Editorial Notes

[Editorial Notes] Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam

International mediation over Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) is no substitute for regional cooperation.
By IASToppers
March 23, 2020


  • Introduction
  • What is the issue?
  • Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam
  • History and geopolitics
  • Ethiopia’s stand
  • Conclusion

Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam

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As the July deadline draws closer for the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) on the river Nile to become functional, the dispute between Ethiopia and Egypt, with Sudan caught in between, has escalated into a diplomatic stand-off.

What is the issue?

  • Ethiopia has been building the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) on the Blue Nile River since 2011.
  • During this period relation between Egypt and Ethiopia became strained with mutual threats and accusations. Moreover, there is a risk of water conflict in Africa, which would completely destabilize East Africa.
  • Ethiopia skipped the latest round of tripartite negotiations with Egypt and Sudan in Washington, being mediated by the U.S. and the World Bank.
  • Environmental groups have cited that the dam will flood 1,680 square kilometers of forest and will displace approximately 20,000 people.
  • A credible environmental impact assessment has not been conducted, so the extent of environmental impact is unknown.

Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam:

  • The Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam, formerly known as the Millennium Dam and sometimes referred to as Hidase Dam is in the Benishangul-Gumuz Region of Ethiopia, near the east of the border with Sudan.
  • The GERD is said to have been financed almost entirely from domestic resources, in part due to the resistance mounted by Egypt against global funding for the project
  • The sole purpose of the dam was announced to be hydroelectric power for consumption in Ethiopia and export to Egypt and Sudan.
  • Egypt is worried about GERD because of their huge dependence on the Nile River, which supplies 90% of their water. Of that, around 60% originates in Ethiopia.

History and geopolitics:

  • Under the 1959 Nile Waters Agreement, the two downstream riparian states Egypt and Sudan, respectively, were allocated 55.5 billion cubic metres and 18.5 billion cubic metres of Nile water annually.

  • That settlement reduced Egypt’s control of the waters, compared to the virtual veto over utilisation it was granted under a 1929 treaty. Ethiopia was outside the purview of the 1959 treaty, as also other upstream states including Uganda, Kenya and Rwanda.
  • But Addis Ababa’s assertion of its rights for an equitable share of the Blue Nile flows from the Cooperative Framework Agreement (CFA) signed by some of the 10 Nile Basin Initiative nations (under the initiative, Eritrea participates as an observer).
  • The Arab League earlier underscored Egypt’s historical and civilisational links to the river region and opposed any unilateral action by Ethiopia.

Ethiopia’s stand:

  • The Ethiopian government has touted the Grand Renaissance Dam as an incredibly important project for the country, calling it a “strategically important initiative” and has refused any international money for the dam as a point of national pride.
  • Ethiopia said that “no force could stop Ethiopia from building a dam,” though it stressed that war was not a solution.
  • Ethiopia, Africa’s second-most populated country and a manufacturing hub, views the mega dam as a symbol of its sovereignty. 
  • Egypt relies on the Nile for 90% of its freshwater supply, is apprehensive that a rapid filling of the reservoir in upstream Ethiopia would cause a drastic reduction in supplies.


The challenges for the fair utilisation of waters among the riparian states have only been compounded by the pressures of population growth and the effects of global warming. While the parties have sought international mediation from the U.S. and South Africa, that is no substitute for regional cooperation among the parties.

Mains 2020 Editorial Notes

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