By Belayneh Akalu
Tigrai Onlne - March 18, 2014
Since time immemorial, Ethiopia has been living like a Camel wondering in a wilderness looking for an oasis to relieve its thirst while having a bucket of water on its back. Nearly three years ago, Ethiopia saw the availability of abundant water in its territory and came up with a well-tailored plan of action. The plan was first identified as project ‘x’, later renamed as the Ethiopian Millennium Dam; which finally acquired the most appropriate name - the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam.
From the inception of the new development approach of shared vision by all riparian countries some thirteen years ago under the Nile Basin Initiative, lower basin countries especially Egypt could not agree with any of the possible alternatives that had been proposed by upper riparian states. Thirteen solid years have already elapsed on unsuccessful negotiations to win trust of Egypt, regarding the new concept of win-win approach based on efficient utilization of the river Nile among all riparian countries. The tug of war among all the basin countries lies on the colonial era treaty which gave absolute monopoly of the river Nile to Egypt and Sudan; while the rest of the riparian countries were shunned off.
Sick and tired of all the diplomatic efforts that couldn’t help convince lower riparian countries, six of the upper riparian countries including Ethiopia signed their own binding agreement, which was stoutly contended by lower riparian countries, especially Egypt. The ideals and ideas of the agreement were that countries can execute all development activities on the river Nile in their own territory without violating the interest and benefit of lower riparian states. Put differently, the agreement was founded on a fundamental principle that the interest of no nation will be put at stake.
Adhering to this approach, Ethiopia launched the construction of the dam with a conviction emanating from only and only development driven motives. But when the candor of the news was first aired by local and international media, the authorities in Cairo began to bully Ethiopia into halting the project. Some others expressed their qualms over the practicality of Ethiopia’s ambition to construct the grandest dam in Africa and one of the few in the world. The news made headlines of global newspapers. Headlines full of dilemma and qualms such as ‘The poorest of the poor nation aspires to build the grandest dam in Africa’ became a dime a dozen all across the globe. The late Prime Minister Meles Zenawi assured the world by saying “No matter how poor we are, in the Ethiopian tradition of resolve, the Ethiopian people will pay any sacrifice. I have no doubt they will do it for they, with one voice, said, “Build the Dam!” the whole people of Ethiopia recall him for the key note address he made while laying the cornerstone which marked the commencement of the project. He also reaffirmed that the project will not be reversed due to lack of external support.
Even though the premier is not with us today, his prophesies, courage and determination has spread like a wild fire among Ethiopians far and near, who started mobilizing financial resources through procuring bonds from their personal savings and monthly incomes out of their own free will and without remorse. The people will keep on doing the same until the completion of the dam. Today, the GERD has become the blood vessel of all Ethiopians.
The authorities in Cairo have done their level best to revoke the determination of the government and people of Ethiopia. At a time, they began to spread crazy ideas of intimidation. Other times, they prudently tried to indulge the socio-economic quandary by lobbying countries which have strong ties with Ethiopia. From Italy to China, they toured but ended up in a deadlock. On the contrary, they didn’t abandon discussion with Addis Ababa. The government of Ethiopia was and is always ready to discuss with Egyptian authorities hoping for better room for collaboration. Though dismayed time and again in all previous attempts, Ethiopia still envisions that the brotherly people of Egypt may comprehend the actual reality when they start to reason without temper.
Following the Arab revolution which ousted President Hosni Mubarak and his successor Mohamod Mursi, the country has not yet come out of its political crisis and civil chaos. The frustration of domestic affairs coupled with biased reports of some international media which stirred bogus news as if the GERD were plotted with concealed motives must have blinded Egyptian authorities. Sudan, on the other hand, has made a rational decision all by her own after carefully evaluating the cons and pros of having the GERD and reports of international reports which were conducted to assess the possible impact of the dam on lower riparian countries and the ecosystem. Recent reports from Khartoum even say that some people of the city are even ready to procure bonds to help Ethiopia finalize the dam in accordance with the scheduled time frame.
Authorities in Cairo preferred to stay dumb folded, if not hallucinated. They do not want to listen to their own reputed water engineers who gave scientifically precise analysis on the positive impact of the GERD for the water supply of Egypt. Only God and they themselves know why.
Recent news from Cairo hinted that Egypt is preparing a formal request for gulf mediation under the leadership of Saudi Arabia to gain popular support of Arab countries which might not surprise Ethiopia. The famous Arab newspaper, Al-monitor quoting an Egyptian government official who has close ties to Egyptian decision making circles reported on March 6, 2014 as saying that a detailed report is currently being prepared to examine and explain Egyptian concerns relating to the building of the dam, in the absence of a clear agreement with Ethiopia about it. The final draft of the report, which explains the concern over the repercussions the construction of the GERD, will have on Egypt and Sudan; will be sent to the international panel of experts.
According to Al-monitor, this convergence of views between Egypt and the gulf countries –except for Qatar - began after the ouster of President Mohammed Morsi by the army on July, 2013. While the gulf leaders expressed their satisfaction towards the change in the political scene of Egypt after the fall of the brotherhood, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates rushed to offer financial aid packages to the Egyptian government, amounting to 10.7 billion USD in the span of six months.
The official who gave the information to Al-monitor also said that resorting to the gulf mediation will help Egypt gain more time. “As Ethiopia is rushing to build the dam, we are running out of time and are unable to re-launch negotiations, which put us in a critical situation,” the official said.
The report does have detailed analysis given by Egyptian government body trying to convince themselves that this would force Ethiopia to reconsider the need for constructing the dam while affecting many lower riparian countries. Besides, there are also other conspiracies plotted to bully Ethiopia into halting the construction of the GERD through financial embargo from the Arab world. It tells about Saudi Arabia’s Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) to be the highest in the country and the support the country gets from Kuwaiti Development Fund, OPEC and the Arab Bank for Economic Development in Africa.
With all these benefits given to Ethiopia, Cairo foolishly concluded that Ethiopia will reconsider the construction of the GERD. According to Al-monitor, this might be the best option believed to make a difference in Ethiopia’s decision. Ethiopia has made her stance clear from the outset. The construction of the GERD will not be an issue for negotiation, irrespective of any eternal support which Cairo fantasizes to make a difference in the government’s decision.
True, Saudi Arabia takes the lion share of the FDI in Ethiopia which makes the former one of the best development allies of the country. The people and government of Ethiopia prudently comprehend that the Nile is the only source of water supply to millions of people in Egypt. But some authorities in Cairo always speak otherwise every time the GERD is raised as an issue. That is again because they want to inculcate to win a seal of approval from the Arab countries, as if their national security were put at stake due to the GERD.
So, the Ethiopians strongly urge Saudi Arabia and the rest of the gulf nations to consider the Egyptian appeal rationally. No government on earth would be blindfolded with unjustified fears like authorities in Cairo when international experts testified that the GERD would bring no damage on the water supply of lower basin countries; for it is intimately meant for generating electric power. There are no plans of irrigation agriculture. The terrain of the land in Ethiopia is not naturally appropriate for irrigated agriculture from the water reservoir of the GERD. An Egyptian scientist has recently told this to authorities in Cairo. After all, Ethiopia is not the first country to build a dam on an international river. Deep inside, Cairo knows that the GERD would not be an issue to complain over and prefers to divert the agenda on water share and equity, when the upper basin countries preferred to keep the issue on the shelf for future discussion. Equity is yet to come.
The thing is, Egypt couldn’t prove that the GERD is an eminent danger for the water supply of her people. Hence, Saudi Arabia and the rest of the gulf nations should not rush to arrive at wrong decisions. Ethiopia is always ready for any diplomatic discussions and clarifications to clear the confusion created due to the construction of the GERD to any government.
The GERD is the beam of the balance to crumble the burden of poverty once and for all from the face of the country. Its construction is well underway, currently reported to have reached 30 percent. The economic benefit of the GERD is so immense that it could not be exhausted in such a small compilation. To mention one, it is the datum point to meet the African Union current mission of creating economic integration between African countries. Therefore, the construction of the dam serves as an icebreaker to meet AU’s mission, with a most notable green energy.
At 6,000 MW, the dam will be the largest hydroelectric power plant in Africa when completed, as well as the 13th or 14th largest in the world sharing the spot with Krasnoyarskaya. The reservoir at 63 billion cubic meters will be one of the continent's largest. As of February 2014, the dam is 30% complete.
On the wider level, the project will also enhance other areas, including navigation on the river, Tourism and fisheries as well as improve the climate of the area. It will create numerous job Opportunities and improve local livelihoods. Clean and renewable energy at cheaper prices will be made available to the region.
As for navigation, the GERD will allow for regulated and sustainable minimum flow levels in the dry season. This will mean reliable downstream navigation will be possible. Sustainable and regulated flow will also allow for increased agricultural production, ensuring reliable all season supply to DS irrigation schemes, thus, reducing harvest losses caused by water shortages during critical growing periods.
Regarding energy and power production, GERD will allow underperforming DS hydropower schemes to perform more effectively as there will be more reliable sediment free, and regular availability of water. Indeed, this will make the building of new dams redundant. Increased power availability for the entire system will also enhance regional power trading among the three countries, Ethiopia, Sudan and Egypt.
Even further, this regional integration, expanded trade and cooperation will also provide for encouraging the building of confidence and lay the cornerstone for mutually beneficial and diversified trade and investment among these three states.
The dam will be located in an area in which there are no significant human settlements or economic activities. In fact, the project will have positive environmental and social impact, and involve minimal social and environmental costs.
The reservoir does not entail any significant consumption or withdrawal of water which might affect downstream countries. Indeed, on the contrary, there are multiple benefits which will accrue to downstream states.
Reservoir filling can be carried out in consultation with lower basin countries to ensure coordination with existing downstream operations. The design is flexible enough to allow reservoir impoundment without significantly affecting Egypt and Sudan.
Other benefits include water conservation. The GERD will minimize the evaporation loss from dams located in less favorable downstream desert settings. A total of close to 19 billion cubic meters (BCM) of water evaporators from the Aswan High Dam and other dams in Sudan (of this evaporation from Aswan alone amounts to 14.3 BCM) annually. Evaporation at the Jebel Aulia dam in Sudan amounts to 3.5 BCM annually from 1.75 BCM storage capacity. By contrast evaporation loss from the full development of the GERD is likely to be no more than 0.4 BCM. In fact, the development of GERD will encourage the decommissioning of wasteful dams like Jebel Aulia and reduce the operating level of the Aswan High Dam, and other dams in Sudan.
The result will be saving of over 6 BCM of water for the Nile system annually. Another plus will be in sediment management. Most of the dams in Sudan are suffering from silting with the effect they have lost over 50% of their live storage capacities. Downstream hydraulic infrastructures, especially when complemented by integrated watershed management, would benefit from the construction of the GERD.
It is therefore with all this confidence that Ethiopia reassures the world that the construction of the GERD will not be delayed for a second, let alone putting the issue for reconsideration.