OPINION: Does Ethiopia want to resolve the Grand Renaissance Dam crisis?



Thu, 16 Apr 2020 - 02:03 GMT


Thu, 16 Apr 2020 - 02:03 GMT

Ethiopia's Grand Renaissance Dam is under construction on the Nile River in Guba Woreda, Benishangul Gumuz Region, Ethiopia, Sept. 26, 2019.  REUTERS/Tiksa Negeri

Ethiopia's Grand Renaissance Dam is under construction on the Nile River in Guba Woreda, Benishangul Gumuz Region, Ethiopia, Sept. 26, 2019. REUTERS/Tiksa Negeri

CAIRO – 16 April 2020: Ethiopia claims that Egypt is an intransigent country that refuses to allow Ethiopia to exploit its own water resources and build dams with the aim of achieving development and generate electricity for the poor Ethiopian population deprived from services. Furthermore, Ethiopia claims that under the previous regime the relations between both countries were full of problems and it witnessed lack of cooperation and provoking internal unrest, while the truth is that Ethiopia realized great gains during this period, as Egypt turned a blind eye to the construction of the Tekeze Dam on Atbara River, in addition to the construction of the Tana Beles tunnel on the Blue Nile in order to generate electricity and cultivate vast areas of Ethiopian lands.

Egypt also agreed that the Nile Basin Initiative would fund the preparation of a pre-feasibility study of four major Ethiopian dams on the Blue Nile (Karadobi, Beko-Abo, Mandaya and Border) with a total capacity of 140 billion cubic meters or nearly three times the annual yield of the Blue Nile and to expand the agricultural land by about one million Feddans. 

In 2008, Egypt agreed that the World Bank would fund the feasibility study of Border Dam with an estimated capacity of 14 billion cubic meters. It is worth noting that after the Egyptian revolution in January 2011, Border Dam was replaced by GERD (Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam) after increasing its capacity to 74 billion cubic meters, and Ethiopia undertook unilaterally the design and construction of GERD without notifying the downstream countries or consulting them about its negative impacts and risks.

This Ethiopian behavior towards Egypt in regard to the GERD has been always characterized by seizing opportunities and evading any obligations imposed by the international law, noting that no other country in the world pursued this approach except Turkey by building the Ataturk Dams, during the period of Iraq’s preoccupation with its war with Iran, this dam deprives Syria and Iraq of most of their historical water share.

Similarly, Ethiopia took advantage of the turmoil and the internal struggles in Egypt during the January Revolution in 2011 and laid the foundation stone of the GERD and announcing the beginning of its construction even before performing the necessary studies. In spite of this, Egypt willingly entered negotiations over the dam with Ethiopia and accordingly an International Panel of Experts (IPoE) was formed, a few months later, in order to assess the Ethiopian studies of the dam, and share the results with the three countries. Nevertheless, Ethiopia requested that the experts' report will be consultative and not binding.

By the end of May 2013, the IPoE issued its final report which stated that there are many important observations regarding the constructional designs as well as the hydrological, environmental and socio-economic studies of the dam and therefore had to be re-prepared.  In order to consider the recommendations of the IPoE, two meetings of the Water Ministers of the three countries were held during the months of November and December 2013 where both Ethiopia and Sudan agreed that it would be sufficient to form a committee of national experts from the three countries with the aim to supervise the implementation of the IPoE’s recommendations, while Egypt called for the participation of international experts in the committee to ensure impartiality.

Unfortunately, the two meetings failed to achieve their objectives and Egypt was forced not only to waive its demand, but also to accept the Ethiopian request ‘not to conduct dam safety studies through the committee’.  The meetings continued to select an international consultant to conduct the required studies without any results on the ground, even after the three countries signed the Declaration of Principles in March 2015. 

In 2016, the three countries agreed to contract two French consultancy firms (according to Ethiopia's desire).  The consultant submitted the inception report, but Ethiopia rejected it and suggested forming a scientific committee that comprises academics from the three countries in order to work instead of the consultant!!  Egypt went along with the Ethiopian request, which intended to exclude the participation of any international experts who might condemn the Ethiopian side for the massive repercussions of the dam on Egypt and Sudan.

The scientific committee did not succeed to reach any agreement between the three countries, and Egypt announced the failure of the negotiations and resorted to requesting for international mediation. The United States of America with the World Bank agreed to supervise the negotiations with a view to reach an agreement concerning the dam filling and operation rules. Consequently, serious scientific and technical negotiations took place through several sessions where dam filling and operation rules were agreed upon under the different hydrological conditions of the Blue Nile.

However, disagreements emerged on both the operation rules during the average flood of the Blue Nile and how to settle disputes that may arise during the filling or operation of the dam, as well as the means of coordination and application of the rules agreed upon in this agreement. The United States and the World Bank drafted a compromising agreement regarding these differences in order to be discussed during the last round of negotiations.

Egypt signed the agreement in initials, while Ethiopia was absent from this meeting under false pretenses, then it refused to continue negotiations under the American and World Bank supervision.

The Ethiopian behavior of assuming absolute sovereignty over its resources, including the shared international rivers, is a public policy applied with its neighboring countries Kenya and Somalia, a clear example is the case of the Omo River shared between Ethiopia and Kenya where Ethiopia had constructed a series of dams to generate electricity, cultivate large areas of sugar cane, and build sugar factories without taking into account the interest of Kenya.  The Omo river has historically been flowing into one of the most beautiful African lakes "Lake Turkana" in Kenya, a habitat for rare wild animals and a source of fish wealth, drinking water and agricultural water for the local people. The river dried up which drove its local population to immigrate and abandon the lake due to its deterioration.

Similarly, Ethiopia built a series of dams on the "Ganale Dawa” river, which is the source of the Juba River that flows into Somalia and into the Indian Ocean, causing great problems for the citizens of Somalia, taking advantage of the instability conditions in this sister country.

In recent weeks, Ethiopia revealed its true direction after 9 years of fruitless negotiations by declaring that any upcoming discussions should include allocating an Ethiopian water share from the Blue Nile, through the application of the rules stipulated in the Cooperation Framework Agreement, which is also called the Entebbe Agreement, neglecting the fact that both Egypt and Sudan are not part of this agreement and have concerns on it. Furthermore, Ethiopia has no hydrological relationship (from far or near) with the countries of the Equatorial plateau. 

Last but not least Ethiopian recently announced the reduction of the number of turbines in the GERD to be 13 instead of 16, so that the capacity of the power station is less than 5,000 megawatts, thus reducing the maximum water discharge of the dam by about 20% which will have negative impacts on Egypt and Sudan. It is worth noting that this new power capacity could have been produced through the construction of a smaller dam of no more than two-thirds of the current dam's capacity, which confirms that the real goal is to build the largest possible dam to block water from Egypt until it has to agree to a compulsory water share for Ethiopia. 

So, after all of the previously mentioned encounters, and after the fact that Ethiopia has unilaterally announced that it will start filling the GERD this coming July, what guarantees does Egypt have that prove the seriousness of any further negotiations with Ethiopia?

Dr. Mohamed Nasr El-Din Allam

He is a former Minister of Water Resources and Irrigation in Egypt and a professor of water resources at the Faculty of Engineering, Cairo University.



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