Biden changes tack on Ethiopia’s Grand Renaissance Dam as 2023 end date confirmed

The US State Department announced on Friday that Washington may decouple a pause in aid to Ethiopia with work on the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD), the largest and most controversial hydropower project in Africa.

Spokesman Ned Price told reporters that President Joe Biden’s administration would review policy on the 6GW GERD and would look to renew US efforts to mediate the long-running dispute between Ethiopia, Sudan and Egypt over the dam’s impact on the Blue Nile’s water flow.

“We continue to support collaborative and constructive efforts by Ethiopia, Egypt and Sudan to reach an agreement on the GERD,” Price said, reports Reuters. 

The Trump administration paused $272m in aid to Ethiopia after determining that the country had broken a US-brokered agreement to resolve the dispute.

Ethiopia began filling the dam’s reservoir last year, despite demands from Egypt and Sudan that it first reach a definitive agreement on the dam’s operation.

Ethiopia sees the dam as necessary for its drive to industrialise, and as a symbol of national pride: much of the money for its construction was contributed by small donations from the population.

Egypt, on the other hand, views the dam as an existential threat, since the country is almost entirely dependent on rainfall in the Ethiopian highlands, which reach it through the Blue Nile.

Meanwhile, Seleshi Bekele, Ethiopia’s minister for water, said that the dam was now 78% complete, and would be operational by its revised deadline of 2023. 

The minister made his announcement following the successful completion of the first round filling. The second is to be held during the coming rainy season, beginning in July 2021.

Work on the GERD, which is being managed by Italian contractor Webuild (formerly Salini Impregilo)  has been underway since 2011. The project has been beset by a number of diplomatic and organizational problems (see further reading).

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