A personal reflection
BY DR. MULUGETA BEREDED ZELELEW (PhD)
The Ethiopian Nile basin covers about one-third of the Country's area and contributes to more than 85% of the Nile Water. This equates to about 70% of Ethiopia's total water resources potential. Sixty-five percent of the Country's Hydropower Potential and about half of the total Irrigable Land are located in the Ethiopian Nile Basin region. The Basin is also home to close to 50 million people. It is not therefore a secret that the Ethiopian Nile Basin is the major natural resource of Ethiopia.
Ethiopia is considered a wet country. It also earns the name "The Water Tower of East Africa". However, this name does not reflect the level of water scarcity in the Country. Rainfall in Ethiopia is erratic. Due to the rugged, eroded, and mountainous terrain, the water from the rainfall finds little time to infiltrate into the soil and to remain as residual moisture. Most of the water from the rainfall rushes to the rivers. Even under a normal Rainfall year, as much as 5-10 million or more Ethiopians are drought struck and consequently are chronically food insecure. Electricity is rationed on a regular basis. This is a clear rationale that Ethiopia currently cannot provide energy to alleviate its development challenges and feed itself without the implementation of development projects by using its share of water from the Nile.
Half part of Ethiopia to the North-East, East, and South-East of the Great Rift Valley is a water scarce region. In this region, drought is imminent almost each year. Whereas the rest of the Country to the West and North-West is endowed with surplus rainwater. However, more than four-fifth of the total volume of the rainwater in this region occurs during the major rainy season (June - August). As a result, water availability either for energy Generation of food production cannot be ensured without the implementation of water storage facilities.
Being considered a wet country while more than half of the Country suffers from water scarcity each year is a paradox. Relocation of water from water-surplus regions to water-scarce regions is technically and economically infeasible. Currently, Ethiopia does not either have the Economic Capacity to absorb the challenges it is facing due to drought. The Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) for Ethiopia is the Hope and Renaissance from its deep-rooted drought trauma and its stigma.
The GERD is being constructed at a point located at the outlet of the Blue Nile Basin, it drains every drop of water from about one-fifth of the Country. First and foremost, GERD shall help increased access to electricity for the Ethiopian people. It will also help in the improvement of the Economic Capacity of Ethiopia. The GERD project will also enable Ethiopia to allocate and share the benefits of its natural resources to its citizens despite the geographic location of the natural resource. The commissioning of the GERD project will hopefully also help to initiate a cooperative attitude to the management and sustainable use of the Nile river and end Egypt's unfair and century-old hegemonic attitude - who often blocks the Nile Basin Countries from utilizing the Nile waters to alleviate their development challenges. The GERD project will boost economic security, bring political stability, and improve peace and security in the fragile region of East Africa.
The GERD project was first idealized in the 1960's by Emperor Haile Selassie and it was never materialized due to lack of finance and all sorts of internal problems. The project was set aside for generations to complete it. The GERD project was rekindled in 2011 by the late Prime Minister of Ethiopia Meles Zenawi. Despite the challenges, one fact stands boldly-that is, whoever comes in power, and regardless of the hurdles, Ethiopians and Ethiopia will stand consistently firm to developing and utilizing their natural resources. Ethiopians shall continue to do so for generations to come. The current generation is lucky enough to see the fulfillment of the dreams of the past and current generations.
The materialization of the GERD project, from its start to its current state, has passed through numerous inside and outside challenges. The main challenges came from Egypt. Egypt has long been opposed to any development projects on the Blue Nile and other tributaries. Ethiopia, running out of options and being disappointed to secure finance from International Sources, declared to implement the GERD project on its own in April 2011. Currently, the dam is nearly complete, and the First phase of Filling is accomplished during this year's rainy season.
Ethiopia's challenge has now entered a new phase, with the direct and partial involvement of the U.S. and the World Bank. The U.S. and World Bank, although feign neutral, seem to sideline towards Egypt's interests. This is undermining the ongoing negotiation and leading the negotiation to nowhere. It is known that Egypt's primary objective has been to maintain the status quo and hegemonic control of the Nile Waters.
The GERD project is a national pride for Ethiopia and Ethiopians. We should proudly be part of this pristine moment and leave our footprints to achieve the realization of the GERD project. We shall be able to witness the success of the second phase of the filling in the middle of next year's rainy season, and energy generation from the First Two Turbines of the GERD Hydropower Project towards the end of 2021. We should join our hands and contribute to the realization of the GERD project and make our own history now. The coming generation shall use GERD as a springboard to shape its own history.
Ed.'s note: The Author is a senior hydrologist and water resources engineer at Multiconsult Norway. He may be contacted at email@example.com