Ethiopia rallies around Nile dam as dispute with Egypt simmers

The diversion Ethiopia made on the Blue Nile in Guba, Ethiopia, as part of its Grand Renaissance Dam. PHOTO | WILLIAM LLOYD GEORGE | AFP.

As thousands of workers toil day and night to finish the project, Ethiopian negotiators remain locked in talks over how the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam will affect downstream neighbours, principally Egypt.

The next round of negotiations starts Thursday in Ethiopia’s capital, Addis Ababa, and is likely to renew focus on Cairo’s fears that the dam could bring water and food insecurity for millions of Egyptians.

Ethiopians at the dam site say they are doing their best to focus on the task at hand, though they bristle at suggestions that their country is overstepping in its bid to harness the Blue Nile for its development.

“When we do projects here it’s not to harm the downstream countries,” said deputy project manager Ephrem Woldekidan. “There is no reason that the downstream countries should complain (about) it because this is our resource also.”

The Nile River’s two main tributaries — the Blue and White Niles — converge in the Sudanese capital Khartoum before flowing north through Egypt toward the Mediterranean Sea.

Egypt depends on the Nile for about 90 percent of its irrigation and drinking water, and says it has “historic rights” to the river guaranteed by treaties from 1929 and 1959.

Tensions have been high in the Nile basin ever since Ethiopia broke ground on the dam in 2011.

The International Crisis Group warned last March that the countries “could be drawn into conflict” given that Egypt sees potential water loss as “an existential threat”.

In October, Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, fresh from winning the Nobel Peace Prize, assured lawmakers that “no force can stop Ethiopia from building the dam” and said “millions” of troops could be mobilised to defend it if necessary.

Ethiopia is striving for universal electricity access by 2025, though currently more than half the population of 110 million lives without it.

The Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam is expected to generate more than 6,000 megawatts of electricity.