How the controversial Nile dam can fix Sudan’s floods

Monday, November 2nd, 2020 00:00 |
Omar al-Bashir
Omar al-Bashir.
Omar al-Bashir was overthrown last year.

Khartoum, Sunday

Unprecedented flooding in Sudan this year led to the deaths of more than 100 people and affected 875,000 others.

Entire residential neighbourhoods were destroyed while power and water supplies were disrupted when the River Nile recorded its highest level in living memory.

Some experts said that if the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam, upstream on the Blue Nile tributary, had been fully operational, the effect on Sudan would have been less disastrous.

Ethiopia started building the dam in its northern highlands, from where 85 percent of the Nile’s waters flow, in 2011 and this year the reservoir behind the dam started to fill.

When it is fully operation in several years’ time it will become Africa’s largest hydroelectric plant.

But it has been fraught with controversy as Egypt, which is downstream, fears the $4 billion dam will greatly reduce its access to water.

Negotiations, which have not reached a deal, are centred on how fast to fill the dam — and Sudan has been stuck in the middle.

Salman Mohamed, a Sudanese expert on international water law and policy, says Egypt’s Aswan dam shows how flood waters can be regulated effectively on The Nile.

“We lost people, and properties of billions of pounds, but look at Egypt — they haven’t lost a single seedling because they normally keep the flood water in their high dam and we don’t have one like that, so the Ethiopian dam could have saved all that,” he said.

Sudan does have eight dams on The Nile.

“But our dams are too small,” says Dr Mohamed, who is a fellow at the International Water Resources Association.

“Egypt has managed to use the flood water it collected for its agricultural projects in the desert.”

During fraught talks over the filling of the dam and how much water it should release — which recently restarted under the auspices of the African Union — Sudan has tended to side with Egypt.

This stance was adopted under the government of former President Omar al-Bashir — and the generals who remain part of the transitional government now ruling Sudan after the 2019 coup are strong allies of Egypt.

Sudan’s negotiator under Bashir, Ahmed El-Mufti, had also raised concerns about safety and security of the dam.

He said that if it was destroyed, it could damage the entire region, including Sudan’s capital, Khartoum — where the White and Blue Nile meet.

In fact Sudanese officials are walking a tight rope to avoid any conflict.

This was not helped last week when US President Donald Trump said — whilst on a joint phone call to the Sudanese and Israeli prime ministers about the restoration of their countries’ relations — that Egypt might “blow up” the dam. - BBC

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