Monday,16 July, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1298, (2 - 8 June 2016)
Monday,16 July, 2018
Issue 1298, (2 - 8 June 2016)

Ahram Weekly

Ignoring technicalities

Construction of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam will continue, regardless of the findings of technical consultants, says a senior Ethiopian official, Doaa El-Bey reports

Al-Ahram Weekly

Ethiopia is close to completing 70 per cent of construction work on the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD), Getachew Reda, the head of the Ethiopian Government Communication Affairs Office, told the Saudi newspaper Asharq Al-Awsat in an interview published on Friday, reports Doaa El-Bey.

His statement confirmed that Addis Ababa is pushing ahead with the project at full speed despite the fact that technical studies on the impact of the dam are not yet complete.

“The dam is being built and this will not be affected by the technical report,” said Reda.

“The dam will not harm the interests of Sudan and Egypt. If some [parties] do believe they will be harmed this is not Ethiopia’s problem.”

Why are we surprised whenever we hear statements like this from an Ethiopian official, asked a diplomat who requested anonymity. “This is what they have been doing on the ground all along. They are pushing ahead with the dam regardless of anything, and that includes the findings of the technical committee. The only difference is that this time an official has said it clearly.”

Responding to Reda’s interview, Egyptian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Ahmed Abu Zeid said on Sunday that the communications office of the Ethiopian Council of Ministers had stressed that Ethiopia remains committed to the declaration of principles on the building of the dam.

When the Egyptian Embassy in Addis Ababa contacted Ethiopian officials to verify the accuracy of Reda’s statements they said they were taken out of context and misquoted, said Abu Zeid.

Whatever the spin now being placed on the interview, water expert Maghawry Shehata argues that Reda’s words betray the extent of bad feeling and intentions that surround the dam.

“Even so, I’m not in favour of a strong response or any form of escalation. We need to keep relations good. We still have long negotiations ahead of us to determine the number of years needed to fill the reservoir, yearly operating protocols and other issues,” he said.

Studies of the impact of the dam are being conducted by BRL and Deltares, two French consultancies selected jointly by Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan.

The GERD has strained relations between Ethiopia and Egypt since construction began in 2011. Relations between Cairo and Addis reached a nadir in 2013.

Egypt has repeatedly raised concerns about the effect of the dam on its annual quota of 55.5 billion cubic metres of Nile water. Ethiopia says the dam is being constructed to generate hydroelectricity and will not harm Sudan and Egypt’s water share. But Addis Ababa’s reassurances have not been backed by studies and Ethiopia appears determined to plough on with the project without waiting for the completion of the technical reports that it was party to commissioning.

Several meetings have been held in the last 12 months in an attempt to contain tensions. In March, President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi, Sudanese President Omar Al-Bashir and Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemarian Desalegn met in Egypt.

In January, Al-Sisi and Desalegn met on the sidelines of the African Union summit in Addis Ababa where they discussed the issue of the dam and Desalegn reiterated earlier assurances that its construction would not harm Egypt.

Several rounds of talks on the technical track have also been held. The last round of tripartite technical talks convened in February in Khartoum. During the meeting Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia discussed the tenders by French consultancy firms to carry out impact studies.

At the end of the meeting a joint memo of observations on the tenders was signed and more information on technical issues was requested from the French firms, according to a statement released by Minister of Irrigation Hossam Al-Moghazy.

The consultants are expected to complete two studies, one on the effects of the dam on the water flow to Egypt and Sudan and the other on its environmental, economic and social impacts of the dam, within a maximum of 12 months.

In December last year the Egyptian, Sudanese and Ethiopian foreign and irrigation ministers signed the Khartoum Agreement which stipulates that work on filling the reservoir behind the dam can only begin after all technical studies are complete. It also allows field visits to the construction site by Egyptian and Sudanese experts.

In a confidence-building measure in March 2015 Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan signed a declaration of principles on the dam that included the provision that none of the signatories would harm the interests of the others.

The dam is intended to be Africa’s largest hydroelectric power plant with a storage capacity of 74 billion cubic metres of water. Partial operation is likely to start by the middle of this year.

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