Water-sharing deal has brought conflict between Egypt and Ethiopia over massive hydroelectric dam closer to resolution.

By Campbell MacDiarmid |

A long-simmering water conflict between Ethiopia and Egypt has moved a step closer to resolution, after the countries’ foreign ministers announced last week they had reached a preliminary agreement on sharing Nile water.

The deal, which still needs to be approved by the heads of state of Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan, appears to be an important breakthrough, observers say – although details of the agreement have not yet been made public.

“This is significant in my view,” Mwangi Kimenyi, a Brookings Institute fellow who co-authored a book on the need for a new legal regime on sharing Nile water, told Al Jazeera. “Any development in the sharing of Nile water that is based on negotiations between the stakeholders is a positive development.”

The deal is important because it appears to mark a move away from Egypt’s historical insistence on maintaining colonial-era agreements on water rights.

Last week’s meetings were the latest in a series of diplomatic efforts to resolve a conflict that has at times escalated to threats of war between two countries viewed as anchors of stability at either end of the Nile: Egypt thirsty for water, Ethiopia hungry for economic development.

The foreign ministers and water ministers of Egypt, Ethiopia, and Sudan met in Khartoum last Tuesday for diplomatic and technical discussions over a large dam Ethiopia is constructing over a Nile tributary.

On Friday, Sudanese Foreign Minister Ali Karti told reporters: “A full agreement has been reached between our three countries on the principles of the use of the eastern Nile Basin and the Ethiopian Renaissance Dam.”

The Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) being built across a major Nile tributary, the Blue Nile, about 40km from the Sudanese border, is expected to produce up to 6,000 megawatts of electricity during peak times, making it Africa’s largest hydroelectric scheme.

Ethiopians believe the dam will transform their country, where only around one-third of the population has access to electricity, into a major electricity exporter to East Africa – raising living standards, spurring economic growth and leaving behind a history of drought and famine.

Ethiopians have invested heavily in the dam, buying government bonds to help raise the nearly $5bn needed and becoming advocates for its potential benefits.

“Failure in construction of the dam will mean a failure for Ethiopia,” said Belachew Chekene Tesfa, an Ethiopian engineer based in the United Kingdom who works in the field of renewable energy.

Tesfa, a founder of Ethiopian International Professional Support for Abay (the Ethiopian name for the Nile), was inspired to form the group to promote the dam. “By building this dam, we will develop this country,” he said.

Egypt, meanwhile, is concerned about the downstream effects. Heavily reliant on the Nile, Egyptians have long treated the river as a birthright, and for decades Egypt blocked upstream developments, relying on a “historic” right to Nile water codified in colonial-era treaties.

With a growing population and a water-hungry agricultural economy, Egypt will need an extra 21 billion cubic metres of water per year by 2050, on top of the 55 billion cubic meters it currently receives, Egypt’s National Planning Institute believes.

Continue Reading on Al Jazeera

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