Ethiopia’s GERD dam will make Egypt’s Nile delta sink under the Med, study says

It may be Ethiopia’s symbol of national pride, but the controversial Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) being built for hydroelectric power on the Blue Nile will have grave and unexpected consequences for its downstream neighbour, Egypt, according to a report published in the US.

The multi-year study of Egypt’s Nile Delta estimates that GERD could reduce the flow of water to Egypt by as much as 25%, restricting its fresh water supply and diminishing its ability to generate power.

These are already matters of contention between the two countries, but the study published by the Geological Society of America (GSA) flags up another, unexpected risk – that of the eventual submerging of parts of the low-lying Nile Delta region under the waters of the Mediterranean Sea.

In their paper published in the journal, GSA Today, Jean-Daniel Stanley and Pablo L. Clemente argue that GERD’s restriction of Nile-born silt onto the delta, combined with sinking of the delta due to natural seismic compaction, could mean that parts of delta surface now above sea level will be underwater by the end of this century.

The scientists call for some form of arbitration by regional or global bodies to be applied to the "delicate situation".

They worry, too, about the wider region, where some 400 million people live in the 10 countries along the Nile, with some now already experiencing severe droughts and unmet energy needs and "a multitude of economic, political, and demographic problems".


The soil-rich delta evolved as the result of natural conditions involving the Nile’s fresh water flow and transport of sediment northward from Ethiopia, across Sudan and Egypt to the Mediterranean.

About 70% of water flow reaching Egypt is derived from the Blue Nile and Atbara rivers, both sourced in Ethiopia.

It is hoped that rather than resorting to threats and military action, some form of arbitration by regional or global bodies be applied to the delicate situation– Geological Society of America paper

Over the past 200 years, rapidly increasing human activity has seriously altered flow conditions of the Nile. Emplacement in Egypt of barrages in the 1800s, construction of the Aswan Low Dam in 1902, and the Aswan High Dam in 1965 have since altered water flow and distribution of nourishing organic-rich soil in the delta.

Egypt’s population has rapidly swelled to about 90 million, with most living in the soil-rich Lower Nile Valley and Delta. These two areas comprise only about 3.5% of Egypt’s total area, the remainder being mostly desert.

Due to much-intensified human impact, the delta no longer functions as a naturally expanding fluvial-coastal centre.

Less than 10% of Nile water now reaches the sea, and most of the nutrient-rich sediment is trapped in the delta by a dense canal and irrigation system.

Already sinking

The low-lying delta plain is only about 1m above present sea level. The northern third of the delta is lowering at the rate of about 4-to-8mm per year due to compaction of strata underlying the plain, seismic motion, and the lack of sufficient new sediment to re-nourish the delta margin being eroded by Mediterranean coastal currents.

While the coastal delta margin is being lowered, sea level is also rising at a rate of about 3mm per year. Delta lowering and sea-level rise thus accounts for submergence of about 1cm per year.

At present rates, saline intrusion is now reaching agricultural terrains in central delta sectors, and the scientists say parts of delta surface will be underwater by the year 2100.

Ethiopia, itself energy-poor and undergoing drought conditions, is nearing completion of GERD, the largest hydroelectric dam in Africa.

The large reservoir behind the dam is to be filled over a period lasting up to seven years, during which it is expected that the amount of Nile flow to the delta will be reduced by as much as 25%, the scientists say.

This down-river decrease of Nile fresh water will produce "grave conditions", they add. 

Water and food shortages

Without GERD, the Nile supplies around 97% of Egypt’s present water needs, with only 660 cubic meters per person, one of the world’s lowest annual per capita water shares.

With a population expected to continue surging, Egypt is projected to experience critical fresh water and food shortages.

"It is hoped that rather than resorting to threats and military action, some form of arbitration by regional or global bodies be applied to the delicate situation," the authors write.

  • "Increased Land Subsidence and Sea-Level Rise are Submerging Egypt’s Nile Delta Coastal Margin", was written by Jean-Daniel Stanley, Senior Scientist Emeritus, and Pablo L. Clemente, Research Fellow, Mediterranean Basin (MEDIBA) Project, Smithsonian Institution, Washington DC. It is available to view here.

Image: The Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam, under construction on the Blue Nile, will be the largest hydroelectric power plant in Africa (

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  1. This is a very synical article trying to scapegoat the GERD for a problem that was in the making for centuries and has nothing to do with Ethiopia’s use of the Nile for power generation. If Egypt’s Nile Delta is sinking because of some geological and climatic phenomenon, which is the case for many coastal areas around the world, millions of Ethiopians are also suffering because of the same phenomena and the interests of both Ethiopians and Egyptians are better served if the article assigned the blame where it belongs.

  2. I read these kind of articles 6 years ago in Al-Masri, Ahram Online, when GERD was announced. These is a conspiracy theory and propaganda. As I know research is a systmatic studies whose finding are objectively written without biasing. So the article has no any significance on suspending or delaying the from completion of GERD. GERD will soon start to produce electricity. The stored water will be extensively used for irrigation for feeding our people for combating famine in Ethiopia . Egypt has no option except accept what Ethiopia has said so far. Bye NIle River, Baye Abay

  3. The study said different thing while you nitpick GERD. Read it again, Mr writer.

  4. It is really worrisome news to all Ethiopians, who they have been donating their blood,time,money ,energy and eagerness to see this flagship project of our beloved Ethiopia has been completed.what further escalates our concern this study paper is where they have been so far? Furthermore, we Ethiopians would like to hear the study reports on the dam from France firms that had formerly been appointed on the joint agreement with Ethiopia,Egypt and Ethiopia.

  5. Dear GCR Staff,
    What the hired researchers have said is”Increased Land Subsidence and Sea-Level Rise are Submerging Egypt’s Nile Delta Coastal Margin”. They explained various factors. They didn’t say ‘Ethiopia’s GERD dam will significantly make Egypt’s Nile delta sink under the Med, there are a number of built dams in Egypt and the Sudan that have already blocked the siltation process from reaching the coastal margins.

    I think your GCR staff totally misunderstood the content of this research or deliberately misrepresented the facts. If it is the later, It is a messy geopolitical football in the name of Environmental Science.

    Thank you

  6. This is complete bulls**t pseudo- research funded by stupid Egyptians. No one will stop the GERD.

  7. Sediment had already stopped flowing to delta even before the construction of GERD by serious of dams in Egypt such as aswan high dam and serious of barrages and weirs, also dams in Sudan.

    The article explains Egypt’s delta is already sinking and the casuse of its submergence is mentioned “Increased Land Subsidence and Sea-Level”. However, the so called ‘researchers?’ blame GERD in Ethiopia for the delta submergence while non of the causes are related to it. The ‘researchers?’ further recommend the dialog before militarily action.

    The article is rubbish at its best which doesn’t convince even the funder (Egypt) let alone the wider reader!

  8. The study looks too superficial and dubious for a very sensitive geopolitical issue at hand. When Egypt decided to build the Aswan high dam, the fertile silt that was flowing to the Nile Delta has been effectively trapped in the Aswan dam and Egyptian farmers in the Nile Delta have been forced to use inorganic fertilizers. What the GERD ( or any dam to be built in the future in Ethiopia or Sudan) is going to do is to stabilize and regulate the amount of water flow through out the year and reduce the silt flow to the Aswan high dam and prolong the useful life of the same dam. In addition Sudan and Egypt are going to have additional reservoir of 79 billion Cubic meter water with out incurring any cost that will safeguard the continuous flow of water to both countries during any future major draught in Ethiopia. Imagine the recurrence of the biblical proportion of draught of seven years that caused the Nile to dry and the 1984/85 draught in Ethiopia that killed more than a million Ethiopians but did not affect Egypt due to the water stored in the Aswan dam . It is a recorded recent historical fact that the depth of the water in the Aswan dam was dangerously reduced during the 1984/85 draught but it was only Ethiopia that was hit hard. Based on the above facts Ethiopia, Sudan and Egypt can work together for mutual benefit. The only issue that may affect Sudan and Egypt is the filling time of the GERD but this is purely a technical issue that could be discussed, agreed and its implementation jointly monitored during the agreed filling period. The Ethiopian, Sudan and Egypt people are one family and are destined to live together, no outsider is more knowledgeable than their own experts that have been jointly working together and I recommend the three countries not to loose their focus and agree urgently on the filling period with joint monitoring mechanism. We need more dams in Ethiopia, Sudan and Egypt and more economic integration among these three sisterly/brotherly old civilizations. Temptation for zero sum game or sabotage will only result in the misery of our people and all Africans. I love the people of Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia and it is my prayer that this issue is agreed and closed as soon as possible. My dream is to see the three countries linked by water, road and railway in addition to the Air link and the Ethiopia Sudan road we have as of today. We need more joint historical and archeological studies that uncover the shared, thousand of years history of, these three nations.

  9. Very interesting read. Water shortages will drive further political instability in the region.

  10. I don’t know why Ethiopian’s development is a pain in the ass for some Egyptians.
    The thing you should know is:-
    1. Ethiopian authorities played a good game of mobilizing people and has already made them believe that the day after the inauguration of the dam, the land will be full of milk and honey. For the poor nation, you don’t know what this means!
    2. If that is the case, then the government can easily mobilize the people to move against every step of Egypt. That is why the government blames Egypt and use it as a escaping goat when people revolt against it, and it works to convince the many illiterate people of Ethiopia.
    3. So it is a matter of live and death for Ethiopians if Egypt try and other step and Egypt will probably be finished like Somalia who invaded Ethiopia and later collapse to this day.
    4. Many Ethiopians have been told so much negative about Egypt so they can easily come together against Egypt, which is a more divided country at this point in time.

    I suggest:
    – Ethiopia and Egypt work together and benefit together rather than using the nile as a political agenda.
    – And the authorities in both country must remember that they can never come to the same point 100%, but can maximize the benefit by continuous bilateral research and hard work for the benefit of the many poor people of the nile.
    – I tell the Ethiopian government not to play the dam’s politics for its devastating human and democratic abuses as a cover against the peoples’ struggle to achieve them.
    – I tell the Egyptian government not to be full to stop or do anything contrary to the Ethiopian plan. You should be smart enough to negotiate now than before it is too late. You have chance now but not in a hard way. You have no any power to do anything. Remember the water flows from Ethiopia and in the worst case, Ethiopia can do anything to harm Egypt. Don’t play with fire.

    Thank you,

  11. I read the article with patience and I was surprised that the research concludes in such a biased manner. Long time ago (probably before the start of the GERD), the hot debate was that the soils which are carried by the Nile (Abay) are a threat to downstream countries’ dams and agricultural areas. Now the exact opposite is surfaced in that the silt (soil) which is carried by the Nile (eroded from Ethiopian Mountains) is valuable to the lowed delta, and so much more. This is really a contradiction and groundless. Suppose Ethiopia covers its mountains and high slopes with vegetation and no soil (little soil) is eroded and carried by the Nile to the lowed delta. And the hypothesis which is now based on false premises will disallow Ethiopia to cover its land with vegetation! What a hypothesis!! Really little and silly from the science perspective.

  12. Fake science base exaggeration is very worrying as President Trump is now worried on Fake News. Do not apply this to Ethiopia.

    First water and sediment reaching to the Delta was dramatically reduced due to High Aswan reservoir long-time ago (13 billion/m3 annual evaporation from Aswan reservoir, and extensive irrigation etc).

    Second basically all-sediment is settled in high Aswan dam reservoir, do not blame GERD for sediment reduction.

    As usual you blame global worming if at all your theory of climate change is true.

    To conclude Ethiopia will develop its shared Nile water resources within Equatable and reasonable bound without causing significant harm on the rightful water uses of the Nile riparian countries.

  13. The original article appeared on the GSA Today is pervasive in its nature and needs a separate reply. The decrease of the Nile river water flow to the upper Nile delta and to the Mediterranean sea as well as the arrest of the fluvial salty clay, way before it reaches the Nile Delta, was first and foremost caused by the agricultural, and industrial need of Egypt itself. Egypt constructed different structures and Dams in 1861, 1902, 1930. The last, and big one, being the Aswan High Dam built from 1960 on with the capacity to hold three years of Nile river flow at the Mouth of the Aswan Dam. These river water regulating dams by Egypt itself had stopped the flooding of the Upper Nile delta since early 1970, at the completion of the Aswan High Dam. The absence of silt/clay sediment and seasonal flooding mentioned in this article is actually happening in the last 45 years, since 1970. One have to take a note that the Egyptian population number increased from around 10 million (around the year 1900) to over 93 million in 2016; while this happens the total amount of available fresh water volume which shall flow and reach the Mediterranean sea had constantly decreased over time–to benefit more farming than the natural ecology of the river system. The problem stated above is a direct policy result of Egypt itself, and has nothing to do with Ethiopia or its intention to build a hydroelectric dam.
    As far as the Ethiopian GERD dam is concerned:
    1) different discussions and research papers had shown that the Volume-amount of Blue Nile river leaving the Ethiopian boarder (once the GERD is fully operational), flowing towards the Sudan, will be unchanged and remains the same.
    2) The evaporative loss due to the GERD dam is compensated by the saving of the plain flooding in the Sudanese Blue Nile State.
    3) the flow of water to Egypt will not be reduced by as much as 25% as claimed by the author for ever; this flow reduction is only while filling the dam. If one calculates with 25% of Blue Nile total flow, then total needed filling time will be only four years.
    I wish the Egyptian government, the only responsible government which caused the problem in the first place, shall develop a sustainable agricultural and ecological fresh-water use management plan in the foreseeable future and help mitigate the complications and challenges around the River Nile mouth.

  14. the staff GCR : i think your company fake scientist based and those company collects multi fake scientists. b/c world wide problem due to global warming causes ice to melt and rises water level so how can you relate our Grand Renaissance Dam .those the so called scientists may get their share of bribery. We Ethiopians are doing our best to prosper our nation with responsible manner for our neighbors. any ways any body talk to 1000000000000000000000000000000000000000000…………………………….. But we are running.
    Grand Renaissance Dam our blood ! thank you.

  15. I am surprised by the barrage of attack towards this study by TPLF cadres. And then again, I shouldn’t be. The regime has hired attack dogs for this purpose.
    This has all along been a political project carried out without any environmental impact statement.
    These scientists are being accused as being funded by Egypt without presenting an iota of evidence. Why attack without verifying?
    The TPLF will not be able to mobilize the Ethiopian people using the GERD. The people have seen through the TPLF diversions. This study is alarming for Egypt and a source of insecurity for Ethiopia. Your neighbor has to sleep in order for you to sleep.
    The TPLF is causing trouble for Ethiopians everywhere.

  16. Still waiting for some reply from the Chartered Institute of Building. First impression is that the “staff” who wrote the article had no idea of what the issues were/are and were completely wrong in their interpretation. C’mon fellas fess up.

  17. No matter what Egypt and its like said the dam is about to be completed
    any treat against the GRED is a direct treat the aswan dam the ticking bomb

    GRED is the fist there will be 100 dam to fellow Ethiopia is a free county it can do what benefit the people of Ethiopia End of Story

  18. New Orleans is all so sinking below sea level as we speak. I think the Ethiopian GERD project is solely responsible!

  19. These kinds of study findings and reports are not just bogus but outright dangerous, if nothing else in their intentions. Lets talk about some of the big cracks in the report and then it will be clear about the intents behind the report.
    The report says some parts of the delta will be submerged by the end of the century. It didn’t indicate what exact size of the delta or if it will be a significant size.
    The report says the GERD factor added parts of the delta will be covered by the sea, by the end of the century, i.e., after 100 years. are only 1meter higher from the sea-level. And they told us the submersion is already happening 1cm a year before the coming of the GERD. Just at this current pace, counting out the GERD effect if any, the 1 meter height will be eaten up all in exactly 100yrs. This report is just flagging GERD for geological and climatic factors that were at work for bibilical times.
    The other point it has mentioned with emphasis is the reduction of water volume reaching Egypt after the completion of GERD. And that is where you really get a sense of what the intent of the report is. The message of the report appears to stem out of a genuine concern for the environment, not of water politics such as the rationings and apportionments and sorts. First of all, the reduction happens only in the filling time. And if Ethiopia continues goes ahead with its 7yr plan, the reduction rate will be only 14% not 25% as claimed by the report. And Egypt and Ethiopia can negotiate on cutting reasonable fiĺling duration. If for example, the filling period is stretched to 10 yrs instead of the initial plan 7yrs, the reduction rate will be lowered more. And Egypt can çompensate financially the energy loss Ethiopia will have sustained as a result of the delay of the filling. One more point about the cynical intent of the report is this: while its central message rings a bell of loud alarm on the delta sink, it also warns about water flow reduction. This is a total mislocation of head and tail as significant reduction water to the sea at the same time delays the sink of the delta, which is the central concern of the researchers.
    Finally, there is important point raised in the report about which I want to say a worrd or two. Environment advocacy reports are supposed to show the environment hazards and suggest recommendations of prevention or mitigation and stop there. But this report goes a great length out of its way and advices on better political options: military actions or regional arbitration?
    We get it. We see you people. How on earth is a study on the risks of delta sink, which obviously is the work of the climatic factor and the Aswan Dam, invoke Gerd as an issue for the submersion, jump ovee the couch to advocate on water share issues and parachutes itself to conclude advising to embrace regional arbitration or the alternative will be a military action?
    We see you people!

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