Ethiopia Dam Dispute Could Turn Into Conflict?

BRUSSELS, Belgium

Ongoing tension among Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan around the Grand Ehiopia Renaissance Dam could escalate into conflict with "severe humanitarian consequences," according to a March 2019 report from think tank International Crisis Group.

Specifically, talks among the three countries have not progressed for months, with all parties claiming dependence on the Nile River for freshwater and economic development. "The case for cooperation among Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan in resolving the Nile water dispute is unambiguous," the International Crisis Group think tank said. "All stand to benefit. Dangers of failing to work together are just as stark. The parties could blunder into conflict, with severe humanitarian consequences," it warned.

International Crisis Group describes itself as the world's leading source of information, analysis and policy advice to prevent and resolve deadly conflict.

The report cites political upheaval in each country stating that leaders are not dedicating enough time to resolving the issues before the dam is filled. In Sudan, President Omar al-Bashir, in power since 1989, is clinging precariously to his job amid widespread protests. In Ethiopia, Abiy Ahmed is struggling to consolidate his hold on power. Egypt’s Sisi is relatively secure in his position, but his drive to extend his stay in office until at least 2034 has divided the military establishment, his key domestic constituency.

The report recommends a two-step approach, beginning with confidence-building measures "by agreeing upon terms for filling the dam's reservoirs that do not harm downstream countries" and "a new, trans-boundary framework for resource sharing to avert future conflicts."

The Group calls for third party intervention suggesting, for instance, that the European Investment Bank could offer loans and guarantees to supplement funds in years of drought.

The report suggests that now is the time for rapprochement: “Outside partners should encourage Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan to approach the dispute not as an existential conflict but as a chance to establish a resource-sharing partnership. Delays in the GERD’s completion and the improved mood following Prime Minister Abiy’s ascent make this moment propitious for negotiating a way forward. Waiting until the dam is operational – when its impact on downstream countries is clearer – would raise the risk of violent conflict.”

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