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International rivers should know GERD won’t be delayed even for a single minute

By Mulatu Gizaw
Tigrai Onlne - April 07, 2014

Anti-dam activist groups, especially the three sister NGOs – Survival International, International Rivers, and Friends of Lake Turkana – had left no stone unturned in their sinister but futile attempt to stop the construction of the Gilgel Gibe III dam project. That is a dam project, which, upon completion, will generate about 1870 Megawatt (MW) hydro-electric power and becomes the largest hydroelectric plant in Africa, is hoped to transform the lives of millions in Ethiopia and Kenya.

Gibe III hydropower plant project is currently near complition
Gibe III hydropower plant project is currently nealy completed when it is fully build it will produce 1870 megawatt electric power.

However, the project became a target of anti-dam groups, whom the former Prime Minister Meles Zenawi described as: "these people are concerned that butterflies will be disturbed by such projects and they will not allow the disturbance of butterflies even if this means millions of people have to be subjected to the deadliest killer diseases of all, poverty".

These Anti-dam activist groups had left no stone unturned in their futile effort to stop the construction of the Gillegel Gibe III dam project. It was since its launch that the project became a target of anti-dam groups,

The first tactic of these anti-dam groups was targeting potential funding organizations. They launched political campaigns against international funding institutions to drag the lending process, thereby prolong Ethiopia's road to escape poverty.

The second tactic of the anti-dam groups was trying to mobilize international pressure against the project. To accomplish that, they prepared flawed “studies”, launched petitions and demonstrations. That mostly failed even if they succeeded to mislead one or two organizations, but it didn't last long.

All those attempts failed one by one and the Gibe III dam project is now almost complete and it is soon expected to start generating power with its first turbine. The secret behind it was Ethiopia’s sustained economic growth that made her capable of covering the cost of the project by itself.

This must create desperation and anger among the anti-dam groups. Since they failed to twist Ethiopia's hands and impose their agenda, they will keep looking for another opportune moment.

Now, one these anti-dam groups have started its new campaign.

In the past week, International Rivers declared that "the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance dam project (GERDP) should be halted until all necessary studies are completed, and a process is in place for ensuring public accountability on the project. Egypt’s call for mediation in the process is reasonable, and donor governments and international bodies should support such a process."

International Rivers claims it made this declaration after reviewing the “leaked” International Panel of Experts (IPOE) report.

However, the International Panel of Experts (IPOE) appreciated that:

"GERDP's design documents satisfy a number of international Standards, Codes and Guidelines including ICOLD and USACE."

The IOPE also stated in its final report that:

"GERDP will increase the overall regulation capacity of the Eastern Nile Basin by about 50,000 Mm’ which will add resilience to impacts of climate extremes including droughts and floods."

IPOE's final report also commended the Environmental and Social impact Assessment (ESIA) study of GERDP. The report said:

"In terms of structure and content, the ESIA satisfies the recommendations of most international funding agencies......The ESIA provides comprehensive information on the existing water quality of the Abbay/Blue Nile River and its main tributaries feeding the proposed GERD reservoir, and provides a water quality forecast in terms of eutrophication risk, based on classical empirical models."

The problem of International Rivers’ statement does not begin at the report. They also got the mandate of the IPOE wrong. International Rivers presented the IPOE as a supervising authority on Ethiopia.

However, the IPOE was established to build confidence among the downstream countries, to ensure transparent sharing of information, investigate the benefits of the Dam and the impact on downstream if any, and make recommendations for future consideration by reviewing the design documents.

In fact, the IPOE was not imposed on Ethiopia. It was one of Ethiopia's first overtures to assure Egypt's peoples. This was confirmed by the final report of the IPOE that states “The Government of Ethiopia invited in good faith the two downstream countries, Egypt and Sudan, to form an International Panel of Experts…”

When the GERDP was launched in April 2011, the news caused a media hype in Egypt. At first, Egyptian scholars and politicians publicly mulled about military strikes and sabotage at that time both in conferences held in Cairo and on the media.

Later, Egypt sent a 48 person delegation named “Egyptian People’s Diplomatic Delegation”. The delegation was headed by Moustafa El Gendy and comprises three presidential candidates, independent political activists, representatives of different political parties and movements, members of parliament, politicians, jurists, public figures, members of the academia, media representatives and members of the Youth Movement of the Egyptians Revolution former parliament members, community leaders, journalists from Egypt and other Arab countries and other public figures from Egypt.

The Public Diplomacy Delegation met with the late Prime Minister of Ethiopia Meles Zenawi and received the following pledge (as reported by Ahram Arabic in May/2011):

The Prime Minister stressed that he had seen several models of dams and that he was keen to choose the model that generates electricity only and does not remember running water in irrigation of agricultural land.

I say to the Egyptians that this dam is beneficial to Egypt and the Sudan and will not hurt in any way. Yet, in order to reassure the Egyptian people and thereby eliminate all the doubts created by former regime of Egypt, I accept the formation of a committee of experts, consisting Ethiopians, Egyptians, Sudanese and other foreign experts, to examine the dam project and to make sure it will not cause any damage to Egypt and Sudan. Although I am sure of that, I sure you I am ready to modify the project if the Committee concludes to the contrary.“

It was on November 29, 2011 that The Ministers of Water Affairs of the three countries in Addis Ababa, and agreed on the terms of reference and rules of procedure of the IPoE. They also agreed that the lPoE shall consist of ten members: two experts from each of the three countries of Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan and four international experts in the following four disciplines: (l) Dam Engineering, (ii) Water resources planning and hydrologic modeling, (iii) environment, and (iv) Socio-economics.

After that, the Governments of Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan each nominated two national experts during December 15-23, 2011. The six national experts after careful deliberation on the selection of the four international experts submitted the final list of nominees on February 11, 2012 to the three governments for approval. On March 26, Z012 the Ministers of Water Affairs of the three countries jointly signed the letters of nomination of the four international experts. The members of the lPoE are: From Egypt Dr Sherif Mohamady Eisayed and Dr Khaled Harned; from Ethiopia Eng. Gedion Asiaw and Dr Vilma Seleshi; from Sudan Dr. Ahmed Eltayeb Ahmed and Eng. Deyab Hussien Deyab; the four International Experts were Dr. Bernard Yon, Environment Expert, Mr. John O. Mtlloe, Socio-economics Expert, Mr. Egon Failer, Dam Engineering Expert, Dr. Thinus Basson, Water Resources and Hydrological Modeling Expert.

Following the completion of the preparatory phase, the launch meeting of the lPoE took place in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia during May 15-18, 2012. The IPOE held six meetings and four field visits to the GERD project site which were organized by the Government of Ethiopia including a field visit for the special subcommittee on geotechnical review and verification mission. The IPOE concluded its work by issuing a consensus Final Report on May 2013.

In a clear contradiction of these facts, International Rivers claimed that Ethiopia denied the IOPE access to the many key project documents.

However, the final report of the IPOE does not support International Rivers’ accusations.

The final report which was signed by all members of the IPOE testimonies that:

The Government of Ethiopia provided the necessary GERDP related hard and soft copy documents for review by the IPoE starting at the launch meeting up to the 6th meeting of the lPoE. A dedicated web-page was established to facilitate documents sharing among lPoE members.

The IPOE also commended Ethiopia's full cooperation. The IPOE said in its final report that Ethiopia provided more than the necessary documents and data:

153 documents have been submitted to the lPoE by Ethiopia during May 2012 to May 2013, of which 103 are drawings, 7 are maps, and 43 are reports. The IPoE reviewed only 12 Reports, of which: 2 are environment and socio-economics documents, 3 are water & hydrology documents, 7 are dam engineering documents.

International Rivers is aware of all these facts. However, their ideological bias and other interests impaired their judgment. They went as far as accusing Ethiopia of refusing further studies.

International Rivers said: "Egypt has called for mediation if further studies are not allowed; at this writing, Ethiopia had refused, and was continuing with dam construction."

This statement is inaccurate and misleading from three angles.

First, the government of Ethiopia has always been clear that the formation of the IPOE should not be taken a decision to stop or delay the dam.

That was made clear a week after Ethiopia proposed the establishment of the IPOE, when Egypt's Prime Minister Essam Abdel Aziz Sharaf visited Addis Ababa and held a joint press conference with Prime Minister Meles Zenawi. At that time, Ethiopia's Prime Ministers underlined that:

The construction of the dam won’t be delayed even for a single minute.”

Second, Ethiopia never refused the undertaking of further studies. Immediately after the IPOE submitted the final report, Ethiopia has accepted all the recommendations and suggestions directed to it, and begun to update some of the project documents, the environmental and social assessment studies, other studies to increase the efficiency and cost effectiveness of the project as suggested as well as implementing recommendations with the engineering aspects of the Dam, concerned with construction detail.

Most of those recommendations made by the International Panel of Experts (IPoE) on the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) have been implemented last year.

The IPOE's recommendations also include studies to be implemented jointly by the three governments. Such as, detailed studies of the water resources and hydrology modeling of the whole Eastern Nile system and other recommendations are for the three governments to carry out joint further studies on the environment and social impact and full trans-boundary environmental impact assessments.

With regard to these, Ethiopia has made it quite clear that it is prepared to consider these recommendations but they do need Sudanese and Egyptian co-operation.

International Rivers made more misleading statements. For example, it said:

"The Ethiopian government reported last year that the panel’s report “showed that the Dam offers high benefit for all the three countries and would not cause significant harm on both the lower riparian countries”, while Egypt has repeatedly said the report calls for more analysis of downstream impacts."

This is inaccurate and misleading especially when it comes from a self-proclaimed messiah of the environment such as International Rivers.

International Rivers copy pasted the claim from the recent statement from Egypt that claimed: "Ethiopian officials claimed at the beginning that the downstream countries (Egypt and Sudan) would not be harmed and in fact would benefit from the project."


In the first place, both International Rivers and Egypt must have learnt from the disastrous Aswan dam project that human endeavors are, unlike God's work, are not immune from negative impacts. Therefore, no one said the GERD is a God's work. For example: Ethiopia had to relocate a few dozen households from the GERD site. That is an impact.

However, the question is whether those impacts can be mitigated and avoided with careful planning and cooperative regional work. In line with that whether the benefits outweigh those mitigation works. The answer is a bold YES.

As the former Prime Minister Meles Zenawi said during the launch of the dam:

"The benefits that will accrue from the Dam will by no means be restricted to Ethiopia. They will clearly extend to all neighboring states, and particularly to the downstream Nile basin countries, to Sudan and Egypt. 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 Rosseiries dam which has been experienced reduction in output. When the 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 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. This, in turn, should have the potential to amicably resolve the differences which currently exist among riparian states over the issue of equitable utilization of the resource of the Nile water."

"In other words, the GERD will not only provide benefits to Ethiopia. It will also offer mutually beneficial opportunities to Sudan and to Egypt. Indeed, one might expect these countries to be prepared to share the cost in proportion to the gains that each state will derive. On this calculation, Sudan might offer to cover 30 per cent and Egypt 20 per cent of the costs of the entire project."

Similarly, the International Panel of Experts attested in its final report that the design and construction of 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. No one said no impact, rather no significant impact.

One of the major transgressions of International Rivers' is its misrepresentation of the current impasse between Ethiopia and Egypt.

The IPOE recommended two further studies be carried out in the context of the Eastern Nile System, a water resource system/hydropower model and a trans-boundary environment and socio-economic impact study, through an agreed arrangement of the three countries, employing international consultants chosen through an international bidding process.

The three countries have agreed to set up a mechanism to follow up implementation of the recommendations of the IPoE and have held a series of tripartite meetings in Khartoum on the first weeks of November and December last year and this January.

During the first meeting on November 4, all three parties submitted their respective proposals on the “Framework for Establishing a Committee of Experts for the Follow up on the Implementation of the Recommendations of the (IPoE) on GERDP”. The discussions during the first and second tripartite meeting focused mainly on the framework for the establishment of a committee of national experts, its composition and mandate. The parties agreed on setting up a national committee of experts, on the composition and number of delegates from each country, and on most of the mandates for the committee as proposed by the Ethiopian delegation.

At the Third Tripartite Meeting, Egypt brought two new demands. The first of the two issues was the setting up of another international panel of experts. Egypt proposed that a new international panel of experts (IE) should be set up in parallel to the establishment of the committee of national experts and that this should start work at the same time with the committee of national experts. In the event that there were differences among members of the committee of national experts, the three Water Ministers should resolve the matter and if they failed, the differences should automatically be referred to the proposed IE, to provide a technical opinion for the ministers. In addition, the IE would also assist the committee of national experts. Egypt’s final point was that this international panel of experts should not be established by consensus.

Ethiopia made it clear it did not see any justification for employing an additional international panel of experts in addition to the international consultants that would carry out the two studies recommended by the IPoE. However, for the sake of compromise and in the interest of promoting cooperation, the Ethiopian delegation agreed to the employment of an international panel of experts under certain conditions. The first was that the committee of national experts should prepare the procedures for the employment of the IE and the rules of procedure for its functioning. Secondly, that the IE should be engaged after the completion of the two studies. It also said that in the event of differences over issues raised in the final report of the two studies, the ministers should resolve them amicably and only if the ministers failed to do this to refer the matters to the IE to provide a technical opinion. The final point was that the IE should be chosen by consensus of the three ministers.

The Egyptian delegation did not provide sufficient explanation or justification why an IE should be engaged in parallel to the establishment of the agreed committee of national experts. It argued that the IE could resolve differences among members of the committee of national experts and even suggested the IE could act as an adjudication body whose decision should be binding on the three countries. These arguments were found illogical and deemed unacceptable by the delegations of both Ethiopia and Sudan. Egypt then withdrew them and put forward the alternative that the role of the IE should be that of technical assistance for the committee of national experts, but the delegation failed to suggest any situation in which the IE could play such a role. Indeed, in a situation where the two studies recommended by the IPoE are going to be undertaken by international consultancy firms and the necessary follow up made by 12 national experts from Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan, the reason for Egypt’s insistence on employing additional international experts is not clear.

The second demand from Egypt was misleadingly called “principles for confidence building.” The principles referred to issues that contradict the Nile Basin Cooperative Framework Agreement (CFA) which Ethiopia has recently ratified and which has also been signed by six other upper Nile riparian countries. Ethiopia declined to discuss these so-called “confidence building principles” as they were irrelevant to the agreed agenda of the meeting and to the mandate of the delegations present. The delegations of Ethiopia and Sudan repeatedly explained to the Egyptian delegation that the mandate and the agenda of the Third Tripartite Meeting was to establish appropriate mechanisms to follow-up the implementation of the IPoE report and to resolve issues that had not been agreed at the two earlier meetings. They also made it clear that confidence building measures should be expressed in action and not in meaningless phrases that had nothing to do with the issues at hand.

The Ethiopian delegation underlined the fact that the Ethiopian Government had made an unprecedented move in opening up the GERD project, in providing over 150 study and design documents for the two downstream countries and providing opportunities of project site visits. The Government had also shown its commitment to openness by accepting the report of the IPoE and in implementing the recommendations related to dam engineering and safety in a timely manner as well as agreeing to jointly conduct the two studies recommended by the IPoE. All these are very practical confidence building measures. Anything similar on the part of Egypt has been lacking.

For that reason, the third ministerial talk failed and could not resume to date. As Ethiopia is committed to the success of these consultations, all that is needed is Egypt's return to the table.

Ethiopia is very optimistic that Egypt will soon return to the discussion table and that the attempt by International Rivers to create confusion and impediments will be an utter failure.

International Rivers should be under any illusion that the resolve of the Ethiopian people will weaken or change. As the People and Government of Ethiopia are financing the GERDP, it will be completed as planned.

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