granted under a 1929 treaty.
    • Ethiopia was outside the purview of the 1959 treaty, as also other upstream states including Uganda, Kenya and Rwanda. 
  • Cooperative Framework Agreement (CFA):
    • Ethiopia's assertion of its rights for an equitable share of the Blue Nile flows from the Cooperative Framework Agreement (CFA) signed by some of the 10 Nile Basin Initiative nations.
      • The establishment of the Nile River Basin Commission mandated by the CFA has not materialised so far. 


  • Challenges ahead:
    • The challenges for the fair utilisation of waters among the riparian states have only been compounded by the pressures of population growth and the effects of global warming. 
  • Need for regional cooperation:While the parties have sought international mediation from the U.S. and South Africa, that is no substitute for regional cooperation among the parties.


About Arab league

  • It is a voluntary association of countries whose peoples are mainly Arabic speaking or where Arabic is an official language.
  • Currently, the League has 22 members, but Syria's participation has been suspended since November 2011.



About Nile River

  • Longest river in the world:
    • The Nile River flows from south to north through eastern Africa. 
    • It begins in the rivers that flow into Lake Victoria (located in modern-day Uganda, Tanzania, and Kenya), and empties into the Mediterranean Sea.
  • Its three main tributaries are the White Nile, the Blue Nile, and the Atbara.