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Thursday, June 13, 2013

A possible technical solution involving GPS to the conflict over the Blue Nile dam in Ethiopia

Ethiopia is building several hydro-electric dams throughout the country in an effort to provide reliable electrical power to it's citizens, and to help generate income for the country by selling power to some of it's neighboring countries; including Sudan and Kenya as well as Djibouti.

The most contentious though is the current construction for the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) on the Blue Nile - which once constructed will be the largest dam in Africa, at a cost of 4.8B euros ($6.4B USD) and generating an expected 6,000MW.  The Blue Nile and the White Nile meet near Khartoum in Sudan to form the Nile which subsequently flows into Egypt.  The Nile is considered to be the longest river in the world and impacts multiple neighboring countries - the Blue Nile originates in Ethiopia from lake Tana.  The Blue Nile provides the Nile with 85 percent of it's overall resources so it's clearly an important tributary.  Egypt's 'war of words' over GERD oscillate between righteous indignation and outright threats over the building of the dam; with some Egyptian minsters actually going so far as to suggest air strikes against the structure.  So far Ethiopia is standing it's ground and as shown in the picture above, has already diverted the Blue Nile in preparation for building the dam - which is estimated to be 21% complete.  

Egypt is claiming historical and colonial-era treaties grant them 70 percent of the water supply (55 billion cubic meters of water per year), and consider any significant loss of their water rights to be a matter of national security for it's more than 84M population.  The Nile provides Egypt with 90% of all of their natural water resources. In May of 2010 five members of the Nile Basin Initiative signed a cooperative framework agreement to seek more water from the River Nile - a move strongly opposed by Egypt and Sudan.

In spite of the controversy, I suspect there will be a diplomatic set of solutions and compromises between all interested parties - as Egypt is an influential trading partner with Ethiopia, and throughout Africa and the Middle East.  However, part of that overall diplomatic solution could be a technical one.

By using an intelligent 'Internet of things' strategy, buoys could be placed at strategic locations before and after the dam to collect real time readings on several items like the depth of the river, the speed of water flow, air and water temperature, pH, etc - coupled with specific GPS locations of the buoy where the data is being collected.  This data could then be provided to all interested parties for near real-time analysis to help show compliance with any compromise agreements, or existing agreements in place regarding the responsible management of the Blue Nile's natural resources.  The data and subsequent analysis can be used to show when use of the dam may be needed to help mitigate potential flooding, but can also be used to show real-time shortfalls in water supplies to downstream entities - while providing ongoing historic data about seasonal water supplies within the Nile basin.