Grand Ethiopia Renaissance Dam (GERD) and Halia’ab Triangle Crisis

By Neha Nisar.

“Ethiopia will not harm Egypt’s share of the Nile River water through the construction of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD).” This was stated by Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi during a bilateral meeting with Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed Ali on 10 June, 2018. Presently, Egypt is entangled in two separate disputes regarding water; tensions between Egypt and Ethiopia over the Grand Ethiopia Renaissance Dam (GERD) have grown while simultaneous friction between Egypt and Sudan has also increased regarding the Halia’ab Triangle crisis.

The Nile River has always been a source of conflict. It holds great significance for Egypt in particular since it provides 90% of Egypt’s fresh water supply and is so the major lifeline for the water based economy. However since the Nile water flows from Central and East African countries before reaching Egypt and Sudan, there is always the fear of disruptions to the economies of the lower Riparian states.

Grand Ethiopia Renaissance Dam

GERD is one of the largest projects in the African continent andwas inaugurated by Ethiopiain 2011 on the Nile River. It has the ability to generate 6000 plus megawatts of electric power.  Soon after its initiation, concerns about the distribution of water were raised by Egypt. According to Cairo, this dam would disrupt the flow of the Nile River by 25% and as a result disturb both the agricultural and industrial economy.  Correspondingly, the Central Agency for Public Mobilization and Statistics (CAPMAS) has said that the average water per capita in Egypt would fall down to 582m3 by 2025 from the present 663m3.

The major worries for Egypt is the filling of water reservoirs. Egypt has already been suffering from water shortage of over 54 billion cubic meter, mainly due to increase in population, misuse of water and climate change effects.  Cumulatively, these have affected the country in the form of electricity shortages. In order to avoid further negative complications, Egypt wants Ethiopia to fill out the water reservoirs gradually, in the space of seven to ten years. This would mean that Egypt would not feel the negative effects of reservoir filling.

Ethiopia, on the other hand, has countered Egypt’s concerns and assured the latter that Egypt’s water share would not get harmed. Ethiopia has decided to fill the water reservoir in three stages by 75 billion m3, following the dam’s completion. The first phase has been planned to be completed this very year.  Once filled, the dam would not only provide Ethiopia with the fresh water but would also enhance the energy capacity of Ethiopia, making it the largest energy exporter in the continent .

In response, Cairo has recalled the agreements signed in 1929 and 1959 over Nile water .

Agreement of 1929

The Agreement of 1929 was signed between Egypt and Great Britain and entitled Egypt to over 48 billion cubic meters of Nile water, whereas Sudan was given only 4 billion cubic meters. In addition, Egypt was given the right to veto regarding the constructions of damson the Nile River or any of its tributaries in an effort to minimize any interference with the flow of water into the Nile.

Agreement of 1959

The Agreement of 1959 between Egypt and Sudan reinforced the previous agreement signed in 1929 with the increase of water allocation to 55.5 billion cubic meters for Egypt and 18.5 billion cubic meters for Sudan.

Many tripartite meetings have been held between Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia since 2014, the results of which include the agreement on Declaration of Principles in 2015 .This declaration encompasses not only principles of cooperation but also includes the technical study of the consequences of the dam’s constructionon Egypt’s share of water .

Hala’ib Triangle Dispute

The other major dispute Egypt is entangled in is the Hala’ib Triangle Dispute involving Sudan. The Hala’ib Triangle is 20,500 square km land on the border of Sudan and Egypt. Both states have been claiming their right on Hala’ib triangle since 1956.During the 1990’s the dispute got frozen. However, in 2016 tensions flared up again after Egypt handed overtwo very strategically important islands, Tiran and Sanafir, to Saudi Arabia.  This deal effectively redrew the maritime border between Egypt and Sudan and hence unilaterally recognized Egypt’s sovereignty over the Hala’ib Triangle. In December 2017, Sudan went to the United Nations contesting the deal.Cairo however only reiterated its claim as a sovereign authority over the Hala’ib Triangle and hence no headway could be made. In a bid to show its anger, on 4 January, 2018, Sudan recalled its ambassador from Egypt.

Tensions further exacerbated in late December 2017 after the visit of President Recep Erdogan of Turkey to Sudan. During his visit, Sudan handed over Suakin Island to Turkey for its rebuilding, reconstruction and tourism development.  Cairo saw this move as an attempt by Ankara to create amilitary base and simultaneously undermine the Sunni moderate alliance (which includes Egypt, United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia against the Turkey-Iran-Qatar nexus). This was later denied by Khartoum. Egypt also believes that Sudan is tilting towards Ethiopia over the GERD crisis.This dam would prove beneficiary for Sudan because it would not only limit the flooding in Sudan but also increase electricity supply through the GERD project. Egypt has now proposed Sudan’s expulsion from the negotiations altogether .

Tripartite Negotiations

The meeting held between Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan on 28 January, 2018 provided an opportunity for easing tensions because the parties agreed on a one month deadline for technical study in order to resolve all dam related issues.  During a foreign ministers’ meet in April all stakeholders agreed on setting up a scientific study consultation group and decided to have meetings after every six months.  They also finalized the formation of the Tripartite Infrastructure Fund and Tripartite National Committee (TNC) for the deliverance of any sort of concerns on the initial technicalreport to the Frenchwater engineering consultation firms BRL and Artelia.   Further discussions are to be held in August in Egypt.


All in all, at this point Egypt needs to have very comprehensive strategies for its southern border (Hala’ib Triangle) to avoid further confrontation. It should be noted that the main concern of the filling of the dams has not been addressed as yet. Disruptions could lead to famine and for an economy already going through crisis and political instability, this is not something they can afford. Hence, the next technical meet up between Ethiopia, Sudan and Egypt expected in the month of August is very important and gives Egypt a chance to resolve this issue once and for all.

About Author:

Neha Nisar  is currently doing her Bachelors in Peace and Conflict Studies from the National Defense University (NDU) and is currently a Young Professional at the Institute of Strategic Studies Islamabad.

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