Rivers as Weapons

Videographic Essay in Collaboration with Chris Bennett and Conner Maher

This video was produced for the ‘DES 3241 : Theories of Urbanism, Landscape, Ecology’, a course taught by Pierre Bélanger at Harvard University Graduate School of Design in the Fall 2013.


The Nile represents more than the longest river in the world. At 660 kilometers, and spanning ten countries, the watershed is a life source for 437 million people. Until recently, the Nile has been controlled by Egypt and Sudan in colonial era agreements that completely disregarded their upstream counterparts. Since 2010, the political instability in Egypt has granted the opportunity for any country along the Nile River to act independent of the consequences from the previous regional hegemony. The Renaissance Dam, currently under construction in Ethiopia, is beginning to change the dynamics of power along the Nile River Basin.

Upon the completion of the Renaissance Dam, Ethiopia will be in a position in to control the Nile’s flow, and ultimately the water resources of their downriver counterparts. Due to the highly controversial nature of this project, the World Bank has declined to provide any direct funding. However, realizing the potential economic benefit, a wide range of various companies and countries have become involved. With its estimated cost of almost $5 billion USD and Ethiopia’s strong reliance on external sources for financial and technical assistance, the influences that can be exerted will have potential to control more than just the construction of the dam.

A comprehensive environmental or social impact assessment of the Renaissance Dam has yet to be produced. While a team of International, Ethiopian, Sudanese, and Egyptian experts have conducted a yearlong study; these results have yet to be publicly published. When the reservoir fills, 1,680 sq km of forest will flood with approximately 13,000 people needing to be resettled. There been no analysis produced on how this will alter the flow of the Nile River, the sole water source Egypt is reliant on, or amount of sediment build up in one of the most erosion-prone places on earth.