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Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD)


Saudi Arabia has thrown its weight behind Egypt and Sudan in their bitter dispute with Ethiopia over a massive hydropower dam built by the latter on the Blue Nile, the Nile River’s main tributary.


Prelims, GS-I: Geography (Maps)

Dimensions of the Article:

  1. Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD)
  2. About the Nile River
  3. Significance of the dam for Ethiopia, Egypt and Sudan

Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD)

  • The Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) was formerly known as the Millennium Dam and sometimes referred to as Hidase Dam and it is a gravity dam on the Blue Nile River in Ethiopia under construction since 2011.
  • The primary purpose of the dam is electricity production to relieve Ethiopia’s acute energy shortage and for electricity export to neighboring countries.
  • With a planned installed capacity of 6.45 gigawatts, the dam will be the largest hydroelectric power plant in Africa when completed, as well as the seventh largest in the world.

About the Nile River

  • The River Nile is in Africa originating in Burundi which is south of the equator, and flows northward through northeastern Africa, eventually flowing through Egypt and finally draining into the Mediterranean Sea.
  • The source of the Nile is sometimes considered to be Lake Victoria, but the lake itself has feeder rivers of considerable size like the Kagera River.
  • The Nile is formed by three principal streams which are- the Blue Nile, the Atbara, and the White Nile.
  • The Nile basin is huge and includes parts of Tanzania, Burundi, Rwanda, Congo (Kinshasa), Kenya.
  • The Nile River forms an arcuate delta as it empties into the Mediterranean Sea.

Significance of the dam for Ethiopia, Egypt and Sudan

  • Ethiopia, Africa’s second-most populated country and a manufacturing hub, views the mega dam as a symbol of its sovereignty.
  • Ethiopia has an acute shortage of electricity, with 60% of its population not connected to the grid. The energy generated will be enough to have its citizens connected and sell the surplus power to neighbouring countries.
  • There is an element of national pride in the timely completion of the GERD, as Ethiopia’s recent economic resurgence has revived the old vision of Great Ethiopia.
  • There is also a lot at stake for the government of Mr. Ahmed (PM of Ethiopia), who faces a difficult general election this year after the euphoria of the 2018 peace process with Eritrea has largely faded.

Concerns Raised by Egypt

  • Egypt fears the project will allow Ethiopia to control the flow of Africa’s longest river
  • Hydroelectric power stations do not consume water, but the speed with which Ethiopia fills up the dam’s reservoir will affect the flow downstream.
  • The longer it takes to fill the reservoir, the less impact there will be on the level of the river.
  • Heart of the dispute: Ethiopia wants to fill the reservoir in 6 years whereas Egypt wants to fill the reservoir, between 10 and 21 years, and for the release of a minimum of 40 billion cubic metres annually.
  • Egypt, which relies on the Nile for 90% of its freshwater supply, is apprehensive that a rapid filling of the reservoir in upstream Ethiopia would cause a drastic reduction in supplies.
  • Egypt perceives that the project would lead to diversion of waters to its own High Aswan Dam.
  • Ethiopia has said it should not be bound by the decades-old treaty and went ahead and started building its dam at the start of the Arab Spring in March 2011 without consulting Egypt.

Sudan’s Stand

  • Sudan too is concerned that if Ethiopia were to gain control over the river, it would affect the water levels Sudan receives.
  • However, Sudan is likely to benefit from the power generated by the dam.
  • The regulated flow of the river will save Sudan from serious flooding in August and September. Thus, it has proposed joint management of the dam.

-Source: The Hindu

November 2023