East Africa & the Eastern Nile

The countries of the Nile basin are experiencing growing demands for, and deficits in, water, electricity and food, stemming from a rapidly growing population, economic development, and climate change. The area has significant development potential for water resources, renewable energy and agriculture, particularly in the eastern Nile, which generates approximately 86% of the annual flow of the Nile. However, the development potential and distribution of resources is highly variable, both spatially and temporally.

Well planned and managed infrastructure projects, such as dams, can help improve access to water, food, and electricity, and support equitable economic and social development. One of East Africa’s challenges is planning and managing infrastructure which balances the spatial and temporal trade-offs and synergies between interconnected systems and minimising the associated adverse social, economic, and environmental impacts.

The Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) is set to be the largest hydropower plant in Africa and exemplifies the challenge of realising the benefits of development, such as improved electricity access, whilst negotiating the implications for transboundary access to resources, i.e. the flow of water downstream. It highlights the importance of collaborative decision making and management of shared resources to avoid political tensions.

By working closely with regional partners and stakeholders to develop tools and produce research, FutureDAMS is helping to address these challenges, facilitate cross border understanding and support robust, evidence-based decision making for sustainable development.

Designing and assessing resource systems

FutureDAMS, together with the Eastern Africa Power Pool (EAPP) and Nile Basin Initiative (NBI), co-developed tools, models, and research that enable better planning and operation of the infrastructure and resource systems of East Africa. We are aiming to support sustainable, regional, collaborative decision making. Using an integrated approach, we studyied the Nile water resource system, the power systems of EAPP’s 10 focus countries in eastern Africa, and the macro-economies of Ethiopia, Sudan, and Egypt.

FutureDAMS has mapped the Nile River System and the EAPP power system for modelling the water and energy resources. We have integrated these water resource and power system models so stakeholders can simulate the two resource systems jointly, which provides a more realistic understanding of the implications of infrastructure investment and operation decisions. We linked the water and power system models with whole-economy models of some of the Nile Basin countries to simulate the economy-wide impacts of interventions in water and energy resource systems. The water-energy assessment toolset is provided on a web-based platform to facilitate stakeholder collaboration on modelling and decision making.

For more information on how the models were developed, visit our research pages:

Water resources simulation | Power systems simulation | Integrated assessment tools 

Decision making and social analyses

The politics research stream is examined how interests, institutions and ideas shape dam decision making in Ethiopia and the Nile Basin, focusing on three main research themes:

  • The political economy of the energy sector, the power-generation mix and distribution of electricity
  • The politics of building capacity in dam planning and operation
  • Decision making around dam location and design

FutureDAMS has published a series of working papers and journal articles, investigating the political drivers of development, the political economy of electricity generation planning and the boom in infrastructure, with a particular focus on Rwanda, Tanzania and Ethiopia. The publications also explore how new projects are planned and constructed, what holds back dam building and the changing rationales for building them.

The GERD dam has been the focus of two studies. Firstly, FutureDAMS researchers from the UK and Addis Ababa University explored the programme of resettlement of Gumuz communities whose home areas are expected to be flooded on completion of the dam. The findings are designed both to inform the GERD construction phase, and to encourage longer-term commitment and planning, once the dam is built, that would maximise shared benefits, in terms of social and economic development, locally, among the resettled Gumuz, and nationally and regionally. The second study investigated the risk of filling and operating the dam and the potenitial impacts of long -term drought using historical data. The researchers suggest near-term concerns about the impact of The Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) on water availability for Egypt and Sudan are unlikely to materialise, but drought preparedness will require careful coordination.

The agriculture and livelihoods team are researching irrigation schemes in sub-Saharan Africa and have published their findings on the performance of large-scale irrigation infrastructure. Schemes are consistently delivering a much smaller area of irrigation or are completely broken and there are no trends towards improvement. Future plans should be mindful of issues faced by previous schemes to avoid repeating the same mistakes.

You can explore the research, including our working paper and briefing series, by searching the East Africa and Eastern Nile publications page.


Nile Basin Initiative (ENTRO)

NBI ENTRO (Eastern Nile Technical Terional Office) was established “to achieve sustainable socio-economic development through the equitable utilization and benefit from the common Nile Basin water resources”.

Eastern Africa Power Pool 

EAPP works across 10 countries in Eastern Africa for “the optimum development of energy resources in the region and to ease the access to electricity power supply to all people of the countries in the Eastern Africa Region through the regional power interconnections”.

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Header image: NASA/JPL