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Energy trades could resolve longstanding Nile River disputes

In the quest to resolve longstanding disputes over the Nile River’s resources, a novel approach has emerged, emphasizing energy trades as a potential pathway to peace.

The Nile River, spanning over 11 countries in East Africa, is not only one of the world’s longest rivers but also a crucial source of water, energy, and cultural wealth.

Traditionally, the competition for water has fueled tensions among these nations, particularly as the demands for water, energy, and food continue to rise.

Energy-water system for Nile river resources

Researchers at The University of Manchester, in collaboration with regional bodies, recently conducted a study that unveils an innovative solution. The research advances beyond the conventional water-centric strategies that have dominated discourse.

It presents a sophisticated simulation of the combined energy-water system, demonstrating how international energy trades could significantly mitigate conflicts over Nile water resources.

“Traditionally, water disputes in transboundary river basins like the Nile have been approached through a water-centric viewpoint,” said study first author Dr. Mikiyas Etichia. “However, sharing benefits of water resources, such as hydro-generated electricity, crops, and fisheries can result in a win-win situation.”

Core of the conflict

At the heart of the ongoing dispute is the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD), located on the Blue Nile River in Ethiopia. This monumental hydroelectric dam project is designed to significantly boost Ethiopia’s electricity production capabilities, which in turn could support the country’s ambitions to become a major electricity exporter to neighboring nations.

However, the dam’s construction and Ethiopia’s plans for its operation have ignited serious disagreements with Sudan and Egypt, both of which rely heavily on the Nile’s waters for their own agricultural and domestic needs.

The contention centers around how the dam’s operations will affect downstream water availability in these countries, leading to a complex tri-nation dispute over the equitable allocation and management of the Nile River’s resources.

Simulating solutions

The research team employed open-source technology to develop a simulator that encompasses 13 East African countries, including nations in the Nile Basin. The tool models potential energy trade agreements between Ethiopia, Sudan, and Egypt, offering a blueprint for cooperation.

By increasing electricity trade, these nations could concurrently address water shortages, augment hydropower output, minimize energy curtailment, and decrease greenhouse gas emissions.

“In the Nile Basin, energy-river basin benefit-sharing projects have been implemented in the past on a small scale,” noted Dr. Mohammed Basheer, a professor at the University of Toronto. “But detailed tools like the one presented in the paper can help create actionable large-scale proposals.”

Significance of energy trade for Nile river

“The energy trades tested in this study provide the countries a range of solutions that are likely in their national interest,” explained study co-author Professor Julien Harou.

The research emphasizes the importance of conducting additional assessments from governance and legal standpoints to effectively translate the proposed energy trade solutions into practical and sustainable resource management strategies.

This involves exploring the regulatory, policy, and legal frameworks that govern the use and sharing of resources among the countries in the Nile Basin. By addressing these critical aspects, it is possible to develop a comprehensive approach that not only leverages the benefits of shared energy resources but also ensures equitable and fair resource distribution.

Such strategies are essential for fostering long-term cooperation and stability in the region, as they help to mitigate potential conflicts and build a collaborative framework for managing the Nile’s vital resources.

Future negotiations

The researchers are optimistic about the potential uptake of their analytical tools, and the results thereof, in ongoing negotiations.

“We are hopeful the new analytical tools or their results will be taken up by the negotiating parties,” concluded Professor Harou, envisioning a future where these innovative approaches pave the way for lasting peace and cooperation in the Nile Basin.

The study is published in the journal Nature Water.


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