The three nations share the water of the Blue Nile, one of the two tributaries of the Nile. Sudan and Egypt insist that an agreement on how Ethiopia operates the new dam be reached before filling the reservoir.
Countries have disagreed since 2011, when Ethiopia began building the dam, at an estimated cost of $ 4 billion, across the Blue Nile. The tributary rises in the Ethiopian highlands, flows north through the country, then through Sudan before finally crossing into Egypt and joining the Nile en route to the Mediterranean.
The dam is said to be about 70% complete, but Ethiopia has long since announced plans to fill the reservoir during the summer, during the rainy season, while work on the dam continues.
“Exit from poverty” certificate
“The construction of the dam and the filling of water go hand in hand,” Ethiopian Minister of Water Seleshi Bekele said this week. “The filling of the dam does not need to wait for the end of the dam. He later told reporters that, as the rains were falling, “this is the perfect time to fill the dam … This is very well known to everyone involved. [Egypt] know it. They must explain it to their people. ”
The World Bank ranks the Ethiopian economy among the most dynamic in the world, but it is also one of the hungriest countries on the planet. More than half of its 110 million inhabitants do not have access to electricity.
“It is a source of national pride, an achievement emblematic of my generation,” Omar Redi, an Ethiopian political analyst, told CBS News. “The dam is considered the Ethiopian certificate of poverty, hence the enormous importance that the people and the government attach to it. ”
The width of the Brooklyn Bridge in Manhattan and the height of 50 stories, it is hoped that the 16 turbines at the dam will produce 6,000 megawatts of electricity; enough to meet not only the needs of Ethiopia, but also excess power to sell at a low price to the impoverished neighbor to the north of the country, Sudan.
Sudan, while excited about the potential new power supply, also has serious concerns that Ethiopia is unilaterally controlling the flow of the Blue Nile, using a dam less than 16 kilometers from their shared border.
Hundreds of miles further downstream, however, Egypt, with an area and population similar to that of Ethiopia, died against the new infrastructure project.
The Nile has remained the lifeline of Egyptian civilizations since Antiquity. The 102 million inhabitants of the country still depend almost entirely on the river to support life through the arid landscape.
Addressing the United Nations Security Council, Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry called the dam “a threat of potentially existential proportions”. He promised that Egypt “would defend and protect the vital interests of its people”, adding that “survival is not a matter of choice, but an imperative of nature”.
Speaking to the troops last month, President Abdel Fattah Al-Sissi did not specifically mention Ethiopia or the roadblock, but said that the Egyptian army was ready to defend national security, as he told Air Force personnel to “be ready for any mission within our borders”. , and if necessary, across borders. ”
Moustafa El Gendi, the so-called “Son of the Nile”, is a member of Egyptian parliament which sits on its African affairs committee.
“The Nile is our only source of life for us,” said El Gendi, who has successfully built a river cruise business on the Nile.
He first saw the impending dam project as a threat during the 2011 “Arab Spring” uprising that overthrew Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. He then led an Egyptian delegation of “public diplomacy” in Ethiopia, asking the government to delay construction until the uproar in Egypt was over and his country “got back on its feet”.
El Gendi told CBS News that his delegation wanted to hear from external engineering consultants to assure his country, “that this roadblock is not going to kill the Egyptians. I want to hear that from a specialist, not a politician. ”
“I don’t want politicians to make promises to me,” said El Gendi. “I trust science. It is a dam. It is an engineering project. “
” Lots of water “
At least one expert is not convinced that Egypt faces an “existential” threat, at least not anytime soon.
Dr. Kevin Wheeler, researcher at the Institute for Environmental Change at the British University of Oxford, has been following GERD negotiations since 2012. He told CBS News that the technical issues between the parties have already been largely resolved .
“I would say that this year there is really no worry [water] shortage. There is a lot of water stored in Egypt, “said Wheeler. The following years would be of greater concern in the event of drought or prolonged drought in the coming years. This could be cause for concern. ”
“Technically, there are very solid solutions and, ultimately, if there is an agreement, the GERD can provide a safety net during the drought periods in Egypt,” he added.
But with so much distrust between the two parties, Wheeler recognized that an agreement must always be made, and one, “It’s verifiable and achievable.” ”
The main bottleneck was Egypt and Sudan, which pushed for an agreement that would link Ethiopia, effectively forcing it to guarantee some flow downstream through the new dam. Ethiopian officials have so far refused to make this concession.