Damming the Nile | God's World News

Damming the Nile

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    Fishing in Sudan depends on the flow of the Nile. A new dam upriver in Ethiopia could drastically affect nations downstream. (AP)
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    A girl walking through a courtyard seems to sum up Egypt’s condition—thirsty! (AP)
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    A woman peeks from the doorway of her house—which probably lacks electricity—in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. A new dam on the Blue Nile could change that. (AP)
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    The famous yearly flooding of the Nile is caused by heavy rain and runoff in the highlands of Ethiopia surrounding the Blue Nile. (AP)
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    A 3-D rendering shows how the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam will look.
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Egypt is known for pharaohs, sphinxes, and pyramids. But its most vital feature is a fertile green ribbon produced by the Nile River that flows through the desert. For the first time, Egypt faces a threat to that watery lifeline.


More than 4,000 miles long, the Nile is the world’s longest river. It flows north from Central Africa to the Mediterranean Sea. Ancient Egyptians saw the Nile as the source of all life. It provided water for crops, papyrus for paper and boats, fish for food, a place for relaxation and sport, and a way to travel from place to place. The Nile features in many Bible stories. Baby Moses floated the river in a basket. God showed His power by turning the Nile into blood and infesting it with frogs. (Exodus 7:20, 8:3)

Today, few nations rely so completely on a single river as Egypt does. The Nile provides over 90% of Egypt’s water. Almost the entire population lives cramped in the sliver of the Nile Valley. But the Nile affects more than Egypt. It runs through nine other African countries. For many years, those countries have wanted to profit from the Nile.

Now after six years, Ethiopia is finishing construction of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam. The project should be finished late this year or early next. It will be Ethiopia’s first major dam on the Blue Nile, one of the Nile’s two main tributaries. Ethiopia will eventually start filling the dam’s giant reservoir to power Africa’s largest hydroelectric dam.


Egypt fears Ethiopia’s dam will reduce its water supply and destroy farmland—harming 93 million Egyptians. Sudan, which lies between Ethiopia and Egypt, shares those fears.

But Ethiopia believes it’s time to share the wealth. Egypt already receives more than 50% of the water that flows down the Nile each year. International agreements from 1929 and 1959 promise Egypt that amount. Other Nile nations simply aren’t allowed to dam the river or siphon more than their assigned share. Many call those unfair terms that ignore their needs.


The effects of damming the Nile depend mostly on how fast Ethiopia fills its reservoir. Filling quickly means blocking more water; filling slowly means a smaller cutback downstream.

One study estimates Egypt would lose 51% of its farmland if filling the reservoir takes three years. A six-year fill would cost 17% of the cultivated land. Experts hope the Nile’s flow will return to normal after the fill. But no one knows for sure. Some say Egypt might not suffer any damage if it and Ethiopia work together. So far, that’s not happening.


For Ethiopia, the dam is the realization of a dream. Most of the country’s 95 million people don’t have electricity. The hydroelectric dam would give a massive boost to power capabilities. Egypt is in a hard spot. Its leaders agreed to the dam. But they say Ethiopia has broken promises by not completing impact studies or submitting plans for approval. “In all cases, it will be harmful to Egypt,” says one anonymous official.

“We have taken into account [the dam’s] probable effects on countries like Egypt and Sudan,” Ethiopian minister Sileshi Bekele says.

For centuries, Egypt has blocked other nations’ requests for more water. Salman, a Sudanese water expert, says Egypt’s attitude has long been, “This is our river and no one can touch it.” Now times have changed. “Egypt is no longer the dominant force along the Nile,” he says, “Ethiopia is replacing it.”

A nation’s leaders are entrusted with looking out for their own people’s interests. But wise leaders seek to incorporate “the wisdom from above” (James 3:17-18) into their decisions—and to seek diplomacy and peace among neighbors.