Egypt-Ethiopia row: The trouble over a giant Nile dam

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The latest talks to resolve the dispute between Ethiopia and Egypt over the future of a giant hydropower project on the Nile River are due to resume in Washington later.
Last year a deadline of 15 January was set to solve the long-standing impasse but the latest round of talks, last week, ended in deadlock.

When complete, the Grand Renaissance Dam, which Ethiopia is building, will be Africa’s biggest hydroelectric power plant.

Its construction began in 2011 on the Blue Nile tributary in the northern Ethiopia highlands, from where 85% of the Nile’s waters flow.

However, the mega dam has caused a row between Egypt and Ethiopia, with Sudan caught in between, which some fear could lead to war, and the US is now helping to mediate.
Why is it so contentious?

At the centre of the dispute are plans to fill up the mega dam as Egypt fears the project will allow Ethiopia to control the flow of Africa’s longest river.

Hydroelectric power stations do not consume water, but the speed with which Ethiopia fills up the dam’s reservoir will affect the flow downstream.

The longer it takes to fill the reservoir, which is going to be bigger than Greater London with a total capacity of 74 billion cubic metres, the less impact there will be on the level of the river.

Ethiopia wants to do it in six years.

“We have a plan to start filling on the next rainy season, and we will start generating power with two turbines on December 2020,” Ethiopia’s Water Minister Seleshi Bekele said in September last year.

But Egypt has proposed a longer period – so that the level of the river does not dramatically drop, especially in the initial phase of filling the reservoir.

Three-way talks between Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia over operating the dam and filling its reservoir have made no progress in more four years – which the US has now been trying to mediate.

After the talks last week, Mr Seleshi accused Egypt of having no intention of reaching a deal.

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