Energy/Water Nexus

Ethiopian mega-dam on the Nile River

Claudia Casarotto
Started by Claudia Casarotto on
13 Nov 2012 at 02:54
Deputy Country Director - Kenya , Innovations for Poverty Action
Know-how: Sustainable Agriculture, Energy, Basin Irrigation, Water

Ethiopia has planned investments for more than $12 billion in a large dam on the Nile that will generate more than 40,000 MW of hydropower by 2035, making it Africa's leading power exporter. Many concerns exist: Egypt is worried that the river flow downstream will not be sufficient; the effects on the environment are unclear; the source of financing might not be adequate. Read more on: What do you think will be the hydrological and socio-political impacts of this large infrastructure?


Claudia Casarotto
Thanks for your comments and insights! I just came across this recent article that gives a critical view on the impacts of the Renaissance Dam: It might give some more food for thought...
Teklu Hailegeorgis
The Grand Renaissance Dam would benefit Ethiopia and the downstream countries (d/s) in many aspects. Since it is intended for hydropower production, there will be no consumptive use of water, only the natural flow in the river is regulated and released downstream through the turbines and also through spillways during high flows. Rather it provides advantages of reducing evaporation loss (evaporation loss from the reservoir at the Grand Renaissance Dam in Ethiopia is much lower than the loss at the Aswan high dam in Egypt). It also provides additional advantage of regulated releases for irrigation and flood protection purposes for immediate d/s country, Sudan. The other most important advantage of the Grand Renaissance Dam for Egypt is in trapping of sediments from Ethiopian highlands which helps to increase the life span of the Aswan reservoir (Lake Naser). Ethiopia may have a plan to export the hydropower energy produced from the project and hence the d/s countries can also be immediate beneficiaries from the regional power market. However, in the contrary to the positive impacts, no water professional can deny some degrees of negative environmental and social impacts due to any water resources development projects which need to be mitigated to boost the sustainability and profitability of the project. Therefore, close cooperation and dialogue is indispensable between Ethiopia and the d/S raparian countries for mutual benefits through development of decision support tools which helps for optimal and environmentally friendly operation management of the reservoir. So water resources projects can bring regional development and integration if there is a will and capacity to share equitably and to manage it properly.
charles muhigirwa
The construction of dam by Egypt is very welcome venture for it and other countries that will benefit from its completion. This is so only if the feasibility studies have exhausted political, socio, economical, emotional, cultural etc issues. For instatnce are the downstream countries like Uganda(Source of the water - R. Nile), South Sudan and Sudan involved in the planning and designing of the dam to take care of its peoples' interests?
Yogesh Agrawal
Here I will just like to quote Tehari dam of India, which has not been properly thought of and planned . After construction of the dam, this mighty river is getting only controlled water to be released at the whims of the project authorities and the politicians. The Ganga , which is holy river of Hindus, does not remain holy now, as the downstream people does not get sufficient water to complete religious activities of Hindus . It has only controlled water like a canal. In December 1965, I went to Calcutta and tried to take bath in Hugli river( tail end of Ganga at Calcutta). I saw human excreta flowing at top layer of water in Ganga. I decided not to take bath in river Hugli ( Ganga). But now with even less flow in ganga, I do not know what has happened to Hugli. Similar case is with river Yamuna, water of which is no potable at Okhala barrage submergence. I do not know how the planners, engineers, politicians, social scientists, health authorities think about Tehari dam. But certainly if I would have been the commander of the project, I would have planned the Tehari dam , so that people on downstream side are not adversely affected. As per the guidelines of the sharing of water of international rivers, the water uses of the downstream nations shall not be adversely affected and should continue to use river water as ae using presently. If Ethiopia wants to be construct a dam, I think there is nothing wrong if the dam is properly planned having no/ little adverse effect on downstream nations and people of Ethiopia living in upstream area and downstream of dam embankment. It will be better if Ethiopia study the effect of three gorge dam of China and try to earn lessons to minimize the adverse effect of proposed Grand Renaissance Dam. It is true that there is adverse effect of construction of dams on environment and ecology of the upstream and downstream areas, which needs to be minimized. The engineers wish to use the maximum percentage of water available at dam site, to increase benefit cost ration even at the cost of disadvantage to upstream and downstream people. This is unfortunate and unacceptable. The world has come closer now. It is high time that the world body "UNITED NATIONS" form a policy regarding construction of dams with the help of people of the world ( both developed and undeveloped nations) from every walk of life political, social, environment, dam engineers, agriculture, ground water, health, education, etc. it should not be like “WORLD COMMISSION ON DAMS”, which was really a tool in the hands of developed nations, who do not wish that the undeveloped nations may harness their water resources and may become economically strong and are able to feed their people without outside support.
Claudia Casarotto
I have been asked to provide some more technical details about the Grand Renaissance Dam. The dam will be a 145 m tall and will have two power houses, each on either side of the spillway. The right power house will contain ten 350 MW Francis turbine-generators while the left will contain five. The dam's reservoir will have a volume of 63,000 MCM. You can read more here: and here
Thanks for your comment Edwin. It is true that hydro-power production will benefit Ethiopia, on the other side the country will itself suffer from the different flooding pattern induced from the dam. The downstream ecology will change (see the case of the Itezhi-tezhi dam in Zambia, for example), but also the recession agriculture practiced in the low valleys will suffer. Not to forget the need for relocation of plenty of people living in the area to be flooded.
The impacts on Sudan and Egypt will also be significant: it is true that the water impounded in the dam is to be released but the timing might not be the one desired by downstream water using needs. Also, it will take quite a lot of water to fill the dam at first... and this water won't flow downstream. Evaporation losses from the reservoir will of course reduce the flow of the Nile. All this will of course impact agricultural and hydro-power water use in Egypt and Sudan. The dam would also have some beneficial effects on the countries downstream in terms of reduced flooding risk and reduced silt flows.
I believe that the problem is really complex and that a serious environmental impact assessment study should be undertaken, together with a cost-benefit analysis, before embarking in such project. Such large dam will completely modify the flow of the river and its impacts need to be studies before unforeseen damages occur.
Edwin Muchebve
Does Ethiopia benefit anything if don't constructing the dam? I think they stand to benefit more from the construction of the dam and their economy benefit in the process.
Since the dam is for hydro-power generation, water is always release for down stream use. The downstream areas can become flooded when flood gates are opened during the periods with excessive rains.
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