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Why Ethiopia’s $5 Billion Dam Has Riled Its Neighbors

The Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) in Guba, Ethiopia, in February.
The Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) in Guba, Ethiopia, in February.Photographer: Amanuel Sileshi/AFP/Getty Images
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Ethiopia has been at loggerheads with downstream neighbors Egypt and Sudan for years over a $5 billion mega-dam it’s building on the Nile River. A third phase of filling a 74 billion cubic-meter (2.6 trillion cubic-foot) reservoir behind the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam was completed in August, a process that’s reignited tensions. Egypt has described the unilateral action as a violation of international law and its foreign minister, Sameh Shoukry, wrote to the United Nations Security Council in July, reiterating its objections and accusing Ethiopia of derailing attempts to resolve the standoff.

The Nile is the most important source of fresh water in a largely arid region that is very vulnerable to drought and climate change and is experiencing rapid population growth. Egypt relies on the 4,000-mile-long river for as much as 97% of its supply, and much of eastern Sudan’s population depends on it for survival. Ethiopia is counting on a 5,150-megawatt hydropower plant on its new dam to help supply electricity to the 60% of its population that don’t have access, and sustain its manufacturing industries. The plant began generating power in 2022, some of which will be sold to neighboring countries.