Fears of ‘catastrophe’ in Egypt as Ethiopia prepares to fill Nile dam for fifth time

Fears of ‘catastrophe’ in Egypt as Ethiopia prepares to fill Nile dam for fifth time
Ethiopia is preparing to fill the reservoir of its Nile Dam for a fifth time, amid Egyptian fears that this would have a disastrous effect on water supply
3 min read
20 June, 2024
Egypt has long feared that Ethiopia's Nile dam will deprive it of life-giving water [Getty]

Satellite photos taken last Monday have revealed Ethiopia’s preparations to fill the controversial Great Renaissance Dam (GERD) on the Nile for a fifth time, amid Egyptian fears that this could have a catastrophic effect on the amount of essential Nile water it receives.

The Ethiopian filling is expected to take place at the end of July, without any coordination with downstream countries Egypt and Sudan.

The Ethiopian dam has been a major point of contention between the three countries for over a decade, with Egypt in particular afraid that it will deprive it of the Nile water its people need to survive.

Mohammed Nasr Allam, who served as Egypt’s Minister of Irrigation and Water Resources from 2009 to 2011, told The New Arab’s Arabic-language sister site Al-Araby Al-Jadeed that the Ethiopian filling of the dam would be disastrous for Egypt, especially if it coincided with the Nile’s dry season.

It could happen at the same time as the dry season, and then it would be a catastrophe. The filling has to be stopped,” he said, adding that “all this will become clear in the next four to six weeks”.

Egypt’s former assistant foreign minister, Hussein Hureidi, told Al-Araby Al-Jadeed that, “Egypt is taking all the necessary measures to lessen the damage caused by the dam at this time”.

Nadir Nour al-Din, a professor specialising in water resources from Cairo University, told Al-Araby Al-Jadeed that the amount of damage caused by the filling couldn’t be estimated now, and that this would have to wait for Ethiopia’s announcement of the size of the filling.

Another professor, Mohammed Hafiz, told Al-Araby Al-Jadeed that the satellite photos had shown a slight rise in the water level around two small islands in the dam’s reservoir.

He added that this was due to the closure of the two lower entry points in the reservoir, and added that this would deprive Sudan and Egypt of some water.

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Negotiations between Egypt and Ethiopia over the dam broke down last December. Egypt’s Ministry of Water Resources and Irrigation said at the time that the talks were unsuccessful due to Ethiopia’s “persistent refusal” to accept any compromise.

An Egyptian intelligence official told The New Arab that "the GERD file has almost been closed after all talks failed due to Ethiopia's intransigence."

"Even though Addis Ababa showed no resilience, a military action against Ethiopia to halt the operations of the dam has not been decided yet," the high-level source added, on condition of anonymity for not being authorised to talk to the media.

Ethiopia has been building the dam since 2011 despite the opposition of the downstream neighbours, Sudan and Egypt, who view the project as a threat to their historically rightful share of the Nile waters. Work on the dam began in July 2020.

Ethiopia has frequently refused to reach a deal with Egypt and Sudan, insisting only on guidelines that can be adjusted at its disposal.

Around 90 per cent of Egypt's water comes from the Nile and 85 per cent of this from the Blue Nile, prompting Egypt to worry the dam will severely reduce the amount of Nile water reaching its territory. Egyptian authorities have argued that the dam will cause drought and impact crop production for its population of nearly 106 million.