14 December 2017

Ethiopia: Technical Understanding - the Best Way Forward to Go On With Negotiations On GERD


Technical understanding is the key to come up with possible alternatives of negotiation and mutual agreements on concerns of Egypt over the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD), says Fekahmed Negash, Executive Director of Eastern Nile Technical Regional Office (ENTRO).

Recently, Egypt's Minister of Water Resources and Irrigation Mohamed Abdel Ati has said that though "there are many alternatives" to continue the negotiation over GERD, which would be the largest dam in Africa once completed stopping the construction is no more an option available on the table.

The negotiations seem to rely mostly on the Nile Basin countries' understanding of technical issues than anything else.

"It is obvious that Ethiopia will not stop the construction of the Dam, which has now reached more than 60 percent," Fekahmed says adding, "and Egypt's Minister of Water Resources and Irrigation seems to have understood this fact."

Different Egyptian media outlets have been releasing information that Egypt would never negotiate its water supply from the Nile.

Last month, Arab News has reported that President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi warned Ethiopia concerning its plan to start filling the dam in the near future.

Sissi also noted that water is a matter of life or death for Egypt and no one would touch Egypt's share of water from the Nile. Top Egyptian officials have also in recent months been sharpening their rhetoric on Ethiopia.

However, as per the recent information from Cairo, Minister Abdel Ati noted his country could not prevent the construction of the dam and there are other ways to negotiate.

According to Fekahmed, this is the right technical understanding and approach which could bring upper and downstream countries of the Nile River, to see better options to share the water in a fair and equitable manner.

"In my view, Egypt's Minister has understood that there is a possibility that the countries would come into [negotiations] and hence reach agreements."

Since, stopping the construction of GERD is impossible and Egypt has alternative terms of negotiations, which it has not yet declared, what would be the possible ways to pursue negotiations?

Fekahmed tells The Ethiopian Herald that one of the major options could be finishing the studies that have been conducted by neutral parties that are selected by the mutual consent of the three countries, Ethiopia, Sudan and Egypt, to assess the impacts of the hydropower dam.

"The time to start filling the dam is approaching. Thus, filling the dam based on the findings of the first tripartite study and in a way, that could not harm Egypt's share of water could be the other option," says Feqah.

As the construction of the dam is progressing as per the schedule, any negotiation with Egypt could not affect the construction procedure, according to him.

There is also the Declaration of Principles which the three countries have signed in 2015. The Declaration states that the countries would conduct technical studies but in parallel with the construction of the dam.

This means the nations have signed an agreement that the constriction would not be stopped or interrupted [for the sake of conducting technical studies]. On the other hand, the declaration indicates that Egypt has accepted the construction of the dam.

The dam which is being constructed with eighty billion Birr/ four Billion USD/ is expected to generate 6,450 mega wats of hydro power.

Deputy Director of the National Council for the Coordination of Public Participation for the Construction of GERD, Fikerete Tamer, which is being constructed with eighty billion Birr/ four Billion USD/ and expected to generate 6,450 MW of electricity is a crucial input for the ongoing rapid economic growth of Ethiopia.

She notes that the public has so far contributed 10.4 Billion Birr from the pledged 12.4 Billion. Further, the Diaspora community alone has contributed more than forty-two million USD.

In terms of environmental conservation, the public has been engaged in different activities significant to prevent siltation in the dam. The labor force utilized in this environmental conservation is estimated to be worth over 79 billion Birr.

Besides its concern over the time table to filling the dam, Egypt has repeatedly proclaiming that it has a historical right over the Nile River.

Ethiopia's stance is that the Nile water, specifically GERD is also a matter of life or death for Ethiopians too.

According to Dr. Engineer Sileshi Bekele, Ethiopia's Minister of Water Irrigation and Electricity, the filling process will be undertaken together with consultations between the three countries. But there will never be such thing as Egypt's historical right in terms of water share, he stresses, as the Nile is the resource of all in the basin.

GERD represents a crucial moment in Ethiopia's development agenda, serving as a means to improving the hydropower capacity of the country, and ensuring future food security.


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