Jun 26, 2020 - World

Dam dispute heats up between Egypt and Ethiopia

The mighty dam. Photo: Eduardo Soteras/AFP via Getty

Ethiopia is planning to begin to fill the 72 billion liter reservoir of the massive Grand Renaissance Dam within weeks. Egypt vows that Ethiopia will come to regret it if it follows through.

The big picture: The dam dispute has rumbled on since Ethiopia announced the staggeringly ambitious project, which will double its electrical output but disrupt the flow of the Nile to Egypt and Sudan, nine years ago.

  • One crucial issue is the rate at which Ethiopia will fill the reservoir. Egypt says that process must happen over 12 years. Ethiopia wants to do it in half that time.
  • The latest round of talks broke down last week. Ethiopia's rainy season begins in July, and it plans to begin to fill the reservoir then even without a deal.
  • Naguib Sawiris, a billionaire confidante of Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, tweeted last week: “We will never allow any country to starve us, if Ethiopia doesn’t come to reason, we the Egyptian people will be the first to call for war."

Why it matters: "For Egypt, the Nile is synonymous with life itself. ... For millennia, it has enjoyed an almost entirely uninterrupted supply of Nile water, " write Samuel Getachew and Simon Allison in The Continent. "[S]oon, Ethiopia will have the power to turn Egypt’s taps on and off."

  • Egypt is trying to rally international resistance, including at the UN Security Council. Ethiopia is determined to forge ahead.

The bottom line: Doing so could change the distribution of power — electrical and political — in the region.

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