Ph.D. student is on a mission to study equitable water sharing on the Nile

Written by: Candice Allouch and Maria Gabriela Gonzalez

FIU Ph.D. student Mekdelawit Messay Deribe grew up in Ethiopia hearing about the Nile River and how it is such a crucial yet underutilized water resource.

Mekdelawit Messay Deribe

When life on the Nile was poised to forever change with the construction of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam in 2011, it became the source of Deribe’s inspiration to immerse herself in the water issues surrounding the river.

“Like every kid in Ethiopia, I grew up hearing in songs, stories, folklore and school how the Nile — Abay is its name back home — is our greatest resource; the beauty, the grace of Ethiopia, but also how we have not been able to use it, how it does not have a home at its source,” Deribe said. “So, there was always this dichotomous feeling of love and adoration for the Nile, as well as anger at not using our resource.”

Six years after the construction of the GERD began, Deribe found herself seriously researching Nile water issues and transboundary water use. She completed her master’s thesis on the subject and searched for Ph.D. programs that aligned with her passion. This is when she discovered FIU Institute of Environment and Department of Earth and Environment professor Assefa Melesse’s work on the Nile. It was a perfect fit.

Today, Deribe studies the long-term, sustainable and equitable use of transboundary waters specifically focused on the Nile Basin.

The Nile Basin is expected to be one of the most water scarce areas in the world in the near future, she explains, so it is especially important to study transboundary water sharing in this area. The current situation in the basin is complex. Deribe explains further that, although the Nile is shared by 11 countries, historical water sharing arrangements between Sudan and Egypt completely allocate the Nile water between these two countries, complicating the issue even more.

“The way we deal with utilization of the Nile drastically needs to change in the basin if we are collectively to have a sustainable future,” Deribe said. “My research is focused on finding ways to ensure that collective better future for the Basin.”

Deribe has been instrumental in supporting monthly, virtual Nile Talk Forums hosted by the Institute of Environment. She recently spoke on a panel at one of these forums, where she discussed the importance of transboundary collaboration in order to identify solutions for the equitable utilization of the Nile. She also presented her research at the annual FIU graduate symposium, earning third place for Outstanding Oral Presentation by a doctoral student.

“I feel like I have found my niche area – my calling in life – with researching and working on the Nile,” she said. “The Nile Basin has a long way to go in terms of ensuring equitable, long term, sustainable and climate proof use of the shared water for all the Nile Basin countries and citizens.”

“I believe there is a lot to be done in that avenue and I hope to contribute to that cause through my academic research and social advocacy. I love teaching, so I also hope to teach and give back to my country and people in a small way,” Deribe added.

Learn more about the Institute of Environment’s Nile Talk Forums.