Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed announced the successful fourth and final filling of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) on social media, causing uproar in Egypt and Sudan. The longstanding dispute over the dam, since its launch in 2011, has reignited fears of a potential water crisis in downstream countries.

The GERD, a $4.2 billion hydroelectric dam project situated on the Blue Nile River, strained relations between Ethiopia and its downstream neighbours, Egypt and Sudan. The contention involves Ethiopia’s energy ambitions, Egypt’s water security concerns, and Sudan’s anxieties about water levels in the Nile.

Ethiopia has been diverting Nile water to fill a vast reservoir behind the dam, a process that has intensified concerns in Cairo and Khartoum.

Egypt fears that this project may impact the flow of water entering Egypt. The country is heavily reliant on the Nile for irrigation, drinking water, and agriculture. Egypt seeks assurances that its water needs will be met, even as Ethiopia’s massive hydroelectric plant becomes operational.

Ethiopia’s stance, on the other hand, prioritises the need to ensure a consistent supply of water to operate Africa’s largest hydroelectric plant. The objective is to double its electricity output and improve living standards for Ethiopians.

Ethiopia’s recent decision to shut three of the four diversion outlets for the water took Sudan by surprise. Downstream water levels experienced a significant decrease, leading to disruptions in Sudan’s pumping stations critical for irrigation and municipal water supply.

Egypt and Sudan have been engaged in negotiations with Ethiopia, seeking a compromise that addresses their respective interests and ensures the responsible management of the Nile’s waters.

Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed acknowledged that the GERD had faced “internal and external obstacles” but declared that Ethiopia had successfully overcome them. The Nile renaissance dam began generating electricity in February 2022. The dam holds the promise of transforming Ethiopia’s energy landscape and potentially reshaping the region’s geopolitics.