Ethiopia filling mega-dam that Egypt calls an “existential” threat

Ethiopia has dismissed reports that it’s filling a massive reservoir behind a new hydroelectric dam, as the colossal infrastructure project strains ties between three African nations that all rely on the River Nile for water. Egypt has previously threatened to go to war over the dam.

Almost 10 years of negotiations between Ethiopia, Sudan, and Egypt over Ethiopia’s construction of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) have failed to resolve the conflict. Recent satellite images from the European Space Agency show water filling the reservoir behind the dam, but Ethiopian officials insist it’s just “natural pooling” from rainfall, not the start of filling operations.

All three nations share the water of the Blue Nile, one of the two tributaries of the River Nile. Sudan and Egypt insist an agreement on how Ethiopia will operate the new dam should be reached before the reservoir is filled.

The countries have been at odds since 2011, when Ethiopia started building the dam, at an estimated cost of $4 billion, across the Blue Nile. The tributary originates in the Ethiopian highlands, flows north through the country and then through Sudan before eventually crossing into Egypt and joining the Nile on the way to the Mediterranean.

The dam is reportedly about 70% complete, but Ethiopia has long said it intended to fill the reservoir over the summer, during the rainy season, as work on the dam continued.

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