Sunday,19 August, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1241, (9-15 April 2015)
Sunday,19 August, 2018
Issue 1241, (9-15 April 2015)

Ahram Weekly

Step ahead on the dam

The consultancy firm that will evaluate the studies on the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam is scheduled to be announced in the Ethiopian capital this week, reports Reem Leila

Al-Ahram Weekly

Minister of Irrigation and Water Resources Hossam Moghazi travelled to the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa on 8-9 April to attend the announcement of the consultancy firm responsible for the evaluation studies to be carried out on the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD).

The ceremony is to be attended by the Sudanese and Ethiopian ministers of irrigation, along with officials from neighbouring countries.

The minister, who received the invitation from his Ethiopian counterpart, said that the firm would conduct studies on the impact of the GERD on Egypt’s and Sudan’s share of the River Nile’s water based on their annual consumption.

The firm should finish its mission within 12 months, he said, and this would be followed by agreements between Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia. “One of the agreements will regulate the annual operations of the dam,” Moghazi said.

Moghazi also declared that Nile Basin countries would be invited to attend the inauguration ceremony of the new Nile Museum in Aswan. The museum is scheduled to be inaugurated in two months’ time and “presents a model of closeness between Egypt and the Nile Basin countries as it illustrates the flow of the River Nile from the upstream to downstream countries,” he said.

The GERD is being built to store 74 billion cubic metres of water in its reservoirs and will stand on the Blue Nile, the Nile’s largest tributary. According to Ethiopian officials, it is being built to generate electricity and assist in cultivation. 

Khaled Wassef, an official spokesman of the minister of irrigation and water resources, said that though the construction of the GERD had been causing anxiety among downstream countries regarding its possible impact on their historical share of the Nile’s water, Ethiopian officials had been saying that the downstream countries would not be negatively affected by the project.

“Ethiopia has already finished 41 per cent of the construction work, which began in 2011. The GERD, which should be finished by 2017, will cost $5 billion and will generate 6,000 megawatts of electricity via 16 turbines,” Wassef said.

On 23 March, Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia signed a Declaration of Principles on the GERD. Former minister of education and international arbitrator Mofid Shehab told Alyoum Al-Sabea that after Egypt’s signature to the declaration a further three agreements will be signed after the international consultancy firm finishes its work.

“The three agreements will be based on the technical report issued by the firm and will solve the disputed points between Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia,” Shehab said.

Shehab, among the experts who revised the declaration before Egypt signed it, said that Ethiopia was against an article in the declaration regarding its commitment to the results of the consultancy firm’s report. “This article in particular consumed a lot of time before Ethiopia’s signature to the declaration,” Shehab said.

The following agreements will be drafted by a tripartite commission formed of Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia, he said, commenting that the disputed points included the GERD’s storage capacity and its height.

The declaration did not harm Egypt’s access to the Nile’s water, he said. “It will be considered an international treaty after the parliaments of the three signing parties approve it. All signatory parties will be obliged to abide by its terms,” Shehab commented.

The former minister denied allegations that the declaration abandoned Egypt’s share of the Nile’s water.

“The declaration was thoroughly and carefully studied. It is all about the GERD and does not mention Egypt’s share of the Nile. The signing of the declaration was meant to settle concerns between Egypt and Ethiopia. A large chunk of the declaration is on international river law in order to oblige Ethiopia to abide by this law,” Shehab said.

Veteran water expert Diaa Al-Qousi said the relationship between Egypt and Ethiopia had improved after President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi’s visit to Ethiopia to sign the declaration.

“The president’s visit has opened the door for negotiation. The aim of the declaration is to pave the way for further and deeper negotiations so as to reach an agreement regarding the disputed points,” Al-Qousi said.

“Negotiations regarding the GERD began in 2011, and the time spent was essential in order to reach an agreement that suits all the concerned parties,” he said.

Ethiopia began planning the GERD in 2005, and it has succeeded in convincing other countries of its importance. Egypt, however, has had reservations about the project, worrying that it could reduce the country’s share of Nile Water.

 “This is why Egypt has not signed the Entebbe Treaty” signed by upstream Nile Basin countries, Al-Qousi said. “There is a danger that Ethiopia will build further smaller dams to generate electricity for domestic consumption and export it to neighbouring countries.”

Historically, only Egypt and Sudan have received guaranteed shares of Nile water, since the other Nile Basin countries receive abundant rainfall. Egypt has thus had a historical right to the Nile’s water, a right confirmed by many international agreements.

Earlier agreements were signed by Britain and Italy and the Upper Nile Basin countries, the last in 1959 between Egypt and Sudan. “These historical rights are protected by international law,” Al-Qousi said.

After the 1959 Agreement, Egypt’s share of Nile water was increased to 55.5 billion cubic metres, while Sudan receives 18.5 billion cubic metres. This amount only comprises six to eight per cent of total rainfall over the Nile Basin, with much of the rest being lost.

“What we use is very little when compared to the potential. Yet to tap this potential there must be better management of the water in some areas, such as in the Equatorial Lakes where the water losses are huge,” Al-Qousi commented.

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