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Nile climate change

Leveraging climate change modelling to support Nile communities

Published on: 10 January 2023

Groundbreaking new analytical framework can help maximise and balance economic benefits for Nile countries.

The research led by The University of Manchester, and involving scientists from Newcastle University, has developed unique river basin modelling software which, for the first time, combines reservoir management, economy-wide performance, and artificial intelligence techniques to design adaptive plans for various climate change situations.

Published in Nature Climate Change, it reveals solutions that can provide greater economic benefits for the nations affected by the construction of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) - Ethiopia, Sudan and Egypt - when compared with a negotiated proposal.

The dam has triggered political tensions between the three countries, with negotiations yet to reach an agreement on how to fill the reservoir and on its operation during periods of drought.

Uncertainty exists about the impact of future climate change on the Nile’s economies and water-dependent sectors - this further complicates the frictions over the GERD, which have been ongoing since 2011 and remain unresolved as work on the dam nears completion.

Negotiations have not thus far considered the impact of climate change on the dam, and proposals for its management often result in economic gains for one country being prioritised to the detriment of the others.

The implications of climate change uncertainty for the Nile’s hydrology (for example, streamflow and irrigation demands) and the economies of the countries it flows through (for example, future economic development trajectory, population growth and climate policies) mean non-adaptive dam management could perform poorly especially when rules are designed based on current and past conditions.

Adaptive management plans involve short-term actions and adaptation mechanisms as climate change unfolds, and using such plans to manage the Nile’s infrastructure helps it to better cope with climate change uncertainty. Designing management strategies for large dams in such ways benefits from a multi-dimensional approach to encourage collaboration, identify efficient trade-offs and optimise economic performance.

Study co-author, Professor Hayley Fowler, Professor of Climate Change Impacts, Newcastle University School of Engineering, said: “This study emphasises how important it is to consider the whole set of uncertainties, from the impacts of global warming on rainfall patterns and extremes through to changes in socio-economic systems, when planning new investments in infrastructure and for the operation of existing systems. Using state of the art climate projections alongside modelling tools can help with this adaptive planning approach.”

Dr Nathan Forsythe, Research Fellow, Newcastle University School of Engineering and co-author of the study, added: “Climate change will impose difficult challenges, under a cloud of substantial uncertainty, for natural resources and infrastructure management in the coming decades. This study demonstrates how sophisticated decision support tools developed through multi-disciplinary processes can help to identify solutions that balance benefits and disadvantages across sectors and international borders thus charting viable pathways for coordination and cooperation rather than confrontation and conflict."

This new study, which uses unique joint river-system and economy modelling simulators coupled with artificial intelligence techniques, enables the estimation of economic and engineering performance metrics under various management plans and climate change projections. It reveals how several compromises exist which can improve performance for all three countries compared to the latest published proposal.


Basheer, M., Nechifor, V., Calzadilla, A. et al. Cooperative adaptive management of the Nile River with climate and socio-economic uncertainties. Nat. Clim. Chang. (2023).

Adapted with thanks from the University of Manchester

River Nile in Egypt

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