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Water Wars on the Nile

How Water Scarcity and Middle Eastern Influence Are Reshaping Northeast Africa

Construction on the Renaissance Dam in Ethiopia, March 2015. REUTER/Tiksa Negeri

In Ethiopia, Africa’s largest-ever dam and hydroelectric power plant is inching closer to completion. The Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) on the Nile River has the potential to transform Ethiopia’s economy and revolutionize the agricultural sector of its northwestern neighbor Sudan. But further downstream in Egypt, where 95 percent of the population live on the Nile’s shores or along its delta, many object to the dam, which they see as a fundamental threat to their way of life. As Ethiopia prepares to operationalize the dam and divert Nile waters to fill its massive reservoir, the international dispute over the river has reached a make-or-break moment. In the coming year, Egypt and Ethiopia will either set their differences aside and forge a cooperative path forward together—an outcome that is technically feasible but politically fraught—or face a diplomatic downward spiral. 

The story of the dam dispute, however, is

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