Sunday,22 July, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1281, (4 - 10 February 2016)
Sunday,22 July, 2018
Issue 1281, (4 - 10 February 2016)

Ahram Weekly

A step forward?

President Al-Sisi’s meeting with Ethiopia’s prime minister, together with the imminent start of studies on the Renaissance Dam, might ease tension and bring the parties closer to a settlement, reports Doaa El-Bey

Al-Ahram Weekly

Positive statements were issued after President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi’s meeting with Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn. But, as a diplomat, who asked to remain anonymous, said, “It is the outcome on the ground that counts.”

The experimental operation of the Ethiopian Renaissance Dam will start by July this year at the earliest, the diplomat said. The two consultative firms who are to conduct studies on the dam are likely to start even earlier, this month or next. Their studies will take up to 12 months. The diplomat questioned the value of the studies if the results are disclosed after the dam is up and running.

“Ethiopians and Egyptians are two people that do not necessarily like each other. However, cooperation was imposed on us. That is, we do not have another option than to cooperate,” Maghawri Shehata, an expert on water issues, told Al-Ahram Weekly.

The dam is a reality, Shehata said, “so at least we have to cooperate on two main issues needed for the initial filling of the reservoir and the yearly running of the dam”.

The last few days of January saw two important developments concerning the dam: Al-Sisi’s meeting with Desalegn in Addis Ababa, and the handing out of the initial reports of the two French firms responsible for conducting the studies to Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan.

The Renaissance Dam and coordination between the two countries topped the talks of Al-Sisi and Desalegn. Presidential spokesman Alaa Youssef said Al-Sisi underlined Egypt’s commitment to bilateral relations between the two countries.

The president also affirmed that all countries that signed the co-operation convention in Khartoum in December should take serious procedures to fulfill their part of the agreement, taking into account Egypt’s share of the Nile’s water, Youssef added.

At the meeting, Deselegn reiterated that the dam will not harm Egypt and that he will not allow any harm to Egypt either in regards to water or in anything else. The two leaders met on the sidelines of the African Union summit in Addis Ababa on Saturday.

Diaaeddin Al-Kousi, an international water expert, said the negotiations ceiling needs to be lifted “so that we can achieve a better outcome.”

Said Al-Kousi, “We are left with two options: either lift the ceiling of negotiations by holding it on the level of state leaders, or resort to legal action. Now Egypt is trying the first option.

 He continued, “The other important development is that the two French consultancy firms BRL and Artelia handed in their technical offers to start studies on the dam.”

But Al-Kousi said this second set is a waste of time. “We have been working with the consultancy firms ever since August 2014. They do not need to submit more offers. They just need to work and finish the studies as soon as possible,” he said.

It is the job of the ministers to push to sign the contracts and finish the studies as quickly as possible, he added.

The two firms gave experts in Cairo, Khartoum and Addis Ababa a week to study the technical offer at a national level.

The offer will then be evaluated by experts from the three countries at a four-day meeting in Khartoum. According to the road map drawn up as part of the Khartoum document signed in December, the two consultancy firms will attend the meeting.

The firms will conduct two studies: one on the effects of the dam on the water flow to Egypt and Sudan, and the other on the environmental, economic and social impact of the dam.

The dam has long been a cause of friction between Cairo and Addis Ababa. Egypt has repeatedly expressed concerns over the dam’s possible effect on Egypt’s Nile water supply, while Ethiopia insists the dam is mainly for generating electricity and will not affect Egypt’s share of Nile water.

In an attempt to reduce the possible impact on the dam on Egypt, Cairo suggested an increase in the number of gates from two to four, to allow more water to flow to downstream countries.

Addis Ababa rejected the suggestion, saying that building two openings for the dam had come following “intensive studies” and that it could not redesign the project.

“It was not a surprise that Addis Ababa rejected the Egyptian suggestion. How would the latter ask for a change in the design after building half the dam?” asked the diplomat.

During a meeting late last year, the Egyptian, Sudanese and Ethiopian foreign and irrigation ministers signed the Khartoum Agreement, described as “historic” by Sudan’s foreign minister. The document prevents Addis Ababa from starting to fill the dam’s reservoir until technical studies are finished in October this year, Hossam Moghazi, Egypt’s minister of irrigation, said after the signing.

The other advantage of the agreement, according to Moghazi, is that it allows field visits to the dam by Egyptian and Sudanese experts.

The three countries also agreed to replace the Dutch consultancy firm Deltares, after it withdrew from the studies in September, with the French firm Artelia which is to conduct studies on the dam’s impact alongside the already selected firm BRL.

Several technical meetings were held last year in the hope of resolving disagreements about the firm that was to conduct the studies on the dam’s impact. The last technical meeting was held in Khartoum in December.

A French and Dutch firm were chosen in April last year by the National Tripartite Committee (NTC) overseeing the dam, but the Dutch firm, which was assigned 30 per cent of the work, withdrew in September, saying the conditions imposed by the NTC and the French firm “did not guarantee” independent and good-quality studies.

The NTC is composed of technical experts from the three states and are in charge of studying the possible impact of the dam.

Dispute over the dam goes back to before the 2011 Revolution in Egypt. Egypt attempted several times to prevent its construction because of concerns over its effect on the amount of water reaching the country. Egypt depends on the Nile for 95 per cent of its water needs. Most of this water comes from the Blue Nile.

The differences took a sharp turn when Ethiopia diverted the course of the Blue Nile to start the building of the dam in May 2013. Negotiations failed to resolve the differences until the two countries decided to open a new page of cooperation after Al-Sisi met Desalegn for the first time on the margins of the African Union summit in Equatorial Guinea in June 2014.

The two leaders agreed that they would form a joint committee in the following three months to enhance bilateral relations between the two countries. The foreign ministers of both nations issued a statement after the meeting in which they stressed that Ethiopia understood the importance of the Nile to Egypt and Egypt understood the Ethiopian plans and needs for development. Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan then formed the NTC to look into the effects of the dam.

In another confidence-building measure in March last year, Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan met in Sudan to sign a declaration of principles on the dam that included cooperation among the three countries regarding their water needs, with the aim of improving sustainable development and regional economic integration. The three also agreed not to cause harm or damage any of the signatories.

After signing the declaration of principles, the three countries agreed to sign contracts with the French and Dutch consultancy firms to carry out studies of the dam’s possible effects on the accessing of water by downstream countries.

The studies are also expected to determine the time it will take for the dam to be filled and the possible environmental and social impact on Egypt and Sudan.

Egypt currently receives 55.5 billion cubic metres of the Nile’s water. Sudan receives 18 billion cubic metres, as stipulated by a 1959 treaty.


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