WATER WAR: How a Life-Sustaining Resource Goes Geopolitical

WATER WAR: How a Life-Sustaining Resource Goes Geopolitical

The controversy over the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam.

As part of its moves against Ethiopia’s policies related to the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD), Cairo continues to seek a Gulf role to place pressure on Addis Ababa and reach common understandings regarding the operation of the dam without damaging Egyptian interests in the Blue Nile, which supplies Egypt with 85% of its annual Nile River water share. Sisi’s moves come as Ethiopia prepares to begin the third filling of the GERD reservoir in a unilateral move that was rejected by the two downstream countries, Egypt and Sudan. Al-Monitor

By Andrew Richards (Strategic Futurist at dia-LOGOS and Director for the Institute for Strategic Foresight – ISF)


For many years, rumours of a future water war have been circulating. The premise of these warnings hangs on the analysis of global warming experts warning that if the dangerous phenomenon is not stopped or at least slowed, a future war over water is inevitable. Not only does it sustain human life, but without water all plant and animal life will cease to exist. Predictions of violent wars over this precious resource have already become evident in East Africa where the lake Chad basin has seen numerous clashes over the lifegiving water of the basin. Terrorist activities have also increased as a result, praying on the vulnerability of the people. The Lake Chad Basin, once one of the largest bodies of water on the African continent, was once a source of livelihood for up to 30 million people amongst the four nations sharing the basin. Chad, Niger, Nigeria, and Cameroon. Since 1960 however, a diminished water lever of up to 90 percent has seen millions leave, throwing those who choose to stay into life threatening conditions of poverty and widespread violence as nomadic tribes fight for the right to graze their cattle on the few remaining areas that are still sustained. According to the United Nations1, more than 10 million people need emergency assistance, with half of them struggling to access enough food for survival. A further 2.3 million people have been displaced as a direct result.


Another potential conflict over water is currently playing out between Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia. The mighty Nile River, the lifeblood of both Sudan and Egypt, is being threatened by the Great Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) being filled up in the North of Ethiopia. Egypt has accused Ethiopia of trying to cut off their water supply and have gone so far in showing their disappointment by filing a complaint with the United Nations Security Council. Ethiopia, who plans to begin a third filling of the GERD during the rainy season of Augusta and September, have since the inception of the dam in 2011, claimed that GERD project would not only generate green energy that would benefit the region, but that Egypt would actually receive more water as a result. Egypt, after independent studies, estimate that the filling of the GERD will cause water losses of between 12.7 and 46.24% in the agricultural lands of Upper Egypt. When taking into consideration, that in Egypt, up to 97% of freshwater comes from the Nile, it makes sense that Egypt would want to put a stop to the further filling of the dam. Even a reduction of a couple of centimetres in the Nile water level could spell disaster for millions of Egyptians that make use of its rich agricultural grounds along the Nile. Also, in the event of a dam wall break, the amount of water that would flood the Nile basin would not only cost the lives of thousands of people, but displace millions more.  As a result of the two opposing views, tension has risen between the two countries to the point where Ethiopia is necessitated to protect the GERD from possible Egyptian sabotage.

The African Report2, in May 2021, reported that Egypt appeared more than just disappointed in Ethiopia, and that it was considering military action. Pangea-Risk, a specialist intelligence firm providing analysis and forecasts on political, security, and economic risk in Africa and the Middle East, suggest Egypt, together with Sudan, might move towards a military solution in the near future, if Ethiopia continues to fill the GERD. During the first half of 2021, Egypt and Sudan conducted joint military drills to test their readiness in defending their rights to resources like water. Pangea3 suggests several military scenarios that include aerial raids by Egypt and operations by Sudanese ground forces but point out that Egypt does not have the capabilities for a long-range war. This however leaves open another scenario – proxy war. The war in Yemen, where the unofficially recognised war between Saudi Arabia and Iran is being fought is a possibility for Sudan. Already devastated by a civil war during the early 80’s and ethnic cleansing in Darfur that has caused the deaths and displacement of millions, a proxy war in Sudan could very likely spell total devastation for the Sudanese people.


Whether you believe in global warming or not, the fact that more and more conflicts are being fought over scares resources, should be a clarion call for the church. The unreached are often found amongst the most destitute and vulnerable within society, and during times of war or civil unrest, it is often those that need help most, that suffer. Together with Egypt, the Horn of Africa is home to more than 117 million unreached peoples. 77% live in Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia. If war breaks out over the Great Ethiopian Renaissance Dam the unreached will most definitely be impacted. In times of war, it literally becomes a race against time to bring the Gospel to the unreached who’s time to hear the good news shortens with every day.

Except for Sudan, both Ethiopia and Egypt represent large numbers of Christians that have an impact on the region. 47% of all Christians in the region come from these three countries. From traditional missionary receiving churches to missionary sending churches that are able to train their own and send them out with, many evangelical churches in Ethiopia are starting to turn the idea of foreign missions on its head. One example is the Ethiopian Evangelical Church Mekane Yesus that have sent 21 missionary families outside of Ethiopia. These families are funded from their own church and serve in Eritrea, Somalia, Chad, Mali an even as far away as Pakistan. The director of the church, Wondimu Game, claims that interest in missions have seen such a sharp increase that the church now has plans to send out a further 500 missionaries over the next 10 years. Egypt represents the largest body of believers in North Africa and the Middle East, and the church is strategically positioned to reach the Arab world and have been doing so for many years.

In Matthew 24 verse 6 Jesus tells his disciples that they will “hear of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not alarmed, for this must take place, but the end is not yet.” This is such an encouraging reminder that even though we hear of, or even experience war and rumors of war, there is still time left to share the good news of salvation through Jesus Christ. As Christian, we should listen intently to the news, and make a point of writing down and praying for all the countries at war. Our prayers should be in line with Jesus’s own prayer when he prayed his last on the cross “Father forgive them; for they know not what they do” Luke 23:34. It is the forgiveness of sin that separate Christianity from all other religions, and it’s a forgiven-driven perspective that is needed when believers look at people like Vladimir Putin and the Russian soldiers invading Ukraine. Only when believers recognise the same need for forgiveness, that the gospel can move forward. If war ever breaks out between Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia, it will be a prepared church that will be able to reap a harvest before the end.


1 Drying Lake Chad Basin gives rise to crisis. UN. 2019.


2 Ethiopia/GERD: What would push Egypt’s Sisi to resort to force? The African Report. May 2021.


3 Special Report: Egypt – Ethiopia war scenarios over disputed Blue Nile Dam. PANGEA-RISK. June 2021.




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