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How climate change might affect the Nile

To the untrained eye, the satellite photos of north-west Ethiopia on July 10th may have seemed benign. They showed a relatively small pool of water next to an enormous building site on the Blue Nile, the main tributary of the Nile river. But the project under construction is the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam, which is more than halfway complete. And the water is why it is so controversial.

Since Ethiopia announced its plan to build the dam, it has inspired threats of sabotage from Egypt, which sits downstream and relies on the Nile for electricity, farming and drinking water. Egypt claims that it is entitled to a certain proportion of the Nile’s water based on colonial-era treaties. Ethiopia dismisses those agreements. The pool of water in the photos suggested that it was beginning to fill the reservoir behind the dam, reducing the river’s flow.

That turns out not to have been the case. The pool was deemed by Egypt to be a result of construction and seasonal Nile flooding. But the alarms it raised are indicative of how sensitive negotiations between Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan have become. Talks over such things as how fast to fill the reservoir and how to operate the dam have stumbled. And a potentially huge complication looms over any discussion of the Nile’s future: climate change.

Rod Waddington

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