Tensions in the Nile River basin are rising, as a decade-old dispute promises no solution in the near future. The struggle for the rich waters of the Nile River is an unambiguous portrayal of the significance of water diplomacy in the 21st century and on the potential for water scarcity as a driver of future conflicts.
With an estimated 115 million population in the Horn of Africa, Ethiopia first started to construct the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) on the Blue Nile in 2011. Even before the dam’s foundation stone was laid by the late-Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, Addis Ababa signed a new water cooperation agreement with most Nile Basin countries. However, Egypt and Sudan refused to override the 1959 Nile Water agreement, which protected their historical share of the Nile’s waters. The two countries claimed that the new arrangement proposed by Ethiopia would not only cancel their right to veto projects upstream, but also threaten the allocation of 55.5 billion cubic metres of water to Egypt and 18.5 billion to Sudan, as per the original agreement.
In the years that followed, a series of tripartite talks failed to produce progress and brought up more disagreement over the dam. After months of suspension in negotiations, a new round of talks between Egypt, Sudan, and Ethiopia was held in Cairo in 2018 to discuss filling the GERD’s reservoirs and its rules of operation. However, the negotiations once again ended in deadlock with Ethiopia’s rejection of the Egyptian proposal, citing divergence in questions of sovereignty, leading Egypt to call for the internationalisation of the issue. President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi of Egypt highlighted the importance of finding common ground and resolving the dispute by underscoring that the Nile River is a lifeline to millions of people. Any limitation in its water flow downstream could pose an existential threat to Egypt. As a result, Cairo had once again called for international intervention to avoid the eruption of a massive conflict given the years-long stalemate in negotiations.