Our directory of things of interest

University Directory

Stopping the Nile: new dam for Ethiopia

The Blue Nile, upstream from the soon to be opened Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam The Blue Nile, upstream from the soon to be opened Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam
05 Dec
2017
An enormous hydropower development in Ethiopia is expected to put further pressure on Egypt’s already fragile water supply

Egypt is dependent on the River Nile – 95 per cent of the 97 million population lives within 20km of the river, the country’s only perennial water supply, with the rest of the arid desert landscape either sparsely populated or entirely uninhabited. Hence, the mounting fears in Cairo over the consequences of the dam that Ethiopia is building across the Blue Nile, around 20km upstream of the Sudanese border which will create a 1,680 sq km reservoir holding 74 billion cubic metres of water, equivalent to the entire annual flow of the river.

Expected to be finished in the next few months, the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) aims to utilise the power of the Blue Nile – which provides as much as 57 per cent of the Nile’s flow once the White and Blue Niles meet in Khartoum – to power a country severely lacking in reliable and sustainable power supplies.

Despite years of negotiations and an imminent finishing line, there remains significant uncertainty about which strategy will be adopted for the all-important process of filling the vast reservoir which will displace 20,000 people.

‘There’s a lot of concern regarding when and how they’ll begin to fill the reservoir relative to the construction schedule of the dam. It’s one of the major issues in the negotiations,’ explains Kevin Wheeler, from the Environmental Change Institute at the University of Oxford.

Such a project has the potential to have a significant impact downstream, with rumours circulating that Egypt could suffer as much as a 50 per cent drop in viable agricultural land.
While Wheeler doubts that the dam would be filled in the fastest possible time frame of only three years – the nightmare scenario for Egypt in which only a minimal amount of water would be able to flow downstream – the actual strategy remains yet to be announced.

‘We want to try to avoid being alarmist, while highlighting the real risks and identifying practical solutions’ says Wheeler. ‘There’s a lot of rhetoric that floats around in the press, and we’ve been working really hard to try to educate the media about what the actual risks are. Some media outlets are fanning the flames with exaggerations, and making rational dialogue much more difficult.’

The GERD was first mooted in 1964, yet construction didn’t finally commence until 2011, with a budget of $4.8billion. It is a figure that underlines the economic and symbolic importance of this project. ‘Most Ethiopians pay about a month of their salary to build the dam,’ reveals Wheeler. ‘It gives you an idea of how much of a national identity this has become. It demonstrates a phenomenal degree of national drive. It will be a very, very big deal once it’s finished.’

 

BLOCKED OFF: Controversial cross-border dams around the world

farakka

Farakka Barrage, India

Opened in 1975, the Farakka Barrage runs across the Ganges River in West Bengal, just upstream of the Bangladeshi border, diverting a significant portion of the flow south towards Kolkata. Impacts of a reduced flow in Bangladesh are said to include increased salinity, degraded fisheries and a loss of reliable groundwater.

 

don sahong

Don Sahong Dam, Laos

Still under construction, the Don Sahong Dam is set to cut across the Mekong at Si Phan Don, a mere mile prior to the river’s exit into Cambodia. Ongoing debates revolve around the impact the dam could have on both cross-border fish migration and downstream commercial fisheries in Cambodia, Thailand, and Vietnam.

 

ataturk

Atatürk Dam, Turkey

The Atatürk Dam is the largest of 22 dams built on the Euphrates and Tigris river system during the 1980s and 1990s to provide irrigation and hydropower to southeast Turkey. Upon completion in 1990, it gave Turkey significant control over the water flows leaving the country and entering Iraq and Syria, increasing political tensions between the three nations.

This was published in the December 2017 edition of Geographical magazine.

geo line break v3

Free eBooks - Geographical Newsletter

Get the best of Geographical delivered straight to your inbox by signing up to our weekly newsletter and get a free collection of eBooks!

geo line break v3

Related items

NEVER MISS A STORY - Follow Geographical on Social

Want to stay up to date with breaking Geographical stories? Join the thousands following us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram and stay informed about the world.

More articles in PLACES...

Places

While researching his main article on the world’s smallest countries,…

Places

Vitali Vitaliev briefly meets the down-to-earth ruler of Liectenstein

Places

In the third of his series on geopolitical oddities, Vitali…

Water

Increased rainfall intensity, predicted to occur as the climate changes,…

Deserts

Now in its fourth year, this annual lecture series highlights…

Cities

With Jakarta suffering from severe subsidence, pollution and congestion, Indonesia…

Mapping

A revolution in digital mapmaking is underway and the implications…

Cities

India has pledged $120billion to make its cities ‘smart’. But…

Cities

Buildings made from wood are becoming increasingly common in cities…

Forests

The lead author of a scientific study, which claimed that…

Cities

A team of researchers in Australia are urging urban planners…

Water

An artificial intelligence tool can predict where conflicts related to…

Water

Hundreds of historic landfill sites are at risk from erosion…

Cities

London has officially become the first of a new kind…

Mountains

A new model of the monsoon system, which dispenses with the Himalaya Mountains,…

Places

In the second of his features on the world’s geopolitical…

Water

The discovery a long ‘tongue’ of ice beneath a glacial…

Mapping

Benjamin Hennig explains two cartograms which demonstrate the global water…

Places

Get on your bike with this collection of stories to…