Wars over resources have up-ticked post World War Two. Nations that sought to secure strategic interests have conflicted with oil, gas, and minerals—but a war over water could ensue along the Nile River.

Ethiopia and Egypt, two countries that have been in gridlock in Africa, have had several decades of conflict over the Blue Nile. This has heightened with the construction of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD). This conflict, which could become a war over water, wouldn’t be constrained to the region but could have global repercussions—something the United States must prepare for if it does.


The Nile River flows south to north, and eight different nations produce their agriculture from the basin. Egypt and Ethiopia, two countries who don’t ideologically align, had a lukewarm partnership as part of the Non-aligned Movement during the Cold War.

The last Ethiopian Emperor, Haile Selassie, had planned to create a dam to help the economically impoverished nation. Egypt would harshly criticize those plans, and successive autocrats, such as Abdel Nasser and Anwar Sadat, would quietly back rebel movements in Ethiopia to destabilize these plans.

In the mid-1970s, Emperor Haile Selassie was overthrown by the pro-Soviet Derg junta, who also planned to create a dam. Egypt and Sudan would continue to back movements that fought against the state. Due to Ethiopia’s drift into communism which simultaneously occurred when Egypt made peace with Israel, relations between Addis Ababa and Washington drifted while Cairo reaped the benefits.

Growing Conflict over the GERD

The Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam officially went through construction in 2011, which Addis Ababa has called an economic development project as it has created a plethora of jobs and energy for the nation. Cairo sees this as a threat to their economy and security as much of their country’s agriculture will depend on how much Ethiopia puts out along the Blue Nile.

The Nile River has historically correlated with Egypt’s hegemony over the region. It accounts for over 90% of the country’s water supply. With completion, the GERD will decrease the water flow to Egypt and Sudan while Ethiopia fills its portion. For Cairo, this would cause economic devastation, especially as their ever-growing and young population does not have great accessibility to jobs aside from irrigation.