Tuesday,17 October, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1238, (19 - 25 March 2015)
Tuesday,17 October, 2017
Issue 1238, (19 - 25 March 2015)

Ahram Weekly

Inching towards a solution

An agreement on the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam is expected to be signed next week. Will it be in Egypt’s interests, asks Reem Leila

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Al-Ahram Weekly

Sudan’s Foreign Minister Ali Karti used the three-day Egypt Economic Development Conference (EEDC) to announce that Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia will sign an agreement regulating the operation of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam on 23 March. The signing ceremony is to be held in Khartoum and will be attended by the presidents of all three states.

“All Nile Basin states and neighbouring countries will be invited to attend this important ceremony,” said Karti. Details of the draft preliminary agreement, which Sudan’s foreign minister describes as historic, have not been made public.

Cairo is concerned the Ethiopian dam will reduce the flow of the Blue Nile, which provides Egypt with 86 per cent of its fresh water. Ethiopia insists the project is essential for its development and the wellbeing of a growing population.

Former minister of irrigation Nasreddin Allam argues the preliminary agreement will be worthless if it fails to allow for the renegotiation of the capacity of the reservoir the dam creates.

“This must be the top priority in any final agreement between Egypt and eastern Nile Basin countries. The proposed capacity of 74 billion cubic metres is way too high,” said Allam.

Allam also believes the time period for the dam’s start of operation, at a still to be determined reduced capacity, must be extended from five years to seven in order to mitigate its impact on Egypt’s supply of fresh water. “This extension,” he says, “will greatly reduce the detrimental fallout of the project.”

Unlike the details of the dam’s operational mechanisms, this revised timetable cannot be negotiated, says Allam.

During the EEDC, Ethiopia’s prime minister Hailemariam Desalegn claimed that along with Ethiopia, Egypt and Sudan will “be swimming in the waters of the dam.” It is a rosy scenario that Allam rejects.

“Unless the capacity is reduced Ethiopia will be swimming alone in the River Nile while Egypt and Sudan suffer drought,” he says.

In 2013 Egypt asked American water expert Iris George Kaks, a professor at Georgia University, to study the benefits of extending the reservoir fill time from five to seven years.

What Kaks concluded, says Allam, is that the fill time should be lengthened to between 15 and 25 years to minimise any water deficit in Egypt. “This, of course, could not be implemented as it will not be feasible for Ethiopia.”

A Norwegian study conducted in July 2011 concluded that the size of the dam was far from economically efficient. Several smaller dams, rather than a single dam, would not only double the economic benefits but also head off potential conflict over water.

This conclusion was supported by Paul Sullivan, an expert in energy and conflict at the US Defence University, who testified in front of the US Congress in 2014.

Amany Al-Taweel, an expert in African affairs at Al-Ahram Centre for Political and Strategic Studies, says the preliminary agreement is an important step towards strengthening bilateral relations between Egypt and Ethiopia.

“A positive spirit prevailed in the latest round of negotiations, suggesting there is now real political will on both sides to solve this chronic problem,” Al-Taweel says. But a final agreement, he cautions, will take more rounds of discussions and meetings.

“Karti’s speech during the EEDC was very promising. But it will take concrete decisions, rather than reassuring statements, to resolve the crisis.”

During the EEDC, Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia agreed to bring forward the tripartite summit planned in Khartoum. This, says Al-Taweel, could prove a significant step if the outcome is a commitment from Ethiopia to amend the Entebbe Convention, extend the reservoir fill time from five to seven years and place a moratorium on the building of any additional dams.

The Entebbe Convention, which reduces Egypt’s historic share of Nile water, led to Cairo boycotting Nile Basin Initiative meetings for five years.

International agreements signed in 1929 and 1959 guarantee Egypt 55.5 billion cubic metres of the estimated 84 billion cubic metres of water that annually flow through the Nile.

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