(C) Ali Hegazy, Unsplash
Peace and conflict

Transboundary Basin // Water-Energy-Food Nexus Sustainability in the Upper Blue Nile (UBN) Basin

By Mariam M. Allam and Elfatih A. B. Eltahir. This paper presents a framework for optimal allocation of a river basin's land and water resources between rain-fed and irrigated agriculture and hydropower. This framework is applied on the UBN basin as a case study of a water-scarce transboundary basin with escalated conflicts between the stakeholder countries sharing its waters to help find win-win opportunities. The land-water allocation model finds significant potential for expanding rain-fed agriculture covering up to half of the basin area by adding soil enhancements. The model also finds that only three of the 11 irrigation schemes proposed in Ethiopia's master plan make economic sense and grow mostly sugarcane in these irrigated areas. There is a clear trade-off between expanding the rain-fed agriculture potential in the UBN basin and saving the water for hydropower production at the GERD. This trade-off can offer an opportunity for a win-win solution for the Nile conflict if the countries decide to cooperate in investing in an efficient rain-fed agricultural expansion in the basin and sharing the benefits and costs.

The Nile basin ecosystem is under stress due to rapid population growth, inefficient utilization of resources, climate change, and persistent conflicts among riparian countries. The Blue Nile is a major tributary of the Nile River and contributes about 60% of the total annual flow.

This paper presents a framework for optimal allocation of land and water resources in the upper Blue Nile (UBN) basin. This framework consists of two optimization models that aim to:

  1. allocate land and water resources optimally to rain-fed and irrigated agriculture, and
  2. allocate water to agriculture and hydropower production while maximizing the total net benefits.

The optimal agricultural expansion is expected to reduce the UBN flow by about 7.6 cubic kilometers, impacting the downstream countries Egypt and Sudan. Optimal operation rules for the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance dam (GERD) are identified to maximize annual hydropower generation from the dam while achieving a relatively uniform monthly production rate.

Trade-offs between agricultural expansion and hydropower generation are analyzed in an attempt to define scenarios for cooperation that would achieve win-win outcomes for the three riparian countries sharing the basin waters.


Frontiers in Environmental Science (open access)


January 2019


Front. Environ. Sci. 7:5. doi: 10.3389/fenvs.2019.00005

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Modelling and Assessment

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