How the controversial Nile dam may repair Sudan’s floods

*:Not([hidden]): not (style) ~ *: not ([hidden]): not (style) {margin-top: 1rem;}]]>Image rightsGetty ImagesImage descriptionThis year the Nile in Sudan reached its highest level in living memory *: not ([hidden]): not (style) ~ *: not ([hidden]): not (style) {margin-top: 1rem;}]]>

In our series of letters from African journalists, Zeinab Mohammed Salih examines what Sudan thinks of Ethiopia’s controversial Nile dam.

Unprecedented flooding in Sudan that year resulted in the deaths of more than 100 people and affected 875,000 others.

Entire residential areas were destroyed while electricity and water supplies were cut when the Nile reached its highest level in living memory.

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

Ethiopia began construction of the dam in the northern highlands in 2011, from where 85% of the Nile water flows. This year the reservoir behind the dam began to fill up. If it is fully operational in a few years, it will become Africa’s largest hydroelectric power station.

But it has been controversial as Egypt, which lies downstream, fears the USD 4 billion (£ 3 billion) dam will severely restrict its access to water.

The negotiations, which have not yet been reached, are focused on how quickly the dam can be filled – and Sudan is stuck in the middle.

strong {font size: bold;} @media (maximum width: 599px) {. bHAJgM.bHAJgM {Font size: 16px; Line height: 20px;}} @media (minimum width: 600px) and (max -width: 1007px) {. bHAJgM.bHAJgM {Font size: 18px; Line height: 22px;}} @media (minimum width: 1008px) {. bHAJgM.bHAJgM {Font size: 16px; Line height: 20px;}} / * sc component ID: PicFooter-ugmt5p-0 * / .ikzIiH.ikzIiH {Padding-Top: 10px; Font family: Helvetica, Arial, sans serif;} / * sc component ID: PicQuote-s138d390-0 * / .eZwimE.eZwimE {Width: 45%! Important; Position: relative; Margin: 0; Line break: break word; Color: # 404040; Font size: 300; -webkit- flex: 1 0 auto; -ms-flex: 1 0 auto; flex: 1 0 auto;} / * sc-component-id: PicText-k82lbm-0 * / .itIXgb.itIXgb {font-weight: 100; font family: Helvetica, Arial, sans serif; Padding: 11px 0 25px 0;} .itIXgb.itIXgb p {border: 0;} @media (maximum width: 599px) {. itIXgb.itIXgb {Font size: 18px; Line height: 22px;}} @media (minimum width: 600px) and (maximum width: 1007px) {. itIXgb.itIXgb {Font size: 21px; Line height: 24px;}} @media (min- width: 1008px) {. itIXgb.itIXgb {Font size: 20px; Line-h 8: 24px;}} / * sc component ID: Quote__SVG-s1rj7ts5-0 * / .jBAUmy.jBAUmy {display: block;} / * sc component ID: RuleBreak__SVG-lfivii-0 * /. lazDte.lazDte {display: block;}]]>

With Mohammed Salih

Sudanese officials walk on a tight rope to avoid conflict. “

Zeinab Mohammed Salih
Sudanese journalist

According to Salman Mohamed, a Sudanese expert on international water law and policy, the Aswan Dam in Egypt shows how floods on the Nile can be effectively regulated.

“We have lost billions of pounds of people and properties, but look at Egypt – they haven’t lost a single seedling because they usually hold the flood in their high dam and we don’t have one, so the Ethiopian dam could have saved it all “, he said.

Sudan has eight dams on the Nile.

“But our dams are too small,” says Dr. Mohamed, member of the International Water Resources Association.

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

Security concerns

During intense talks about filling the dam and how much water it should release – which recently resumed under the auspices of the African Union – Sudan has tended to side with Egypt.

That stance has been taken under the government of former President Omar al-Bashir – and the generals who remain in the transitional government that now rules Sudan after the 2019 coup are strong allies of Egypt.

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

He said if it were destroyed it could damage the entire region, including the Sudanese capital, Khartoum – where the White and Blue Nile meet.

More about the mega dam:

  • How Trump “betrayed” Ethiopia via the Nile dam
  • Ethiopia’s pop stars hit the banks of the Nildamm
  • Egypt smokes as Ethiopia celebrates over the Nile dam
  • How the mega-dam of the Nile is filled

Indeed, Sudanese officials walk on a tight rope to avoid conflict.

That was not helped last week when US President Donald Trump said during a joint telephone conversation with the Sudanese and Israeli Prime Ministers about restoring relations between their countries that Egypt could “blow up” the dam.

Asmaa Abdallah, Sudan’s interim foreign minister until July, has always engaged in dialogue, it is the only solution.

Sudan wants a peaceful solution as it can see the benefits of the mega-dam – not just in terms of flood control, which is often a problem.

“Source of African Pride”

According to Dr. Mohamed will also allow Sudan’s dams to generate more electricity and buy cheap and clean electricity from Ethiopia.

He says there will also be three growing seasons – the moment the crops are harvested around October or November – but if the river is regulated, farmers can plant and water more frequently.

Image rightsAFPImage descriptionThe dam will allow farmers to be more profitable

In years of drought, when there is usually very little water, the dam would provide a supply.

Since Sudan uses only about 12 billion cubic meters, or 64% of the water it is entitled to annually under the 1959 treaty signed with Egypt to share the Nile’s resources, Dr. Mohamed.

Given that around 10 million people in Sudan are suffering from food shortages this year – partly caused by coronavirus lockdown measures – he can only see the long-term benefits of the megadam project, according to the UN.

Discover the Nile with 360 videos

In 2018, Alastair Leithead and his team traveled from the source of the Blue Nile to the sea – through Ethiopia and Sudan to Egypt.

The opinions on the streets in and around the capital are more in line with Ethiopia.

“We support them because we share feelings towards the Ethiopian people,” said Salah Hassan, a 44-year-old father of one whose house in Omdurman, the twin town of Khartoum, was partially damaged by the floods.

Mohamed Ali, a 37-year-old who lives in Khartoum North, sees it as a source of African pride – and a job opportunity for many.

“There are now millions of Ethiopians living in Sudan, but I think after the dam is built they will return to their country to work with many Sudanese,” he says.

“I support the dam 100% because any project that will benefit the African people will be great.

“The people in the Horn of Africa have suffered a lot and need such large development projects.”

But until the dispute over how Ethiopia’s dam is regulated, it remains troubling and worrying for those who live and farm on the world’s longest river.

More letters from Africa:

Follow us on Twitter @BBCAfrica, on Facebook on BBC Africa or on Instagram on bbcafrica

More on this story

Comments are closed.