The Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam on the Blue Nile in Ethiopia will be the biggest dam in Africa. (AP)

The Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam on the Blue Nile in Ethiopia will be the biggest dam in Africa. (AP)

Construction work on the controversial dam (AP)

Construction work on the controversial dam (AP)

The Blue Nile river flows near the site of the planned Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam. (AP)

The Blue Nile river flows near the site of the planned Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam. (AP)

The Blue Nile’s waters are important for Sudan and Egypt—countries downstream of Ethiopia’s new dam. (AP)

The Blue Nile’s waters are important for Sudan and Egypt—countries downstream of Ethiopia’s new dam. (AP)

Share the River!

Posted: July 1, 2020

Here comes the rain . . . and there goes the neighborhood.

Ethiopia has almost finished its Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam on the Nile River. Its people are proud. The GERD is the biggest hydroelectric dam in Africa.

Hydroelectric dams capture energy from moving water to generate electricity. Finally, more Ethiopians will be able to switch on lights. More than half of them are living with no electricity. The dam will provide electrical power for manufacturing goods. Ethiopia will even be able to sell extra electricity to nations nearby. This will help the poor country prosper.

But there’s a problem. Ethiopia doesn’t own the Nile River. Several countries share it. Ethiopia started building the dam in 2011. Leaders did not ask permission from Egypt, a country downstream.

The Nile can create energy. But it also provides . . . of course . . . water! Egypt will get pretty thirsty if too much Nile water is held behind a dam. Most of Egypt is bone dry. Ninety percent of the water it uses comes from the Nile. What if a drought happens? Ethiopia will control how much water is released to Egypt. Egyptians don’t feel so good about that.

Leaders are responsible for making sure their people get what they need to prosper. And when it comes to prosperity, water matters a lot. Egyptians object. “This water isn’t just yours, Ethiopia. It’s ours too.” Meanwhile, Ethiopians say, “But we need power!”

The rainy season starts in June. Ethiopia plans to take advantage of daily downpours. It will close the dam’s gates. Rain will fill the reservoir behind the GERD. Later, water will be released over the dam. It will roar through turbines to generate electricity. Then it will flow downstream.

If Ethiopia closes its dam all the way, it can fill the reservoir quickly. It will be able to make a lot of electricity quickly. And Egypt will get thirsty quickly too. Its farmland may dry out—not to mention its faucets. Ethiopia wants to fill its reservoir in six years. Egypt says, “That’s taking too much water too fast!” It wants the dam filled much more slowly, over 10 to 21 years.

The countries around the Nile already struggle to get along. What will happen if Ethiopia won’t share water evenly? People living along the Nile watch the sky for rainclouds . . . and watch their leaders to see if war will come.