A forum on the future of the Nile River Stephanie M. McPherson | Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering Friday, May 4, 2018

An international workshop at MIT proposed a new path toward resolving the seemingly intractable conflict over allocation of the Nile waters. In two days characterized by frankness, representatives from Egypt, Ethiopia, and Sudan acknowledged that a forward-looking resolution requires releasing the baggage of history and distrust.

“We reframed the problem,” says Elfatih A. B. Eltahir, the Breene M. Kerr Professor of Hydrology and Climate and Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering (CEE) at MIT. Eltahir steered the direction of the meeting away from discussions of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD), the controversial hydroelectric dam being built in Ethiopia. When completed, it will be the largest dam in Africa and will hold about 70 cubic kilometers of water. The project has stirred fears of restricted flow to downstream Nile countries.

“That’s a symptom of a conflict but it’s not the heart of the conflict. So we came down to the heart of the conflict: water security for Egypt … and development for Ethiopia,” he says.  

During the “The Future of the Nile Water” workshop on April 26 and 27, Eltahir outlined a proposal for a new agreement that addressed these major concerns. The new proposal calls for a sustainable, smart, equitable, and incremental approach toward resolving the Nile Water conflict. It also suggests methods to improve conditions along the Nile Basin by confronting issues such as unsustainable population growth, climate change, and slow adoption of agricultural technology.