Global Ethics Corner: Who Should Control Egypt's Water?

Jun 24, 2013

As Ethiopia continues construction on the Grand Renaissance Dam on the Blue Nile, Egyptian officials are worried about their water supply. Does Ethiopia have the right to affect another state's water? Should Egypt use military options if its supply is diminished?

For thousands of years, Egypt has relied on the Nile. The river supplies Egyptians with drinking water and irrigation for farming and has allowed its culture to flourish. But Ethiopia's massive Grand Renaissance Dam, currently under construction, could change this.

Tensions came to a head in late May when Ethiopia started diverting the Blue Nile, the source of 85 percent of Egypt's water, into a vast reservoir. In response, Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi said that he would leave "all options open" to protect his country's water. Later, during a meeting between Morsi and political leaders, that unbeknownst to them was being broadcast on live TV, some officials suggested arming anti-government rebels in Ethiopia or even bombing the dam.

A meeting between the countries' foreign ministers two weeks later temporarily calmed the situation. But the question remains: What exactly will the dam do to Egypt's water supply?

A report from a panel of 10 experts, which included Egyptians and Ethiopians, concluded that the dam "will not significantly affect" Egypt. The full report has not been made public, however. Other experts estimate that Egypt could lose up to 20 percent of its water in the three to five years it would take to fill the dam's giant reservoir.

But not all Egyptians see the Grand Renaissance as a potential disaster. They argue that the two countries should work together to build a dam that serves both their interests. Furthermore, Ethiopia is an independent nation and has every right to build infrastructures on its land. Some also wonder if Morsi's rhetoric is designed to distract Egyptians away from the country's many political and social problems.

What do you think? Could the Grand Renaissance Dam benefit both states? Should Ethiopia be allowed to affect Egypt's water supply? And does Egypt have the the right to use military options if its water supply is severely diminished?

By Alex Woodson

For more information see:

"Ethiopia discards Egypt threats over Nile dam," Al Jazeera, June 12, 2013

"Field Visit Report on the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam," International Rivers, January 31, 2013

Kirubel Tedesse "Egypt, Ethiopia Agree to Talks About Nile Dam," Associated Press, June 18, 2013

Griff Witte "Egypt sees Ethiopian dam as risk to water supply," The Guardian/The Washington Post, June 18, 2013

Mahmoud Salem, "Regarding the Dam," Daily News Egypt, June 3, 2012

Photo credits in order of appearance:
Rita Willaert
Challenge Program on Water
NASA Goddard Space Flight Center
Arno Meintjes
Marius Kluzniak
Blog do Planalto
Azani Manaf
Dietmar Temps
U.S. Department of State
UK Department for International Development
shaimaa ahmed saleh
Vyacheslav Argenberg
International Rivers
Stephen Johnson
European External Action Service
Lorenz Khazaleh
Gary Edenfield
Brooklyn Museum
Nora Shalaby

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