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Denial of the benefits of the GERD can not change the facts on the ground

By Hailu Simon
Tigrai Onlne - February 10, 2014

This week, 6th of February, 2014, Egypt's official newspaper Ahram published an article that claims "Ethiopia's dams: The risks". The writer was Maghawry Shehata Diab, a former president of Menoufiya University and professor of Hydrogeology and water resources at that University.

Ethiopian Grand Millennium Dam

In spite of his scholarly pretensions, the article is a typical case of an informed individual deliberately misleading the public in downstream countries and beyond.

Let's see a few points from the article.

The article claims that: "The Abbay (Blue Nile) contributes about 75 per cent of the waters emanating from the Ethiopian plateau (72 billion cubic metres per year), which is why this river is so important to Egypt and Sudan which underscores the magnitude of the risks inherent in any hydraulic project that could obstruct the flow of these waters into Sudan and Egypt".

This is a completely fallacious argument.

Indeed, a project that affects one's chief source should concern that country. However, there is nothing inherent about it. Humanity shares several resources including the oceans and the atmosphere.

But there is nothing inherently bad about it. It depends on how you use it. Trains in Egypt and trains in Ethiopia will be operating under same sky, however Egypt's trains emit CO2, while Ethiopia's trains will be CO free. Similarly, a hydraulic project need not necessarily be an "obstruction of the flow", it could be an enhancement of the flow (We will detail the data below).

The other side of the matter is that the Blue Nile is as important to Ethiopia as it is to Egypt. Therefore, any use and misuse is equally Ethiopia's concern.

The fallacy doesn't end there. The Professor continues to claim:

"This explains why these two countries need to be fully reassured that any projects on the Blue Nile are thoroughly studied in terms of their impact on downriver nations, why they should require a consensus, and why Addis Ababa must notify Cairo and Khartoum in advance of any hydraulic works entailing the construction of dams."

The fact that Blue Nile is the chief source of water for Egypt and Sudan only explains why they might worry. It doesn't provide them with any right to demand "fully reassurance" or do not oblige Ethiopia to "notify Cairo and Khartoum in advance". It does not also mean that Ethiopia's projects are "required a consensus" from the two countries.

Ethiopia has no treaty obligation to seek Egypt & Sudan's permissions. There is no such precedent in the Nile basin or elsewhere in the world obligation in the absence of a specific agreement to determine the use of international watercourses. If Egypt and Sudan wish that they should sign the Cooperative Framework Agreement on the Nile Basin.

In the absence of precedents, it will be simply be an act of good will and gesture on Ethiopia's part. But acts of good will and gesture are based on reciprocity. As Egypt and Sudan never consulted Ethiopia before on studies prior and after building dams and related projects on Nile (including the proposed peace canal to Israel), Ethiopia can not be expected to do the same.

But this is a moot point.

Ethiopia already undertook the unprecedented act of good will by consulting and sharing information with Egypt and Sudan. The Ethiopian government opened up the Grand Ethiopia Renaissance Dam (GERD) project by providing over 150 study and design documents to Egypt and Sudan, including providing opportunities of project site visits.

In fact, it was upon the initiation and invitation of the government of Ethiopia that the International Panel of Experts (IPoE) was established. Moreover, Ethiopia has also shown its commitment by accepting the report of the IPoE and is implementing the recommendations that are related to dam engineering and safety in a timely manner and agreed to jointly conduct the two studies recommended by the IPoE.

These are more than sufficient measures to fully reassure any country.

Indeed, Sudan is fully reassured. The problem is Egypt!

As we have seen in the quote above, the writer was implying the GERD is not "thoroughly studied in terms of their impact on downriver nations". However, after a few paragraphs, he contradicts himself as follows:

"As the Blue Nile is Ethiopia’s most important river, in addition to being vital to both Egypt and Sudan, it has become a strategic target for every power interested in throwing a spanner into the mechanisms of cooperation between these three countries. It is therefore no coincidence that the UN Reclamation Bureau took 1956 as its starting point for an eight-year study of the Blue Nile basin that, in 1964, concluded with recommendations for 33 hydraulic projects on this river. The most important are the following dams: Fincha Amerti Nesse (FAN), Beles, the Renaissance Dam, Mendaia, Beko Abo and Kara Dodi."

Indeed, the GERD had been the subject of intense study for decades. Studies in the Blue Nile area date as far back as 1935 and include companies from USA, Sweden and others.

A US and Ethiopian joint project, titled: USA-Ethiopia Cooperative Program for the Study of the [Blue Nile] Basin, (1959 – 1964), produced a comprehensive report on the hydrology, water quality, hypsography, geology, sedimentation, mineral resources, land resources, ground water and the local socio-economic situation. The study proposed four dams downstream with a total holding capacity of 51 bcm as the annual rate, according to the book ‘Ethiopia and the Nile Dilemmas of National and Regional Hydro-politics’, by Yacob Arsano, published in 2007 (page 153-4).  The master plans for the Blue Nile[Abbay], Tekeze[Atbara] and Baro-Akobo basins were completed in the 1990s, according page 166 of the same book.

Recent planning activities include, according to GERD dam project Civil works manager Semegnew Bekele: In October 2008 – ‘extensive surveying’ conducted, In September 2010 – studies for a Hydroelectricity plant completed, In Nov. 2010 – Final study submitted to government. Moreover, several reviews had been conducted on the study and ascertained the project is financially feasible and less costly compared to international Hydroelectricity project costs.

This is why the IPOE's final report, which is a consensus report signed by the representatives of the three countries Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan and the four international experts, has reaffirmed that the design and construction of the Grand Ethiopia Renaissance Dam is based on international design criteria and standards, codes, guidelines and engineering practices. It has also shown that the GERD does not have significant impact on the downstream countries and in fact will provide huge benefits to all the three riparian countries, namely Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan.

We do not waste time commenting on the conspiracy theory suggested by the professor. What we know is that if world powers have been "throwing a spanner into the mechanisms of cooperation between these three countries", that was done by encouraging Egypt's arrogance and hegemonic interest.

Ethiopia has a shining track-record of preferring African brotherhood and neighborly cooperation than any other route. That is why Ethiopia continues to invite Egypt for cooperation.  



The professor adds that:

"Of these, FAN and Beles have been completed, construction of the highly controversial Renaissance Dam has begun and, of course, planning for the Beko Abo and Kara Dodi dams are in progress. Other dams have been constructed or are envisioned for the Tekeze, Omo Gibe and other river basins. In short, a vast Ethiopian dam network threatens to obstruct the current river flow and regulate it through an array of gateways and turbines in a manner that suits Ethiopia’s purposes at the expense of its neighbours and partners in the Nile River Basin."

Why should "a vast Ethiopian dam network threatens" others? And, why should it be in a manner that suits Ethiopia’s purposes at the expense of its neighbours and partners in the Nile River Basin? This is a statement that comes from zero-sum mentality rather than any scientific basis.

Of course, there will be evaporative loss, as it is the case with any dam.

In reality, key inflow data, provided by the White Nile at Morgen and Atbara at Nile Junction, have been used to simulate GERD’s impact on Egypt's Aswan dam and indicated otherwise.

The evaporation and rainfall estimates over the GERD reservoir have also been fully considered. The spillway design flood, the Probable Maximum Flood and diversion flood estimates fulfill the highest safety requirements that International Commission on Large Dams recommends.

The evaporation loss that GERD will incur is significantly lower than the amount of water that the GERD will save from evaporation loss. The difference is positive. The saving will come from preventing flooding during high flood seasons and limiting the seepage or dumping of water into the desert through spillways. The storage will brings over 5 to 10% savings.

Similarly, there are ample benefits to the Sudan as clearly outlined by a prominent Sudanese scholar Dr. Salman Mohamed Ahmed Salman as follows:

First: The GERD Dam will hold back a big portion of the great quantities of the silt, more than 50 million tons, carried by the Blue Nile to the Sudan each year. Those quantities of silt over the years, made the Er Rosaires and Sennar dams lose more than 50% of their water storage and electric-power generation capacities. Many of us must remember the continued power failures a few years ago due to the silt accumulation of the turbines at Er Rosaires Dam as announced by the government in official statements.

Second: The GERD Dam will prolong the life-span of Er Rosaires Dam by holding back the trees, corpses and other materials swept by the Blue Nile during its powerful drive in July and August of each year.

Third: The GERD Dam will check the destructive flood that hit the Sudanese towns on the Blue Nile each few years. Instead, it will regulate the flow of the Nile in the Sudan throughout the year in lieu of the present seasonal flood during July, August and September. A suggestion that the GERD Dam will do away with irrigation by inundation is unfounded. While the Sudan has failed to use its share of the Nile water (an issue which we will discuss later on, there is no point in lamenting the loss of irrigation inundation. It’s just like placing the optional before the obligatory duty.

Fourth: The flow of the Blue Nile throughout the year will help feed the ground water in the surrounding area all over the year instead of the three months of the flood, will regulate the hydroelectric power generation at Merowe Dam and will help multiply the irrigated crop rotations.

Fifth: Ethiopia has promised to sell the electricity generated by the Dam to the Sudan and Egypt at the cost value which is 25% of the cost of the electricity that is generated by Merowe and High dams. The Sudan has already begun making use of the electric power which Ethiopia generates from other rivers, especially from Tekeze Dam on Atbara River after concluding an agreement for the purchase of electricity with Ethiopia.

Thus, if the more than 200 million people living in Nile Basin are to benefit from hydro-power, it is a dam in Ethiopian highlands that incurs the least possible evaporative loss.

As the late Prime Minister of Ethiopia said, one can have his own opinion but not his own facts. But the Professor cooks up his own "facts". He said:

The IPOE's "report states that the feasibility studies on which the current plan for the dam is based are insufficient and that the current design is not appropriate for a dam of this size. The report also warns that the dam will suffer from silting problems due to the accumulation of sediment in the reservoir, which will gradually reduce its efficiency and overall life expectancy".

To the contrary, the IPOE's final report, which a consensus report signed by the representatives of the three countries Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan and the four international experts, has reaffirmed that the design and construction of the Grand Ethiopia GERD Dam is based on international design criteria and standards, codes, guidelines and engineering practices. It has also shown that the GERDP does not have significant impact on the downstream countries and in fact will provide huge benefits to all the three riparian countries, namely Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan.

The Professor has more baseless claims to make. He said:

"The construction of a dam of this size will create an ecological nightmare for Ethiopia, Sudan and Egypt. Seismological studies on the area in which the dam is being constructed speak of repeated tremors and quakes, sometimes reaching six points on the Richter scale."

Let's deal with these claims one by one.

It is a common knowledge that the GERD is located at almost a thousand kilometers distance from the Afar depression and it is hundreds kilometers distance from the geographic area considered as part of the Rift Valley. Moreover, there is no report of a significant seismic activity in the area.

The ‘reservoir induced seismicity’ hypothesis is extended by some experts to explain an earthquake nearby the Chinese Zipingpu Dam in 2008. While the hypothesis is contested by many experts, it is almost irrelevant to the GERD dam.

That Chinese dam is built in seismically active area, close to the fault lines. Not only the Zipingpu Dam is larger than the GERD dam, it inhabits the vulnerable zone alongside 400 hydropower dams. Thus, even if the ‘reservoir induced seismicity’ hypothesis was true, it is hardly applicable to the Ethiopian dam.

After pilling up all these exaggerated and unscientific claims, the Professor presents his doom and gloom view:

"Failure to address all the negative observations....could lead to the partial or even total collapse of the dam, adding unfathomable calamity to the damage that the dam, itself, will cause to the water security of both Sudan and Egypt."

To this, the best reply has been provided by the Foreign Ministry of Ethiopia a few months ago. The Ministry pointed out: Ethiopia should worry more than anybody else about the safety of the Dam as the country and its people are investing billions of hard earned money and as a responsible member of the international community Ethiopia is entirely unwilling to risk the safety of its neighbors.

Before concluding this article, we shall point out one more erroneous claim made by the professor.

The Professor misleadingly claimed that:

"Ethiopia’s energy plans are almost entirely based on capitalising on its many rivers, that flow with varying speeds in various directions, by generating electricity from the dam system that currently exists or that is envisioned for the future."


Indeed Ethiopia has been making huge investments in terms of hydropower generation capacity. Hydropower plants take the lion’s share for the multiple fold growth of Ethiopia's hydropower generating capacity from 2005-2010. In 2005 the total hydropower generation capacity of Ethiopia was only 714 MW and the total power generated was only 3,112 GWH. However, by 2010 the power generation capacity reached 2,000 MW and the total power generated was 7,689 GWH. The total number of registered electric power user households was less than 950,000 in 2005. But by 2010, it was more than 2 million.

Under the 5-years Growth and Transformation Plan(GTP), Ethiopia’s power generating capacity is planned to reach 10000megawatts by 2015. At the end of the GTP, there will be 4 million registered households connected to electric distribution lines. It is expected that the electricity coverage of Ethiopia will reach more than 75% by 2015, thereby connecting Ethiopians farmers with the 21st century.

Hydro-electricity will surely continue to take key role, in Ethiopia's transformative endeavor to meet the demand for energy in the country by providing sufficient and reliable power supply that meets international standards at all times. However, the strategic directions of the GTP are not limited to the expansion of hydro-power plants.

The other major component of the energy sector development is stated in the government plan as follows: "Development of alternative energy from renewable sources such as wind, solar, biomass, etc. will be integrated with the country's Green Development Strategy. lt is planned to increase this level of power generated by four times implementation strategies are to promote a mix of energy sources by developing renewable wind and geothermal resources."

Following that policy direction, the government has been aggressively investing in alternative energy sources. A joint steering committee has been set up under the Ministry of Water & Energy and the Environmental Protection Authority to develop and implement clean and renewable energy projects which can later benefit from carbon trading schemes.

So far, the total four projects identified and handed over to the Ministry are expected to reduce about 65,720 tonnes of carbon dioxide-equivalent greenhouse gas emissions.

In fact, if the Professor took time to properly research, there were three major developments in the past months which have major implications in terms of changing the energy portfolio of the nation and in terms of advancing the government’s plan to create a climate-shock proof economy by the year 2025 and also clearly demonstrate the erroneous of his claim that "Ethiopia’s energy plans are almost entirely based on capitalizing on its many rivers",

The first was the announcement that the government assigned two American companies to build three solar sites, each with one hundred megawatt generation capacity, in the eastern part of Ethiopia. The site selection, due diligence and Feasibility Study, of the projects were completed earlier last year. Now, the two prominent American companies, Energy Ventures corp. and Global Trade and Development Company, signed a contract to build, operate and transfer the three solar energy projects.

The second major news was the inauguration of Ashegoda Wind Farm in mid 2013. Ashegoda Wind Farm, which has an installed capacity of generating 120 Mega Watts of electricity, is built 10 km from Mekelle, the capital city of the Tigray regional state by the French company Vergnet SA. This project is part of the Ethiopian government’s plan to generate up to 890 MW of wind energy by the end of the Growth and Transformation Plan (GTP) period.

The third energy related major development was the signing of a contract to build the largest geothermal power station in Ethiopia. Reykjavik Geothermal, a European company from Iceland, signed contracts with the Ethiopian government for the development of up to 1,000 MW. Under the agreement, Reykjavik Geothermal is to build the plant in two different stages of each 500 MW with an overall planned capacity at the end of 1,000 MW.

As a conclusion, I shall quote from the speech by former PM Meles Zenawi, on the launch of the GERD project, regarding the benefits of the dam for downstream countries:

"The Dam will greatly reduce the problems of silt and sediment that consistently affect dams in Egypt and Sudan. This has been a particularly acute problem at Sudan’s Fosseiries dam which has been experienced reduction in output. When the GERD dam becomes operational, communities all along the riverbanks and surrounding areas, particularly in Sudan, will be permanently relieved from centuries of flooding.

These countries will have the opportunity to obtain increased power supplies at competitive prices. The GERD Dam will increase the amount of water resources available, reducing the wastage from evaporation which has been a serious problem in these countries. It will in fact ensure a steady year-round flow of the Nile. ….On this calculation, Sudan might offer to cover 30 per cent and Egypt 20 per cent of the costs of the entire project".

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