GERD and dam experience of the Middle-East
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GERD and dam experience of the Middle-East

By Molla Mitiku Ayenew -
Tigrai Online, March 27, 2017

Ethiopians are celebrating the 6th founding anniversary of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam in various activities, which is under construction in Benishangul- Gumuz Regional State, some 830 kilometers from Addis Ababa with a total cost of 4.7 billion USD. The people have now mobilized and making more contributions to meet their very objectives. At the very beginning of its launching, Ethiopians in all walks of life promised to contribute about 12.4 billion Birr. According to information from GERD’s National Public Participation Office, so far about 9.6 billion birr 77.42% of the plan has already achieved. 


Despite all efforts to realize the construction of the Dam, some disputes aimed to jeopardize it were observed. Such controversies while building hydropower dams are customary. In this regard, the disputes among the three Middle East countries, Turkey, Syria and Iraq, could be one of the examples.  

When the downstream countries Iraq and Syria attempted to blame Turkey for utilizing the Tigris and Euphrates rivers to develop its dams, former Turkish president Turgut Özal conveyed a clear message to the downstream countries. “We don’t tell Arabs what to do with their oil, so we don’t accept any suggestion from them about what to do with our water.” I think, this is a clear message not only for Iraq and Syria but also for any disputing upstream and downstream countries.

If there is goodwill, appropriate water administration and management, the Nile River is so huge enough to benefit all people along the basin. Both upstream and downstream countries could benefit, if and only if they practice fair and equitable water utilization.  Ethiopia and Egypt have controversies in connection to the construction of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam. However, Egypt should consider what President Turgut Özal said into account.

What lesson should the three riparian countries: Ethiopia, Sudan and Egypt have to take from the Middle East tripartite countries.

Turkey, Syria and Iraq shared the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, which originated from the mountain of Turkey where about 93 percent of the water is contributed by Turkey.    

In the Nile Basin, eleven countries shared the Nile River: Tanzania, Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, Congo-Kinshasa, Kenya, Ethiopia, Eritrea, South Sudan, Sudan and Egypt. Its drainage basin covers about 3.3 million square kilometers, almost 10 percent of Africa’s total area.  Ethiopia contributes nearly 90 percent of the Nile Water.  The Blue Nile from Lake Tana meets the White Nile in Sudan.

Historical documents witnessed that, Iraq, the last downstream state on the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, was the first to develop dams. It built the Hindiya barrage on the Euphrates in 1914 and a second barrage at ar-Ramadi in the 1950s. However, the upstream Turkey had never undertaken any major dam construction until 1966.  

In the Nile basin, it is similar to the Middle East.  Egypt, the last downstream country was the first to build various dams and then the Aswan Dam in 1970.  Whereas, Ethiopia that contributing nearly 90 percent of the water had never built any significant dam till recent time.

Iraq and Syria, the two downstream countries made an agreement whereby Iraq receives 58 percent of the Euphrates water crossing the Syrian Turkey border. In the same token, Egypt and Sudan, the two downstream countries of the Nile Basin, made an agreement whereby Egypt receives the lion’s share of the water.

Turkey and Iraq come to the brink of war after a failed attempt by an illegal organization from Iraq to explode one of Turkey’s dams. Iraq condemns the assault but accuses Turkey of denying the country access to the water. Turkey blames the Iraqi government for the attack, demands the arrest of those responsible. Egypt has cooperated with some terrorist groups to destroy the Ethiopian dam although it denied officially. Ethiopia wants those groups who were mobilizing Oromo Liberation Front that were participating in violence aiming to poison its peace and jeopardize its development particularly the GERD.

When Ethiopia launched the construction of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam, Egypt attempted to pressure Ethiopia to stop building the dams raising similar questions that Iraq and Syria were posing on Turkey.

Dr. Jongerden was an assistant professor at the Social Sciences Department of the Wageningen University in the Netherlands.  He wrote about the 2009 tension between Iraq and Turkey due to Turkish decision to embark on the Southeast Anatolia Project launched with the construction of the Keban Dam in1975.

However, later Turkey and Iraq started to implement ambitious water development schemes on both the Tigris and the Euphrates, transforming the river and the lives of the people who depend on it.

A Case Study of Dispute Resolution in the Tigris and Euphrates Basin by Aaron T. Wolf and Joshua T. Newton suggested that, the bilateral and tripartite meetings had been carried out between the three riparian countries: Turkey, Syria and Iraq.

The same thing is happening in the Nile Basin. The tripartite meeting between Ethiopia, Sudan and Egypt has been taking place in connection to the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam.

Despite the wrong attitudes of some groups in Egypt, the meetings are expected to bring peace and cooperation among the three countries eventually. These countries have strong historical and cultural ties. Ethiopia and Sudan are now heading well for a win-win approach.  Egypt with some retarding concerns is in fact following them. Its concern is not something to be denied. However, the reality witnessed that there won’t be any significant impact on the flow of the water due to the construction of the Dam.

I hope the misconception of some Egyptians about the GERD will be corrected soon. When the construction of the Dam completes,   the downstream countries will realize and enjoy the benefits of the Dam. They could be benefited through purchasing electricity at cheaper prices to develop their industries. Besides, they could also develop their irrigation system as the water flow to downstream countries will remain constant throughout the year no matter what the season might be.  Egypt and the Sudan don’t get constant amount of water throughout the year. The flow of water decreased significantly in the dry seasons.

These are not the only benefits that the downstream countries could enjoy from the historic dam. It will avoid flooding disaster that the Sudan and Egypt have experienced so far, causing loss of lives and damage of property.

Hydro political analysts also argue that, Egypt and Sudan will get better amount of water than they used to get, because the construction of the dam will reduce the amount of water wasted due to evaporation.

It is customary for these three countries to come to further economic and political cooperation. In fact, that is what happened in Iraq, Syria and Turkey. According to the information obtained from Turkey’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Turkey and Iraq established High Level Strategic Cooperation Council in 2008. At their first meeting, about 48 memoranda of understanding in a broad array of cooperation fields, ranging from security to energy were signed. In 2015, Iraq became the third largest export partner of Turkey.

In 2014, joint declaration was issued stating the importance of cooperation between the two countries signed cooperation in the water issues.   There is a common understanding to develop cooperation and solidarity between the two countries to fight terrorist organizations.  

It is hopeful that, the tripartite engagements in the Nile Basin between Ethiopia, the Sudan and Egypt will be eventually fruitful. Three of these countries are targets of terrorist groups, so that they should come together for peace in the region.

Ethiopia has made vivid that the Dam has an immense benefit to downstream countries, despite the frustrations Egypt has been raised so many times. The three countries are poor and developing countries although the extent of poverty is worse in Ethiopia. That is why Ethiopia identified poverty as its major arch foe and determined work industriously to alleviate it.  The construction of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam is among the initiatives launched by the government to alleviate poverty and maintain sustainable economic development.

As former Turkish President Turgut Özal emphasized, no country could deter any country from using its natural resource. In the same token, the downstream countries could by no means prevent upstream countries using their natural water resource for their development.  

Therefore, no matter what measures the downstream country, Egypt takes, Ethiopians will never stop building their Dam even for a fraction of a second. But Egypt  could be highly benefited if it determined and honestly cooperate with Ethiopia. Iraq, one of the richest countries in the world, coupled with Syria couldn’t compel Turkey from implementing its ambitious projects on the Tigris and Euphrates rivers. The point is that, the people in upstream countries need to use their natural resources for their development if possible in cooperation with downstream countries, if not by themselves won’t be any justification or any force that could deter them from using their resource like what do the downstream countries in using water or other natural resource like oil.

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