As the crisis over the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam escalates, South Sudan has expressed its intention to build a new dam on the Nile River.
In an interview with The National newspaper on June 24, South Sudan’s deputy foreign minister, Deng Dau Deng Malek, said the government plans to build a dam to generate electricity and help prevent floods.
Commenting on the possibility that the new dam might ignite a dispute with Egypt, he said, “It's our sovereign right. But the Nile water is shared. This will be done in conjunction with Sudan, Uganda, Ethiopia and Egypt.”
Malek said South Sudan will fund the project with oil revenues in addition to foreign investments, mainly from China.
The spokesperson for the Sudanese Irrigation Ministry, Osama Abu Shanab, said in a June 24 press statement, “This is the first time I've heard of it. I have received no information on plans to build dams in South Sudan. They would have notified us if they had such plans. South Sudan will not implement plans to build dams on the White Nile without first notifying us and the Egyptians.”
Mamdouh Antar, head of Nile water affairs at the Egyptian Irrigation Ministry, said in televised statements June 26, “The Egyptian approach is to support South Sudan in any project as long as it does not affect Egypt’s share of the Nile water and does not prejudice its water resources.” He added, “There are close relations with South Sudan and there are several Egyptian projects currently being implemented there.”
“Egypt [is seeking] to help South Sudan in the Wau Dam project, which is located on the Siwi River, a main tributary of the Jur River in the Bahr al-Ghazal Basin,” Antar noted. "The Wau Dam’s goal is to generate 10.40 megawatts of electricity."
He explained, “This project aims to secure drinking water for about 500,000 people and supplemental irrigation for about 30,000 to 40,000 feddans.”
He added, “The project’s technical and economic studies were conducted with the assistance of experts from the National Water Research Center in Egypt.”
South Sudan’s announcement coincided with the five-day visit of Egypt's Minister of Irrigation and Water Resources, Mohamed Abdel Aty, to South Sudan on June 21.
On June 23, Abdel Aty inaugurated an underground water treatment plant built by Egypt in South Sudan's Lemon Mountain. He also inspected other Egyptian projects, including six solar-powered underground water treatment plants.
On June 26, Egypt and South Sudan signed a memorandum of understanding on a new project designed to reduce flooding in the Sudd swamp in South Sudan.
Egypt has been building up its presence in South Sudan through projects and economic assistance since Paul Mayom Akech, South Sudan’s former irrigation minister, announced in June 2013 that South Sudan will sign the Entebbe Agreement, which reallocates Nile water shares to the Nile Basin countries.
In November 2020, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi visited South Sudan for the first time. During the visit, the two countries signed several economic agreements, including a hydropower cooperation agreement on power generation projects.
Hani Raslan, an analyst of African affairs at Al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies, said that South Sudan’s plan to build a new dam on the Nile is illogical.
He told Al-Monitor, “Rainfall in South Sudan is extremely heavy, exceeding 500 billion cubic meters per year. Hence, this country does not need water and there is no need to build a dam on the Nile.”
The monsoon rains, which last for at least seven months a year in South Sudan, lead to significant flooding.
Raslan explained that the problem in South Sudan is that large wetlands hinder development and optimal use of land, water and natural resources in the country. That is why Egypt is undertaking dozens of projects to solve the problem, he added.
He further warned that South Sudan’s intention to build a dam echoes Ethiopia’s position on the GERD crisis that is threatening security in the region, and in Africa.
Abbas Sharaki, a professor of geology and water resources at Cairo University, told Al-Monitor, “South Sudan’s announcement that it would will a dam on the Nile River amounts to political blackmail to obtain more concessions from Egypt.”
He added, “South Sudan does not need dams for water storage due to the heavy rains and floods in the country. It needs power generation projects, which Egypt is implementing there.”
He explained, “Ethiopia's intransigence has encouraged some officials in the Nile Basin countries to follow in its footsteps when dealing with Egypt.”
Sharaki stressed, “Cairo will not stand idly by as dams are built on the Nile River. At the same time, it will not oppose any water project as long as it is not harmful” to its own water security.
“Egypt will not stand against building a dam on the Nile River in South Sudan, provided that the two countries coordinate with each other on the matter,” he concluded.