The Damming of the Life giving waters of Ethiopia and the rest of the Horn of Africa. This process is menacing the existence of the inhabitants of the region by drying the sources and lakes like Turkana, Rivers- Omo, Tekesze,Nile, Shebele, Awash...menacing countries like Egypt. The main reason advertised for damming is for production of Electricity and exporting energy. The underling reason is to the irrigation for the great land grabbing for cash crop exportation for finical speculators.
For decades, Ethiopia has been viewed through the lens of extreme poverty, political instability and starving children. But this perception is expected to change once the construction of the controversial Grand Renaissance Dam on the Nile River is complete.
The dam, which has been under construction for the last six years, covers about 150 square kilometers and is expected to generate close to a third of UAE’s energy output. It is one of the largest dams in the world, costing more than 10 billion Ethiopian birr.
Once completed, the dam will guarantee the people of Ethiopia sufficient water supply and a steady source of energy. Majority of Ethiopians are optimistic that perennial droughts and power outages in the country will soon be a thing of the past.
But while Ethiopians are celebrating, some of their neighbors are worried about the mega project. For instance, the Egyptian government argues that the water reservoir will disrupt the flow of River Nile thereby affecting the livelihoods of millions of people who depend of the river for survival.
A major diplomatic row between Egypt and Ethiopia over this project has been simmering since its conception six years ago, with the former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak at some point considering a military action against Ethiopia.
Experts have also voiced their concerns over the possible long-term impact of the dam on people living downstream. At the moment, over 70 percent of the population in Egypt and Sudan heavily rely on River Nile for farming and water supply. Studies show that Egypt gets at least 60 percent of its water from the Nile.
Aside from the fear of a major disruption of the flow of River Nile, Sudan and Egypt are also concerned about the set time frame of filling the reservoir. They argue that the shorter the time taken to fill the dam, the greater the effect of reduced water flow downstream.
A recent study by the University of Yale revealed that the dam will take five to 15 years to fill.
The Ethiopian Grand Renaissance Dam. Photo credit: Ventures Africa
According to Haytam Awad, the former head of Irrigation Engineering and Hydraulics Department at Alexandria University, the filling of the Grand Renaissance Dam by Ethiopia before the completion of technical studies done by international consultancy firms would amount to a contravention of Article V of the Agreement on the Declaration of Principles on the project signed between Egypt, Sudan, and Ethiopia.
Ethiopia maintains that once the dam is full, the flow of water downstream will normalize, but Egypt and Sudan are worried that years of reduced water flow might have an irreversible impact on their populace.
It is also uncertain how Ethiopia plans to achieve the targeted electricity output, with some experts arguing that the 6,000 megawatts may be hard to realize without peak water levels. It therefore means that the company in charge of the reservoir will be forced to keep it at its highest levels all year round.
The Way Forward
On its part, the Ethiopian government is certain that the Grand Renaissance Dam will be of great benefit to the people downstream as it will serve as a supplementary upstream reservoir with a more reliable flow from the Nile. But it has to be properly managed to avert possible bursts that might cause flooding in Sudan and Egypt.
Already, the three countries have formed a committee called the National Tripartite Committee to discuss the rules and regulations of the first filling of the reservoir, yearly operational rules and how to mitigate the possible negative effects of the dam.
Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam. Photo credit: All Africa
The only thing remaining now, before the filling can commence, is the impact assessment report from a study being conducted by several international consultancy firms. Unfortunately, parties involved in the study have often disagreed on various implementation procedures, making it difficult for the committee to reach a timely conclusion.
Notwithstanding the back and forth and counter accusations between the various stakeholders, the three countries have to sit down and agree on the best way to make this project beneficial to everyone while minimizing its negative impact.
Fredrick is a Kenyan journalist with years of experience in freelance writing. Before joining Face2FaceAfrica, he worked as a web content writer for various local and international corporations including 4 Wheel Online, Web Partner Group, Wedding Services Kenya, and Decadent Daylilies. He is also an avid blogger, political commentator and human rights crusader.
Egypt’s Ministry of Irrigation and Water Resources said on Sunday that the Ethiopian government will not fill the reservoir of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) until the end of this year, state-owned media reported.
According to the ministry, filling the reservoir during this year’s flood is not possible depending on the technical data, due to constructive standards in the body of the dam. The notable decrease in water amount in some Egyptian governorates is normal in this time of the year due to the rise of demand on water for agriculture, the ministry said.
Minister of Water Resources and Irrigation Mohamed Abdel Aty told state-owned Al-Ahram that Ethiopia did not start filling the reservoir of the dam yet, pointing out that about 60% of the construction of the dam has been finished. He also stressed that the declaration of principles which was signed between Egypt, Sudan, and Ethiopia organises the first filling of the dam, storing, and management, and the process depends on coordination between the three countries.
This is the second time the ministry denies that Ethiopia started filling the dam. The controversy took place on 10 July following local media reports publishing satellite images showing water around the dam.
Construction of the GERD started in April 2011. However, Egypt has expressed concerns that the dam could negatively affect Egypt’s share of the Nile.
Egypt fears the dam will affect its historic Nile water share of 55 billion square metres, which it has had access to since the historic 1959 agreement with Sudan.
The government of Ethiopia is currently constructing the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam. Once complete, the dam will be the largest hydropower facility in Africa (about 6,000 MW) – nearly triple the country’s current electricity generation capacity – and represent a potential economic windfall for the government. By Zachary Donnenfeld for ISS TODAY.
The benefits for Ethiopia and for many electricity-importing countries in East Africa from the construction of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam are clear. However, the implications for downstream countries aren’t all positive – and need to be better understood.
In 2016, about 30% of Ethiopia’s population had access to electricity and more than 90% of households continued to rely on traditional fuels for cooking. Traditional fuels can cause respiratory infections, and according to the World Health Organisation, acute lower respiratory infection is the leading cause of death in Ethiopia.
So the benefits of better access to electricity in Ethiopia are clear. But creating a larger supply doesn’t mean demand will automatically follow. In Ethiopia, where 70% of the population lives in rural areas and relies on subsistence agriculture, the government must also invest in developing human capital to increase incomes and stimulate the demand for services. The standard of living needs to improve before Ethiopians can consume additional electricity – unless it’s completely subsidised by the government.
The government may also anticipate a boost to revenues through electricity exports from the dam. Several power purchase agreements have already been signed with neighbouring countries, including Djibouti, Kenya, Rwanda, Sudan and Tanzania.
There is a need for more rapid progress along various dimensions of human development in Ethiopia, as highlighted in a recent ISS report produced for the United States Agency for International Development. But there are concerns about how this dam will affect downstream states, particularly Sudan and Egypt.
Although Sudan was initially opposed to the dam’s construction, the country has recently warmed to the idea. This could be because Sudan has agreed to purchase electricity from the dam, while the two countries have also agreed to collaborate on a free economic zone. While bilateralism has proved effective with Sudan, multilateral negotiations haven’t been particularly fruitful.
Signed in 2015, the Khartoum Agreement ostensibly mapped out a way forward, but implementation of the deal hasn’t been easy, and cracks are starting to show. In May this year, the Middle East Monitor concluded that Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan had just finished their 14th round of unsuccessful discussions about how to manage the Nile River.
At that 2015 meeting, officials from the three countries agreed to proceed with an impact assessment that was to be completed within 15 months. After 17 months, the report has yet to be publicly released. There is still no independent feasibility study, cost-benefit analysis or environmental impact assessment.
This is worrying since Ethiopia could begin filling the dam at any time. The Ethiopian government expects it will take roughly five or six years to fill the dam’s reservoir. However, Diaa Al-Din Al-Qousi from Egypt’s Ministry of Water Resources and Irrigation believes that a period of 12 to 18 years is needed to guarantee water security for Egypt. This is quite a discrepancy.
A recent report from the Geological Society of America said a period of between five and 15 years seemed reasonable, apparently giving credibility to both sides. But the same report noted that the “Nile’s fresh water flow to Egypt may be cut by as much as 25%, with a loss of a third of the electricity generated by the Aswan High Dam”, which would be bad news for Egyptians.
Also, many Egyptian officials fear that the increased evaporation from the sheer size of the dam could affect water security in the country – already one of the most water-stressed in the world.
Ethiopia maintains that the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam project has been conducted with adequate transparency and involvement from the relevant stakeholders. It also highlights that Egypt hasn’t signed the Co-operative Framework Agreement (CFA) of the Nile Basin States, whereas Ethiopia has.
Since Ethiopia announced it would go ahead with construction of the dam in 2011, Cairo has voiced disapproval. At various stages, Egypt has demanded that Ethiopia cease construction, threatened action at the United Nations Security Council, and claimed that it is protected by a 1959 treaty, even though Ethiopia didn’t sign the treaty. The treaty essentially divides the river between Sudan and Egypt, leaving nothing for Ethiopia, where more than 60% of the Nile’s water originates.
With its national livelihood depending on the Nile, it’s difficult to anticipate what Egypt’s reaction might be should Ethiopia proceed with its plan to fill the dam. Egyptian Foreign Ministry spokesman Badr Abdelatty recently told Reuters that Egypt had “no other resources … we will not allow our national interests, our national security to be endangered”. This brings back memories of former president Mohamed Morsi’s ominous 2013 speech, in which he declared that if the Nile “loses one drop, our blood is the alternative”.
Analysts at the Texas-based consulting group Stratfor have concluded that Egypt’s reaction will, in part, be determined by its political leadership. But they also stress that “whatever its political inclination, a large-scale reduction in water from the Nile would be intolerable to any Egyptian government”.
Ethiopia has a right to exploit its own natural resources to support much-needed human development projects, but can it afford to compromise its relationship with downstream states, particularly Egypt? The government of Ethiopia has done well to finance and promote this project. The question now is how best to manage the possible implications with downstream states.