Ethiopia: Water Diplomacy To Deal With Renaissance Dam Crisis.

The Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam GERD. Photo Credit Ethiopian Electric Power CorporationThe Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam GERD. Photo Credit Ethiopian Electric Power Corporation

Water is essential to life. Water resources were the main determinant of human stability and residence. However, the geographical distribution of water resources varies as a result of the political, social and economic changes that the world has undergone, in addition to climatic changes and the increased demand for water due to drought and the increase in population

In view of all this, water problems are exacerbated, especially among countries that suffer from scarce water resources, in addition to the uneven distribution, the large amount of waste, and the lack of attention to water conservation.

Therefore, the World Water Commission took the initiative to formulate a vision for water, life and the environment, which can be summed up as follows: “Water is life, and every person, present and future, should have access to clean and sufficient drinking water, and work should be done to provide sufficient water to meet these basic requirements in an equal manner.”

Accordingly, the problem of water resources has received wide attention, and strategic reports and studies indicate the increasing exacerbation of the water problem and its impact on international relations.

This study addresses a contemporary water crisis that emerged in the African continent between Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan against the background of Ethiopia’s start to build the Renaissance Dam to generate electricity, as the Egyptians became increasingly concerned about its impact on the flow of the Nile water and the detraction of their share of it.

Several Arab and African countries are, directly or indirectly, part of this conflict, in addition to Israel and the US which are main and influential actors. The research aims to explain the water dilemma using the historical and inductive approach to produce results that would clarify the causes of the crisis and shed light on the solutions received, and addressing this issue from a perspective of international relations.

The research paper concluded with a few results and recommendations that were clarified in the conclusion, pointed to the necessity of adopting peaceful and diplomatic methods in dealing with the crisis and sharing water in a fair manner.

The Ethiopian government has started building the Renaissance Dam or the Millennium Dam (in Amharic: Hadas Gadeb) on the Blue Nile in the state of Benishqul-Gumuz near the Ethiopian-Sudanese border, at a distance of between 20-40 km, and upon completion, it is expected to become the largest hydroelectric dam in the world. It is one of three dams built for the purpose of generating hydroelectric power in Ethiopia.


The construction of this dam aims to increase electric power. It consists of a main dam with a height of 145 meters and a side dam with a height of 50 meters. Its storage capacity is 74 billion cubic meters. It includes a 6000-megawatt generating station, with a barrier length of 1800 meters. Its cost is 4.78 billion US dollars. The project employs about 4,225 people, including 2,905 local workers.

During a survey of the Blue Nile conducted between 1956 and 1964, the final location of the Renaissance Dam was determined by the United States Office of Reconnaissance (one of the US Departments of State). In August 2010, the Ethiopian government carried out a survey of the site, and in the same year the design of the dam was completed. On March 31, 2011, one day after the announcement of the project, a contract worth $4.8 billion was awarded without competitive bidding to the Italian company “Salini Costratori”. Under former Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, the foundation stone of the dam was laid and a rock crusher was built along with a small airstrip for rapid transport.

On April 15, 2011, the Ethiopian Cabinet renamed the dam the “Great Ethiopian Renaissance Dam”, after it was initially called “Project X” and after the project contracts were announced, it was called the “Millennium Dam”.


The dam has benefits that can be summed up in the production of hydroelectric power. The electricity that was produced by the hydroelectric power station is sold to Ethiopia and neighbouring countries such as Sudan and possibly Egypt, which will require building huge transmission lines. Since the Blue Nile is a highly seasonal river, the dam will reduce flooding, including 40 km from the interior of Ethiopia.

However, the damage that the dam can cause is numerous, as many experts believe that the construction of the Renaissance Dam will lead to a set of negative effects now and in the future, on both Egypt and Sudan.

This is represented in the loss of Egypt to large areas of agricultural land due to the receding of the floods in the river valley downstream, and thus will deprive the fields of water.

In addition to this, the electricity of the High Dam, Aswan Reservoir, and Esna Barrages has decreased, and many drinking water plants located on the Nile have stopped, and many industries have stopped, as well as the impact of gas-powered electricity plants that depend on cooling from the waters of the Nile River, and the deterioration of water quality in the northern lakes.

In addition to Egypt’s inability to meet its water needs, and thus its profound social impact on millions of peasant families, Egyptian sources indicate that the insistence of the Ethiopian side to proceed with building the Millennium Dam project with the current specifications will inevitably lead to compromising the national security of both Sudan and Egypt.

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