Egypt is facing worsening water shortages as climate change brings more extreme heat and drought - and now many Egyptian farmers and climate change experts fear the new dam upstream will only exacerbate the threat. More widely, across much of the Middle East and North Africa, freshwater supplies are dwindling, in part as climate change impacts strengthen, and analysts fear rising tensions over shortages.
With limited supplies of freshwater, growing competition could push to the edge people already struggling with poverty, aging water infrastructure and poor water governance, said Iranian environmental scientist Kaveh Madani.
"Climate change ... makes water scarcer, dries up wetlands, and makes farming more challenging," said Madani, recently appointed incoming director of the Institute for Water, Environment and Health at the United Nations University. "This will, in turn, lead to unemployment, tension, forced migration and, ultimately, more conflict," he predicted.
Global temperatures have risen more than 1.2 degrees Celsius since preindustrial times and are now swiftly approaching a 1.5 C degrees of warming mark that scientists fear could herald a transition to far costlier and deadlier climate change impacts.
Egypt today has 560 m3 of water available per person each year, less than a third of the amount available 50 years ago, according to government data. That puts the country well below the 1,000 m3 per person the UN uses to define a country as water scarce.
Nearly all of Egypt's freshwater comes from the Nile and 85% of the country's share of the river is consumed by its agricultural industry - one reason many Egyptian farmers see the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam as a threat. When Ethiopia started to fill the reservoir for its $4 billion project in 2020, it said it aimed to finish in five years. Egypt has asked for a slower fill, over 10 years, to keep more water moving downstream.