The Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam on the Blue Nile promises to provide much-needed electricity to Ethiopia's 100 million people [File: Tiksa Negeri/Reuters]

The Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam on the Blue Nile promises to provide much-needed electricity to Ethiopia's 100 million people [File: Tiksa Negeri/Reuters]

Ethiopia’s Dam Negotiations

Negotiations over the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) faltered this week, as the United States cut $130 million of foreign aid for Ethiopia after the East African state began filling the dam’s reservoir in mid-July. Despite the ongoing negotiations between Ethiopia, Sudan, and Egypt over the construction of GERD and the flow of water through the Nile River, Ethiopia has continued construction. Citing the lack of an agreement between the three states, as well as Ethiopia’s failure to implement all necessary safety measures, the U.S. State Department announced it was cutting assistance on Wednesday. Most of this assistance deals with security, political stability, and nutrition. Other forms of assistance will be unaffected, such as aid for HIV/AIDS, refugees, and the food for peace program.

Beginning construction in April 2011 by an Italian engineering firm, the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam sits on the Blue Nile, a major tributary of the main Nile River. Tripartite negotiations over the maintenance of GERD between Egypt, Sudan, and Ethiopia were brokered by the United States in November 2019. These talks continued until February 2020 when the relevant parties failed to reach a deal. The African Union (AU) restarted talks in July, but Ethiopia—chafing at the notion of signing a legally binding agreement—began filling the dam’s reservoir. A solution has still not been reached, with former Sudanese Minister of Irrigation, Dr. Muhammad Nasruddin Allam saying disagreements stemmed over the operation of the dam during drought periods, legal obligations, dispute settlement, and future Ethiopian water projects.

The GERD project has major economic implications for all three countries. If completed, the dam would double Ethiopia’s electricity output—providing over 6,000 megawatts of power and furthering Addis Ababa’s plans to become a major energy exporter on the continent. Meanwhile, the Nile River, along which most of the Egyptian population resides, provides more than 90% of Egypt’s freshwater. Sudan depends on the Nile for irrigation for most of its commercial agriculture, as well as multiple smaller hydroelectric dams. The outcome for this dispute will have profound impacts on the three African states, as climate change has already increased the likelihood of drought in the region.

Despite the aid freeze, U.S. State Department officials have stated that they are confident the three parties will be able to reach an agreement in the coming months and that the United States is committed to helping facilitate a solution. A member of the Sudanese delegation has also requested the presence of a United Nations delegate to oversee future negotiations.

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