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Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam and what it means for the region

Updated: Sep 6, 2020


When it comes to the development of nations, there are basic and necessary things needed to power an economy. Most people would say obviously you need capital/money and technology, without those no nation can develop. Yes, but before we talk money and technology we first have to talk about the importance of electricity. The Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam, commonly referred to as the GERD has been under construction since 2011. The hydroelectric dam on the Blue Nile River in Ethiopia, hopes to power east Africa into the 21st century. The GERD when complete will power the lives of 100 million Ethiopians, and eventually will be able to export cheap electricity to other East African countries.


Electricity has historically been an enabler of industrial development. Nations with access to stable and cheap electricity have left those without electricity in the wind. Access to energy without a question of doubt is at the heart of development. The World Bank estimates that there are over a billion people that still live without electricity today, and many more who live with unreliable or expensive power, and you have guessed it most of those people live in Sub-Saharan Africa.


Energy Poverty is lack of access to modern energy services which mostly affects developing nations, it’s a distinct form of poverty that can adversely affect people’s health and well-being. In Ethiopia, like many other Sub-Saharan nations, the World Bank estimates that only a quarter of primary schools and health care centers have access to National Grid electricity. For nations in development it impedes economic progress tremendously but also negatively affects the health of its people.


Enter the GERD, a five billion dollar dam funded by the people of Ethiopia with aspirations to power every home. Once complete the dam will be the largest hydropower dam in Africa, and eleventh largest in the world. The dam built on the Blue Nile in the highlands of Ethiopia, one of two tributaries to the Nile River, accounts for 86% of water that flows into the Nile River. It is expected to be over 500 feet high, just over a mile long, and the reservoir is expected to flood over 700 square miles. The dam is expected to produce 6,000 megawatts of electricity per year, nearly doubling the current electrical output.


For its part, Ethiopia sees the hydropower dam as a way to bring 100 million people out of poverty. The history of any developed nation proves that theory correct, the industries of those nations, healthcare facilities, and education institutions only thrived because of stable electricity. For any developing nation the key to any industrial revolution is electricity.


Based on colonial era treaties from the early to mid 1900’s, down stream nations Sudan and Egypt are the only two countries who have historical water usage rights. Egypt accounts for 70% of water usage of the Nile, while Sudan accounts for about 20%. No other nation of the 11 that the Nile passes through are allowed water rights from the Nile or any of its tributaries. Egypt views the GERD as an existential threat, Egypt has always seen any projects on the Nile or the tributaries of the Nile as a threat. Egypt is completely dependent on the Nile for its water supply and irrigation of its crops. Currently the African Union, which is under the Presidency of South Africa is facilitating talks amongst the three nations to negotiate an agreement over the filling and operation of the dam. Even as the talks continue, Ethiopia declared due to heavy rains, that it completed phase one of the dam filling.

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