Context: Ethiopia and Egypt are involved in a dispute over River Nile. Later this year, talks are set to begin between the two countries in Washington D.C. on the future of the hydropower project on the Nile that is at the center of these disputes.

Background of the dispute

  • Ethiopia began construction of the Grand Renaissance Dam hydropower project in 2011 on the Blue Nile tributary that runs across one part of the country. It will be Africa’s largest. 
  • While Ethiopia has stated that it does not need Egypt’s permission to fill the dam, Egypt on the other hand, wrote to the UN Security Council, saying the dam would jeopardise food and water security and livelihoods of ordinary Egyptian citizens
  • Sudan too believes Ethiopia having control over the river through the dam may affect its own water supplies.
  • For the past four years, tri party talks between Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan have been unable to reach agreements. 
  • This dispute may evolve into a full-fledged conflict between the two nations. The US has stepped in to mediate.

Ethiopia's objectives

  • Power generation: According to a BBC report, 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. 
  • Exporting power: 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.

About River Nile

  • The Nile River,  the longest river in the world is called the father of African rivers. 
  • It rises south of the Equator and flows northward through northeastern Africa to drain into the Mediterranean Sea. 
  • Its basin includes parts of Tanzania, Burundi, Rwanda, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Kenya, Uganda, South Sudan, Ethiopia, Sudan, and the cultivated part of Egypt. Its most distant source is the Kagera River in Burundi.
  • Tributaries of Nile: The Nile is formed by three principal streams: 
    • the Blue Nile 
    • the Atbara (Arabic: Nahr ʿAṭbarah), which flow from the highlands of Ethiopia,
    • White Nile the headstreams of which flow into Lakes Victoria and Albert.
  • Geography: The basin is bordered on the north by the Mediterranean; on the east by the Red Sea Hills and the Ethiopian Plateau; on the south by the East African Highlands, which include Lake Victoria, a Nile source; and on the west by the less well-defined watershed between the Nile, Chad, and Congo basins, extending northwest to include the Marrah Mountains of Sudan, the Al-Jilf al-Kabīr Plateau of Egypt, and the Libyan Desert (part of the Sahara).
  • Significance of River Nile
    • It served as the stage for the evolution and decay of advanced civilizations in the ancient world.
    • The availability of water from the Nile throughout the year, combined with the area’s high temperatures, makes possible intensive cultivation along its banks.
    • The Nile River is also a vital waterway for transport.


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