Monday,23 October, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1312, (22-28 September 2016)
Monday,23 October, 2017
Issue 1312, (22-28 September 2016)

Ahram Weekly

Renaissance signing

In Khartoum, tripartite ministers of irrigation and water resources signed long-awaited contracts on the impact of the controversial Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam, reports Reem Leila

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Al-Ahram Weekly

On 19 September Egyptian, Sudanese and Ethiopian ministers of irrigation and water resources arrived in Khartoum to attend a two-meeting of the trilateral committee during which they signed long-awaited contracts with two foreign consultancy firms hired to study the impact of Ethiopia’s Grand Renaissance Dam (GERD) on downstream countries.

The signing came after several delays. The spokesman for Egypt’s Minister of Irrigation and Water Resources Walid Haqiqi said the postponement was caused by unresolved issues between the consultancy firms BRL and Artelia which are conducting the technical studies and the legal firm wording the contracts. A further delay was caused by the Sudanese government which refused granting entry visas to the firms’ experts.

The French Artelia and BRL groups had been selected to undertake studies on the dam’s impact. The UK-based law firm Corbett & Co was chosen to manage the legal affairs of the tripartite committee.

The consultation office is assigned to carry out technical studies that will determine the possible risk the dam poses to Egypt and Sudan. Hani Raslan, African expert on Sudan and Nile Basin countries at Al-Ahram Centre for Political and Strategic Studies, said the two main studies that will be conducted by the consultation offices are the impact of the dam on the river’s hydraulic head to Egypt and Sudan, and the dam’s economic and social implications.

Raslan is not very optimistic about the situation. “Ethiopia does not approve of Egypt’s historical share of the River Nile’s water which is estimated at 55.5 billion cubic metres,” Raslan said. According to Ethiopia, this historical share is based on the 1959 agreement when Ethiopia was under British colonisation, he added.

Raslan believes that the consultant firms will not help in solving the dispute regarding the GERD and its impact on downstream countries, Egypt in particular. “We are moving in a vicious circle, and what is happening now is just a big waste of time from which Ethiopia is benefiting. Ethiopia will not make any positive moves especially after Egypt’s recent steps which show our good intentions,” he argued.

“What really matters is not the agreements but the presence of a willingness to solve the dispute along with good intentions,” said Raslan, quoting Egypt’s President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi. “If Ethiopia continues with its current strategy, its intentions in controlling the waters and energy of the River Nile and its intransigence and intentions to impose a fait accompli will lead to nothing but the continuation of disputes. Ethiopia must prove its good intentions,” affirmed Raslan.

The consultation offices will take up to 12 months to study the effects of the GERD on Egypt, by which time Ethiopia will have completed construction of the dam.

In March 2015 Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan signed a trilateral declaration of principles that guarantees that all parties will take steps to ensure that GERD will not harm the interests of any of the parties concerned. Egypt previously expressed concerns that Ethiopia’s $4.2 billion dam could affect its historical share of Nile water, but recently said it is sure the construction of the dam would not negatively impact Egypt.

The GERD, of which 70 per cent has been completed, has strained relations between Ethiopia and Egypt since construction began in 2011, with relations reaching their lowest point in 2013.

Despite the tension, the spokesman for Egypt’s Foreign Affairs Ministry Ahmed Abu Zaid previously said that GERD “had no effect on bilateral relations between the two countries”.

International dams expert Meghawri Shehata said assigning two international firms to accomplish the mission was considered a positive step, as it helps in decreasing the time required to finish the environmental, economic and social studies of the GERD. “Both offices are experienced and have a good reputation. None of these firms will risk their reputation for the sake of one country over the other. Their studies will be objective and performed by a highly specialised team,” Shehata said.

Both firms will issue several important reports on hydraulics and the environment. “Reports will be complementing each other, not contradicting. We expect highly professional reports to be issued by these firms,” said Shehata.

Shehata believes that steps taken since the signing of the declaration of principles have been positive towards ending the dispute which has simmered between Egypt and Ethiopia for decades. “Let’s hope for the best and expect good intentions from the Ethiopian side,” added Shehata.

Former minister of irrigation and water resources Mohamed Nasreddin Allam said the signing of the GERD contract on impact studies was the beginning of ending the crisis regarding the dam. According to Allam, Ethiopia succeeded in imposing its selection of the consultancy offices, “however, the results of their studies are not obligatory to any of the three countries Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia”.

He said it was very difficult for the three countries to agree on the number of years needed to fill the GERD in a way that would not affect Egypt’s share of the River Nile waters and means of operating the dam due to the lack of any international technical reference in this regard. “Most international agreements had set 10-20 years as a reasonable time interval to fill the dam, however, Ethiopia believes that even five years is a very long time and economically not feasible,” explained Allam, who added that all these factors might hinder any possible agreement between Egypt and Ethiopia regarding the results of studies of the consultancy firms.

“Ethiopia did not respect any previous agreements, most important of which was the 1902 agreement which was signed by the Ethiopian Emperor Menelik II and approved by the Ethiopian parliament. The agreement prohibited the construction of any dam on the Blue Nile without the consent of the downstream countries,” added Allam.

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