bedasso5_ EDUARDO SOTERASAFP via Getty Images_gerd dam Eduardo Soteras/AFP via Getty Images

How to Share a River

Ethiopia and Egypt have again failed to reach an agreement on the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam on the Blue Nile, raising fears that the entire region may be plunged into conflict. But a similar dispute in South America in the 1970s shows how this outcome can be avoided.

JOHANNESBURG/BONN – In 2011, Ethiopia launched construction on the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) in the Blue Nile, in order to secure its water resources and generate hydropower. But the project has been highly controversial, with Egypt, located downriver, objecting strongly to it. Unless the two countries can reach a negotiated settlement, the entire region could be plunged into conflict.

For Ethiopia, the GERD could ease a chronic energy shortage that has left over 55% of the country’s population without access to electricity. The dam also has emotional significance, promising to fulfill a dream long etched in the public’s imagination.

But the Nile is strategically significant for every country it touches. Egypt’s agricultural sector depends heavily on its waters. Dam building raises serious concerns for everyone downstream.

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