Only Washington Can Save the Renaissance Dam Negotiations Now

Only Washington Can Save the Renaissance Dam Negotiations Now

Since Ethiopia has hampered negotiations, Egypt needs the United States to preserve its access to the Nile.

By Motaz Zahran, the ambassador of Egypt to the United States.

Men check iron bars at the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam near Guba in Ethiopia on Dec. 26, 2019. EDUARDO SOTERAS/AFP VIA GETTY IMAGES

(Foreignpolicy)—In early April, Ethiopia thwarted yet another mediation process, this time led by the African Union, to resolve an escalating crisis on the Nile—where Ethiopia is building the massive Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD), which would disrupt a primary source of water for Egypt and Sudan. The negotiations represented what the Egyptian foreign ministry called Ethiopia’s “last chance” at a resolution to the dispute, which has been ongoing for 10 years.

With Ethiopia edging closer to unilaterally filling the dam’s reservoir for a second time—and thus crossing the “red line” set by Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi—it may be up to the United States to help broker a peaceful solution and prevent unrest in the region, which forces of extremism and terrorism would undoubtedly look to exploit.

The Biden administration, which is currently mulling over the best policy for managing this situation, must act now. At stake is the future of the Nile, a lifeline for millions of Egyptians and Sudanese. In 2011, without consulting either of its neighbors downstream, Ethiopia began constructing a 509-foot-tall concrete dam—large enough for a reservoir that can store twice as much water as Lake Mead, the largest artificial reservoir in the United States—on the Blue Nile, a vital upstream portion of the Nile River.

If unilaterally filled and operated, the GERD could inflict incalculable socioeconomic and environmental harm downstream in Egypt and Sudan. Last year, flouting a 2015 treaty, Ethiopia started an initial filling of the dam. Now, balking at calls for an equitable resolution and consistent with its established policy of unilaterally exploiting of international rivers, Ethiopia is vowing to press ahead with a second substantial phase of reservoir filling this summer.