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A Dam is Being Built on the Nile River – and Egypt is in Crisis

Updated: Mar 31

Jake Moran




Amidst the rising tensions between Egypt and Ethiopia lies an ambitious plan to construct a dam within the Nile River that threatens to dry it up for good. However, this plan has caused concern in Egypt because it heavily relies on the Nile for its water supply. Since the nation is a very important economic and strategic partner for the United States, it is within Washington’s interests to see Egypt prosper. To ensure peace is kept between the two nations, along with a stable relationship between Egypt and the US, the US government should provide economic aid to Egypt amidst the Ethiopian GERD Project, as well as lead negotiations between the states.


The Nile River is the longest river in the world, flowing north from its source in Lake Victoria, located in Tanzania and Uganda, to the Mediterranean Sea. It is fed by two main tributaries: the White Nile, which originates in East Africa, and the Blue Nile from Ethiopia. Although both supply water that eventually flows through the main river, the Blue Nile contributes the vast majority, making up over 85% of its volume. Because of this, Egypt exhibits a high level of dependency on Ethiopia to keep its country vibrant and nourished.


Ethiopia is embarking on a bold plan to build a dam that will generate high levels of hydroelectric energy and boost its economy. It is known as the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD), and is predicted to be completed between 2025 and 2027. The primary focus of the GERD is to utilize the country's abundant natural resources to achieve economic development and energy independence. Ethiopia, one of the poorest countries in Africa, has long been dependent on foreign aid and imports of oil and gas to meet its energy needs. However, the GERD aims to generate hydroelectric power, which would help the country become self-sufficient and reduce its dependence on foreign aid. Additionally, the project is viewed as a source of national pride, symbolizing Ethiopia's technological progress and independence. Ethiopian leaders have also pointed out that the GERD would not significantly affect the downstream flow of the Nile River, and are committed to addressing the concerns of their downstream neighbors, namely Egypt and Sudan, through negotiations and agreements. Despite these assurances, Ethiopia and its neighbors dispute these claims, highlighting the complex geopolitical and environmental challenges associated with managing shared resources in Africa.


Egypt's primary concern with the filling of the GERD is to protect its access to the Nile River, which provides water for the country's agriculture, industry, and population. Egypt, along with Sudan, has historically relied on the Nile River for its livelihood, and any disruption or reduction in water supply could have severe consequences for the country's economy and national security. After the dam is finished, the flow of the Nile will likely remain as is. However, the issue is the filling of the reservoir. Egyptian leaders have expressed that if the filling of the GERD causes a drought, Egypt would undergo a severe water crisis. Furthermore, the dispute over the GERD has been exacerbated by broader geopolitical tensions in the region, with Egypt viewing the project as a threat to its regional influence and security. As a result, Egypt has engaged in diplomatic efforts to negotiate a mutually acceptable solution to the GERD dispute, while also hinting at the possibility of using military force to protect its interests if necessary.


Egypt is an important ally for the United States. Located at the crossroads of Africa, Asia, and Europe, Egypt plays a critical role in regional stability and security, especially in the Middle East. Egypt also controls the Suez Canal, a crucial shipping lane that connects the Mediterranean and the Red Sea, and serves as a gateway to Asia and the Indian Ocean. Additionally, Egypt has a large and growing population, which presents significant economic opportunities for American businesses and investors. The country serves as a key importer of oils and textiles, and is the United States’ second largest trading partner in Africa. Furthermore, Egypt has a longstanding relationship with the United States, dating back to its 1979 peace treaty with Israel and the subsequent provision of military and economic aid from the United States. As an Islamic state, Egypt also serves as a cultural bridge between the West and the Muslim world. Overall, Egypt's strategic location, economic potential, and historical ties make it indispensable to the United States in promoting regional stability, economic growth, and cultural understanding in the Middle East and beyond.


The United States should take a leadership role in helping to resolve the Egypt-Ethiopia crisis given its strategic interests in the region and its relationship with both countries, starting with facilitating negotiations between the two nations to reach a mutually acceptable solution to the GERD dispute. The first way is to assist Egypt in advancing its water technology, such as desalination plants, wastewater recycling, and water conservation programs. These alternative water sources can serve as backup water supplies in case Egypt were to experience a drought. The second way is to delay Ethiopia’s filling of the dam and settle on mutually acceptable dam-filling intervals. This could involve diplomatic efforts to encourage both sides to make concessions and reach a compromise on filling periods and operations of the dam, as well as offering technical assistance in monitoring the Nile River basin. Additionally, the United States could provide economic and humanitarian aid to both Egypt and Ethiopia, as a means of promoting stability and development in the region. The US has leverage to encourage the resolution of the Egypt-Ethiopia crisis and to promote regional stability in the Nile River basin.


In conclusion, the GERD’s ripple effects acts as a wake-up call for all who hold stake in Africa, igniting rivalries over the most ancient of reserves. The Nile River is a vital source of water and power for millions of people, and its future may be at risk at the hands of those who seek to monetize it. The issue holds many at stake, and the US may have the power to determine whether Egypt sinks or swims.


References

Bogale, Samuel. “Ethiopia: COP27 Brings Gerd Debate Back to the Table.” AllAfrica.com, 22 Oct. 2022, https://allafrica.com/stories/202210220094.html.


“Ethiopia - The Economist Intelligence Unit.” Ethiopia Economy, Politics and GDP Growth Summary - The Economist Intelligence Unit, https://country.eiu.com/ethiopia.


Mbaku, John Mukum. “The Controversy over the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam.” Brookings, Brookings, 9 Mar. 2022, https://www.brookings.edu/blog/africa-in-focus/2020/08/05/the-controversy-over-the-grand-ethiopian-renaissance-dam/.


Mohy El Deen, Sherif. “Egypt's Water Policy after the Construction of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam.” Arab Reform Initiative, Arab Reform Initiative, 27 Feb. 2023, https://www.arab-reform.net/publication/egypts-water-policy-after-the-construction-of-the-grand-ethiopian-renaissance-dam/#:~:text=In%20fact%2C%20Egypt%20heavily%20depends,water%20comes%20from%20other%20resources.


“United States Imports from EGYPT2023 Data 2024 Forecast 1991-2022 Historical.” United States Imports from Egypt - 2023 Data 2024 Forecast 1991-2022 Historical, https://tradingeconomics.com/united-states/imports/egypt.

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