Egypt and Ethiopia reach deal on Nile 'mega dam' that brought threats of war

Adrian Blomfield
Both countries have issued threats of war ever since Ethiopia announced plans to build the dam in 2011 - AFP

Egypt and Ethiopia have struck a preliminary deal to end a row over the construction of a giant dam on the Nile, potentially averting a war between two of Africa’s biggest military powers. 

Following talks in Washington brokered by the US government, Egypt agreed in principle to drop its opposition to the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam after receiving assurances that its water supply would not be threatened. 

The breakthrough follows years of recrimination, with both countries periodically resorting to threats of war ever since Ethiopia announced plans to build the dam in 2011. 

With 95 percent of its population living in the Nile Valley, Egypt has always been acutely sensitive about the flow of a river on which it has depended for its very existence since the dawn of civilisation 5,000 years ago. The world’s longest river is the source of nine-tenths of Egypt’s fresh water. 

Arguing that it was granted ultimate control of the Nile under safeguards implemented by Britain in 1929, Egypt says the Renaissance Dam — which will be the world seventh largest on completion — could cause vital downstream reservoirs to dry up. 

Ethiopia, in whose highlands the Blue Nile rises before meeting the White Nile in the Sudanese capital Khartoum, argues that the dam will transform the lives of its 110m people, providing many of them with electricity for the first time and allowing the country to industrialise. 

Hopes for a resolution to the crisis were raised last year after Ethiopia, which had previously resisted international mediation, agreed to US involvement after Egypt’s president, Abdel-Fattah el-Sisi, made a personal appeal to Donald Trump, his US counterpart. 

Mr Trump instructed the US treasury department to work with the World Bank to find a solution. 

Following talks in Washington, officials from Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan agreed to allow the dam, which has largely been completed, to be filled in stages every July and August, the Ethiopian rainy season, so long as the impact on downstream reservoirs is monitored. 

“The subsequent stages of filling will be done according to a mechanism to be agreed,” the US treasury department said in a statement. 

A final deal could be signed at the end of the month, although analysts warn that differences between Egypt and Ethiopia remain, particularly over how long it should take to fill the dam’s reservoir, which will be the size of Buckinghamshire. 

Sudan has sided with Ethiopia in the row, believing the dam will help regulate the flow of the Blue Nile and reduce downstream flooding.