15 June 2017

Ethiopia: GERD - a Reward to Downstream Countries

Photo: Ethiopian Herald
The Grand Renaissance Dam or GERD.
editorial

It might be unfair for a country endowed with copious water resources suffering of thirst and hunger for years but that was a reality. Sadly, although Ethiopia is endowed with abundant water resources, it has only utilized an insignificant amount, nearly 3 per cent.

However, there is government and public mobilization to build mega dams including the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD), which is expected to play a significant role in the country's poverty alleviation and in regional economic integration. This historic Dam, designed to generate more than 6000 Megawatts of electricity with artificial lake covering 187,400 hectares, is entirely financed by the government and people of Ethiopia.

It is one of the projects that brought all nations, nationalities and peoples of Ethiopia together. All citizens residing both at home and abroad have been participating in the building of the historic dam either through money contribution or bond purchase.

Under its completion, the Dam will contribute a significant role not only to speed up poverty alleviation schemes of Ethiopia but also to enhance regional economic integration.

It is also believed to elongate the ages of downstream dams including the Aswan Dam. According to a study made under the title of "Sedimentation and Erosion issues at the High Aswan Dam," by Kazuhiro Yamauchi, the Dam has encountered with sedimentation problems every year that could diminish its service years.

It is known that the Aswan Dam is built in 1970. It served the country for about half a century and generating 23 per cent of the total power in Egypt. But it is usually challenged by sedimentation of about 70 cubic meters annually. Currently, the estimated service time of the Dam is 500 years; even some studies predicted it to be about 310 years.

"The estimated load of sediment at El Diem, the entrance of the river to Sudan, and at the Aswan Dam is 140 and 160 million tons per years. Nearly 90 per cent of the sediments is from the Blue Nile," El Monshid et al (1997).

However, there is good news from the Ethiopian Grand Renaissance Dam. There is a ray of hope that GERD will rejuvenate the Aswan Dam. According to recent research findings, the completion of GERD will enhance the age of the Aswan Dam for some hundred years through sediment control.

GERD is to invigorate the 50 years' old Aswan Dam. But there is misconception about its emergence that Egypt repeatedly expressed its refutation since the launching of the Dam. However, the Sudanese government understood soon the importance of the Dam to all countries in the region.

Many political analysts argue that Egypt will realize all the misunderstandings it has perceived today when it began to enjoy the fruits of the Dam. In addition to the aforementioned benefits, downstream countries could enhance their irrigation system so as to maximize their productivity; thereby, developing their industries using power from Ethiopia with the minimum possible cost. Therefore, the construction of GERD will be an opportunity for downstream countries to decree their industrial revolution so as to facilitate their overall development.

Many times said but it is so important to mention again and again that downstream countries will get constant amount of water throughout the year. Besides, they will get much more water than they used to get before as the Dam, situated in a deep gorge will reduce water evaporation. One more important benefit is minimizing flood disaster. The two downstream countries, Egypt and the Sudan, were liable to flood disasters every rainy season.

It is undeniable that GERD will intertwine all countries in the basin. This interconnection will lead countries in the basin to further strengthen their trade and investment relations; diversify export-import exchanges and maximize their trade volumes.

The aforesaid are just a few justifications about the significance of the Dam. However, it could offer a number of additional benefits to both upstream and downstream countries particularly Egypt, the Sudan and Ethiopia.

It is aimed to facilitate poverty alleviation schemes; thereby, sustaining the fast economic growth the country has registered for the past two and half decades. Poverty alleviation schemes could be meaningfully executed if there is inclusive sector integration say the integration of the agricultural and the industrial sectors.

The initiation to build the Grand Dam has emanated from the intention to alleviate poverty that the energy sector has to develop parallel to the emerging economy. According to documents from the Ethiopian Electric Power Corporation, the country plans to develop its power to 17 thousand megawatts in 2020 and 35 thousand in 2037.

It would be unthinkable to uphold the development without developing the power that could shoulder the rising economy. That is why Ethiopia has been investing a huge capital on developing the energy sector. As a result, there is progress. If we compare what it was some twenty six years ago with the present time, the change is so massive, from 370 in 1991 to more than 4,200 megawatts at present.

The completion of GERD will add much to the power development of the country. It has also a number of benefits to downstream countries. But Egypt has still some reservations. There are also groups, who still failed to accept the current reality in Ethiopia, in Africa and in the world, agitating against the construction of the Dam.

Although the Dam has an affirmative impact on both upstream and downstream countries, these groups allied with some Ethiopian Diaspora as well as a few at home have been attempting to picture as if the Dam inflicts harm to the downstream countries.

As the country utilizes its fair water share to alleviate poverty and ensure sustainable economic development, harnessing its natural resources could be mandatory. Its determination to build GERD and its devotion to convince other concerned countries has emanated from this fact. The Sudan recognized the significant contribution of the Dam and it is cooperating with Ethiopia for the past four years.

In fact, that is what scholars and researchers have been witnessing. They confirmed that GERD, upon its completion, will contribute a lot to all countries in the region. It has both political and economic importance. On one hand, it broke the colonial legacy in utilizing natural resources among the Nile basin countries. On the other hand, it shared a number of benefits for all the riparian states.

In summing up, GERD will offer a number of rewards to downstream countries. It regulates the amount of water flowing to downstream countries, reduces the impact of flood damage during the rainy season, receives much more water than what they used to get and reduces water evaporation. Above all, it will offer a special reward to the Aswan Dam and other dams. GERD help to elongate the functioning periods of downstream hydro-power and irrigation dams through sedimentation control.

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