Addis Fortune (Addis Ababa)

5 January 2014

East Africa: Egypt, Ethiopia Lock Horns Over Mega Dam

Photo: http://africanarguments.org
Artist's impression of the Renaissance Dam under construction on the Blue Nile in Ethiopia.

Egypt has repeatedly shown its disdain towards the construction of the dam, often citing colonial agreements

A disagreement between Ethiopia and Egypt over the construction of the Great Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) has once again stalled negotiations. This came following some demands forwarded by Egypt, which Ethiopia finds unacceptable.

Egypt has officially demanded that Ethiopia either suspends the construction of the dam or scales it down in size, according to a report the Ministry of Water, Irrigation & Energy (MoWIE) presented to Parliament on Tuesday, December 31, 2013.

During consecutive high-level negotiations between Ethiopia, Egypt and Sudan, Egypt officially announced its stance that the construction of the 6,000-megawatt dam - set to be Africa's largest when completed in 2017 - should either be suspended or reduced in size. This is a position that Ethiopia fully disagrees with.

The Dam has been the reason for increased tension between Egypt and Ethiopia during the past year. In May, Ethiopia began diverting water from a tributary of the Blue Nile in preparation for the construction of the Dam.

Egypt fears that the Ethiopian dam will affect its current majority share of the Nile water. In accordance with agreements signed in 1929 and 1959, Egypt is guaranteed 55.5bn cubic metres of the estimated total of 84 billion cubic metres of Nile water produced each year.

"Egypt wants to be in control of everything related to the construction of the Dam," Fite Ahmed, a member of the National Panel of Experts and director general of the Boundary & Trans-Boundary River Affairs Directorate with the Ministry, said. "It has even threatened to take the case to the International Court."

Whereas the Dam - being constructed on the world's longest river, which runs 4,160 miles through 11 countries, from Burundi in the south to Egypt - is set to be 145 metres high, Egypt has proposed that it needs to be scaled down to 90 metres. On the other hand, Egypt has also put forward its position that the Dam's carrying capacity should be shrunk to 14 billion cubic metres from the planned 74 billion cubic metres.

The Dam, which is under construction in Guba, in the Benishangul-Gumuz Regional State (30 kilometres from the Sudanese border), is set to have the capacity to generate 6,000 Mw of electricity. The Egyptians have demanded that this be trimmed down to anywhere between 1,400 and 1,800 Mw.

"The Egyptians have also put forward their demand that Ethiopia guarantees them use of the water," Fite told the Parliamentarians, who gathered for the 11th regular session. "They have also demanded that they be allowed to open a project office in Addis Abeba."

The assignment of Egyptian engineers as supervisors of the dam construction was also raised as a demand from the Egyptian side. Another point with which Ethiopia failed to agree with Egypt was the latter's demand for its engineers to conduct a redesign of the Dam.

The Ethiopian delegation has expressed its position that it has been assessing the stability of the rocks on which the foundations of the main dam and an auxiliary dam will rest.

"The delegation has made it clear to the Egyptians that there is no cause for alarm regarding the geological formation or the foundation design," Alemayehu Tegenu, minister of Water, Irrigation & Energy, said.

In an effort to determine whether the dam project is environmental friendly, the need for an international panel of experts was suggested. This comprises of two from Ethiopia, Egypt and Sudan. The Ethiopian government facilitated field visits to the panel, in which four high profiled international experts are also included, from South Africa, Germany, the UK and France.

The panel's results, which were eagerly awaited by all three countries, came in May 2013, after a series of studies. The panel concluded that the dam would not be a source of threat for any nation, citing that it had a flood permeable canal and water leakage system.

The result said that the dam increases hydroelectric supply in the riparian countries and helps to develop irrigation systems, especially in Sudan. Egypt rejected the results.

Alemayehu described Egypt's stance as unsteady.

"The Egyptians try to win the favour of experts and issue ill-motivated statements pertaining to the dam," he said.

The Ethiopian delegation has expressed its position during the negotiations that Egypt's belief that the construction of the Dam poses danger to its national security is misguided and unfounded. It has also indicated to the Egyptians that it will not pause construction or scale down the country's most important development project.

"We will build the dam to end poverty, not to harm Egypt," Alemayehu said.

The government, however, accords priority to cooperation, it was indicated.

"The solution is not to wrestle with each other, but to find innovative and constructive solutions and look to the future," Fite said.

During earlier negotiations in November, Egypt called for international experts to help prepare a new study on the regional impact of the 4.2 billion dollars dam.

Egypt also said it wanted trusted international consultancies to look into how the hydropower project on a tributary of the Nile River will affect the waterway's flow, as well as safety issues. Ethiopia, however, countered that including such a group was unnecessary, after global experts completed a report earlier this year.

Sudan backs the dam and has said that it will bring many blessings and benefits for it, Fite told the Parliamentarians.

The stance of Sudan on the feasibility of the dam and its fertile negotiation on the trans-boundary river is appreciable. It will benefit from the dam, as it benefits from Tekeze Dam, according to Alemayehu.

Ethiopia needs to build on the goodwill it has gained from the Sudanese side, Girma Seifu, the lone opposition member of Parliament, who represents Medrek - a coalition of four parties, which has recently progressed to a front - said.

"As it now stands, it is goodwill and hence nothing is binding," he said. "Thus, Ethiopia needs to further win Sudan to its side."

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