Ethiopia has started work on the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD), a massive project which, when completed, will house the largest hydroelectric power plant in Africa. The dam, which will deviate the course of the Blue Nile, has raised a great deal of concern in Egypt and Sudan. Egypt gets well over half of its water from the Nile River, into which the Blue Nile flows, and its water needs are expected to increase by almost 50% over the coming decades. Currently, Egypt and Sudan benefit from a water use agreement that dates back to the British-Egyptian condominium period, and which gives those downstream states control over almost all the Nile’s water. Ethiopia claims that its power project won’t deprive those downstream of water, and Egypt’s president Morsi seems to agree (a study by experts from all three states is expected to be released today). Others in Egypt, however, are less sanguine. The Jama’a al-Islamiyah organization and other Salafi groups have taken a hard rhetorical line, even calling Ethiopia’s project an “act of war.”
While it’s almost certain that the GERD will go ahead as planned, water use disputes between the Nile states are sure to continue, and very likely to intensify, in coming years, and will bear on all aspects of inter-state relations in the region.