The fourth sexpartite meeting of the Foreign and Water Resources ministers of Sudan, Ethiopia and Egypt was held in Khartoum on December 27-29 to discuss pending issues relevant to the Ethiopian Grand Renaissance Dam. It was a continuation of the third meeting of the six ministers that was convened also in Khartoum on December 11-12, that is, a gap of two weeks between the two meetings.
1-The ministers signed on December 29 a communique named Khartoum Document in which they pledged abidance by the Declaration of Principles on the Renaissance Dam signed in the Sudanese capital in March 2015 (which we will discuss later on in this article). The six ministers also approved nomination by the national experts committee of the French expertise firm Artelia which will replace the Dutch firm Deltares. It was agreed that studies related to the Renaissance Dam and its impacts (to be discussed later on in this article) will be conducted by the French B. R.L and Artelia companies, provided that the former leads the job of conducting the two studies while the latter assists it. The ministers also approved the naming of Corpet & Partners lawyers firm to draft the contracts between the two companies and the national experts committee, to assist the follow-up process and to undertake the legal supervision of the two studies. Corpet & Partners is an international law firm specializing in infrastructure contracts and settlement of international disputes by mediation.
The communique stated that the two studies should be conducted in eight to 12 months and that the three countries would equally bear the financing of the studies and the cost of the law firm. The six ministers agreed to hold another round of talks in the first week of next February to follow up implementation of Khartoum Document and to redress any reappearing problems.
The fourth ministerial meeting and its closing communique that was contained in Khartoum Document came in the backdrop of a number of developments pertinent to the Renaissance Dam and the Nile Water during 2015. These developments can be summed up as follows:-
2-First: The three countries signed the declaration of Principles on the Renaissance Dam on March 23, 2015, by the Egyptian and Sudanese presidents and the Ethiopian Prime Minister personally, not by the Foreign or Irrigation ministers. Article II of that Declaration read: "The purpose of the Renaissance Dam is to generate power, contribute to sustainable development and promote cross-border cooperation and regional integration through generation clean, sustainable and reliable power. The agreement put an end to an Egyptian-Sudanese state of confusion towards the Renaissance Dam and stated full acceptance by the two countries of building the Dam and its purposes.
Article I of the Declaration of Principles provided for "cooperation in appreciating the various water needs of the three countries", thus ending a legal dispute between them (and the other Nile Basin countries) over ownership of the Nile water and consolidating the principle of an equitable and fair benefit by all member states of the Basin. This is the main principle of the international water law. As stated above, Khartoum Document provided for commitment by the three countries to the Declaration of Principles on the Renaissance Dam and put an end to a rumor that Egypt was about to withdraw from the Declaration of Principles.
3-Secondly: Article V of the Declaration of Principles provided for "implementation of recommendations of international experts committee and respect for the conclusions of the final report of the three-party experts committee on the studies recommended by the final report of the international experts committee during the different stages of the project."
The three countries previously agreed on conducting two studies- one on the water resources and application of a model hydro-electric system, while the other study is to evaluate the environmental, social and economic impacts by the Renaissance Dam on the Sudan and Egypt. The three countries selected in April 2015 the French B.R.L. expertise firm to be assisted by the Dutch Deltares expertise firm to conduct the two studies supervised by the three-party committee of experts, which became known as the national committee of experts. However, disagreement developed between the three parties and by the two expertise firms over details of the terms of reference of the studies and over the role of each of the two firms in the studies as, while the French B.R.L demanded to lead the studies assisted by the Dutch firm, the latter insisted to work as a partner, rather than an assistant in preparation of the studies. The Dutch firm withdrew for the programme of the studies in late October 2015 when the conflict among the parties escalated. And disagreements between Egypt and Ethiopia resurfaced over the Dam.
4-Thirdly: Ethiopia, in the meantime, went on building the Renaissance Dam and declared in November 2015 that it had finished 50% of the work. It was obvious that Ethiopia was racing against time which, in fact, was in its favor. Egypt, for its part, was counting on its belief that Ethiopia could not bear, alone, the tremendous cost of construction which is close to 5 billion dollars and, for this reason the work would stop, sooner or later, with no external funding. But the past years did not support this bet and Ethiopia has continued with building the Dam relying on its own national resources with nor external funding and the construction is expected to finish by 2017 to be the biggest dam in Africa and the 10th biggest one worldwide.
5-Fourthly: On December 25, 2015, Ethiopia declared it had restored the Blue Nile to its original course after completion of the concrete works. Ethiopia declared on May 28, 2013, diversion of the natural Blue Nile course to an artificial one for building the Dam on the natural course (like any other dam). The Egyptian government of the then President Mohamed Morsy protested this diversion decision and all of the Egyptian political parties to meeting in which the participants suggested an option of war against Ethiopia, an armed action to stop construction of the Dam and on a military support to the Ethiopian opposition. The speakers were not aware that the meeting was broadcast live and that the deliberation and opinions were online in a number of the social media. The decision of restoring the Blue Nile too its original course made it clear the construction has gone far and that the Dam has become a reality prompting an accelerated serious negotiation on its effects and benefits.
It must be mentioned that Article V of the Declaration of Principles provides that the studies would be conducted simultaneously with the construction works.
6-These developments and the dispute over the Renaissance Dam took the negotiations back to the point at which they should have begun in 2011 when Ethiopia started building its Dam. This point is about the period of time needed for filling the lake of the Dam of a capacity of 74 billion cubic meters and the quantities of water which Egypt and Sudan can afford to lose during the period of filling the lake. This exposed failure by the Sudan to use, during the past 56 years, its share of the Nile which, according to 1959 Nile Water Agreement between Egypt and Sudan, amounts to 18.5 billion cubic meters. And, as we have previously stated several times, the Sudan, since 1959 and until today, has utilized not more than an average of 12 billion a year, meaning that the Sudan has failed to utilize 6.5 billion cubic meters each year until today (i.e., 350 billion cubic meters over the past years). These quantities of water have continued crossing the Sudanese territories northwards and have become part of water used by Egypt since that date and until now.
7-The failure by the Sudan to utilize its share of the Nile water has raised a number of difficult and complicated questions:
First: Will the Sudan offer Ethiopia the quantity of water it has failed to utilize each year in contribution to filling the lake of the Renaissance Dam in return for the electricity to be generated from the Dam? Secondly, will Ethiopia accept this negotiating offer or turn it down because it constitutes recognition of the 1959 Nile Water Agreement which Ethiopia has been rejecting and denouncing since 1959? Thirdly, will Egypt regard its rights in the Nile water as 55.5 billion cubic meters as stipulated by the Nile Water Agreement, or insist on the quantity it has been utilizing which exceeds 65 billion cubic meters, including the quantity which the Sudan has failed to utilize beside the big increase in the Nile level during the annual floods?
These difficult questions revolve around failure by the Sudan to utilize its full share of the Nile water according to the bilateral 1959 Nile Water Agreement between Sudan and Egypt.
8-The Declaration of Principles has stated that the purpose of the Renaissance Dam is power generation, not irrigation and, therefore, after its lake is filled, Ethiopia will not be in need of additional water; it cannot either store any quantity of water after that. The Dam is designed to produce 6,000 megawatts and Article VI of the Declaration of Principles has stated that Egypt and Sudan will be granted priority in purchasing the Dam's electricity. The Sudan at present purchases an annual 250 megawatts from Ethiopia and it still suffers a big deficit in the electric power. As we have previously explained, the Sudan's benefits from the Renaissance Dam include an end to the annual overflows and a regular flow of the Blue Nile throughout the year, something which will help increase the agricultural rotations and regulate the electric-power generation in Sudan. The benefits also include blocking the big quantities of silt which flow from the Ethiopian plateau which used to make the Sudanese al-Rosairis, Sennar and Girbah dams lose more than 50% of their storage and generation capacity.
The Sudan can also negotiate and obtain agreement for making a reservoir for storing its water, as the Sudan's water storage capacity in the lakes of the country's four dams (al-Rosairis, Sennar, Girbah and Merowe) does not exceed 10 billion cubic meters (compared with 162 billion cubic meters for Egypt). Moreover, the rate of evaporation in the Renaissance Dam Lake is so low that it does not exceed 2 billion cubic meters (compared with 10 billion cubic meters from the High Dam Lake of Egypt and 7 billion cubic meters from the dams of Sudan). The low rate of evaporation from the Renaissance Dam Lake is attributed to its depth and the mild climate (MIT) of Ethiopia. The benefits and impacts of the Renaissance Dam for Sudan can be found in a study and report by Massachusetts Institute of Technology and in the recommendations of the report. This study was issued in November 2014. This can also be found in the study that was ordered by the Water ministers of the eastern Nile Basin states and which was prepared under the supervision of the World Bank in 2008 which enumerates the Sudan benefits from the Ethiopian dams. Both studies can be found in the social media sites. Furthermore, it must be indicated that the safety issue of the Renaissance Dam is discussed in Article VIII of the Declaration of Principles which reads: "The three countries appreciate the efforts so far exerted by Ethiopia for implementation of recommendations of the international experts committee on the safety of the Dam and Ethiopia shall, in good-will, finish implementation of the safety recommendations included in the report of the international experts committee."
9-The Renaissance Dam, with some cooperation by Egypt and Sudan with Ethiopia in 1950s, could have been a substitute to the High Dam and Al-Rosairis dams, providing more water and electricity than what is provided by the two dams and warding off the annual overflows. If such a decision had been taken at the time, the Sudan could have averted the catastrophic consequences of the High Dam, including the sinking of the city of Wadi Halfa and 27 of its villages, the coercive relocation of more than 50,000 Sudanese Nubians, the inundation of more than 200,000 feddans (acres) of a fertile land (and equal areas that could have been reclaimed), more than a million date and citrus trees beside the loss of invaluable antiquities. Equally, if it had been taken at that time, the decision could have saved to Egypt vast fertile lands submerged under the High Dam Lake (bearing in mind that 90% of the Egyptian population reside and rely on the Nile banks which constitute less than 10% of Egypt's territories and could have averted the coercive relocation of more than 70,000 Egyptian Nubians and could have spared the quantities of water lost by evaporation in the High Dam and the Sudanese dams. All of this was missed due to absence of cooperation and ignorance by Egypt and Sudan of requests by Ethiopia to participate in the Nile water negotiations in the 1950s. The Renaissance Dam could have been a joint venture of the three countries in funding, ownership, administration and benefits as was proposed by Ethiopia in 2011but Egypt and Sudan ignored the Ethiopian offer and missed the chance.
10-The Renaissance Dam has now become a reality accepted by Egypt and Sudan in the Declaration of Principles that was signed by the leaders of the three countries on March 23, 2015. This acceptance was confirmed by the Khartoum Document that was signed by the Foreign and Irrigation ministers of the three countries on December 29, 2015. Egypt further confirmed its acceptance of the Dam when it asked Ethiopia in the recent Khartoum ministerial meeting to add two other sluices to the outlets of the Dam. Following a lengthy discussion, Ethiopia did not agree to the request but the six ministers decided to form a tripartite technical committee to consider it.
As we have clarified above, the negotiation moved to the water rights of Egypt and Sudan and quantity which each of the two countries can afford during the period of filling the Renaissance Dam Lake and number of years Ethiopia needs to fill the Lake. The negotiation also covers selling electricity to each of Egypt and Sudan in addition to the controversial portion of the Sudan's share which has not been utilized since 1959.
11-It is to be mentioned at this point that Egypt itself has the experience of filling the High Dam Lake with a capacity of 162 billion cubic meters (compared with 74 billion cubic meters of the Renaissance Dam Lake). Egypt had managed to fill its gigantic lake in a few years without impairing its agricultural programme which entirely relies on the Nile water. This experience can be applied in filling the Renaissance Dam Lake.
12-However, the upcoming few months will make clear whether the spirit of cooperation that was demonstrated in the Declaration of Principles and confirmed by Khartoum Document will continue for full use of the Dam by the three countries or whether the old and new differences will reemerge and undermine the reached agreement. Yet, the standing fact which cannot be ignored or missed is that the construction of the Renaissance Dam has reached its final stages after Ethiopia restored the Blue Nile to its original course on December 25, 2015. This is a fact that must be fully accepted and the negotiation has to be conducted according to it, instead of skipping it. Moreover, another internationally recognized fact is that a serious negotiation remains the sole means for management, protection and utilization of common waters in a fair and sustainable way as stipulated in the United Nations treaty on the international water-courses that has come into force since August 2014. And the River Nile, with its limited water resources and the growing demand for those resources, the fast population growth and the sharp climatic changes of its Basin, the Nile is one of the rivers that are in dire need for cooperation.