Thursday,19 October, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1217, (16 - 22 October 2014)
Thursday,19 October, 2017
Issue 1217, (16 - 22 October 2014)

Ahram Weekly

Key talks

The Tripartite Technical Commission has met to select a consultancy company to undertake studies on the impact of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam on Egypt’s share of Nile water, reports Reem Leila

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Al-Ahram Weekly

Egypt is hosting a two-day meeting today, 16 October, with a 12-expert panel representing Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia. Together they will choose a consultancy company to investigate the hydrological, social and environmental effects of the Ethiopian project on Egypt and Sudan, both downstream from the dam. Egyptian, Sudanese and Ethiopian ministers of irrigation will attend the meetings to exchange findings on the impact of the Ethiopian hydropower project.

The original meeting was scheduled to take place on 20-21 October, but it was brought forward to accommodate the schedules of the Sudanese and Ethiopian irrigation ministers. This is the second Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) meeting of the Tripartite Technical Commission. The first was held at the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa last September. Further issues to be discussed today and tomorrow include water security, GERD progress and developments in the African continent.

Minister of Water Resources and Irrigation Hossam Moghazi has pointed out at a press conference that today’s meeting is very important. “The Tripartite Technical Commission will choose one of nine consultancy companies. Each of Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia are suggesting three different companies to undertake the required studies about the GERD’s impact as requested by the international technical panel in May 2013,” said Moghazi.

It was in May 2013, when the technical panel decided that current studies to assess the dam’s impact on the river flow were insufficient and that further studies are a must. According to Mogahzi the selected company shall complete its work within five months, before March 2015. “In the case of the two-day meeting ending without the required company being settled on, The Tripartite Technical Commission will be provided with a further two weeks to resolve the issue,” he explained. 

The Irrigation Minister believes that the 12-expert committee will also choose an international law firm to represent Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia in negotiations with the consultancy company regarding financial and administrative matters. “Financial costs will be equally divided among the three countries,” he said. 

Egypt is concerned that the $4.2 billion dam project — of which, according to recent announcements by the Ethiopian government, 40 per cent is complete — could negatively affect its water supply. Ethiopia began diverting the Blue Nile, a Nile tributary, in May last year in preparation for the building of the 6,000 megawatt dam, planned to be Africa’s largest when completed in 2017.

For his part, the Sudanese President Omar Al-Bashir told the press that the GRED is as important to the Sudanese as the High Dam is to the Egyptians. “It’s untrue that the dam will affect Egypt’s or Sudan’s share of Nile water,” he said.

Meanwhile, the Ethiopian President Mulatu Teshome has insisted that no harm will befall Egypt. Teshome said that the first stage of the dam will be operational as of June 2015 and will produce 700 megawatts of electricity. Following tensions between the two countries last year, Teshome insisted the GRED will actually benefit Egypt.

At the same time, Ethiopian Minister of Water and Energy Alemayehu Tegenu pointed out Ethiopia does not want and will not touch any of Egypt’s or North Sudan’s shares of River Nile waters. “The Renaissance Dam will help to decrease poverty as the project will provide Ethiopians with job opportunities. The Renaissance project is not for the welfare of Ethiopia only. It will be useful to all Nile Basin countries as well as the whole region,” Tegenu said.

Historically, only Egypt and the Sudan have had shares of Nile water. The other Nile Basin countries did not have any need of the water, receiving enough annual rainfall to cover agricultural needs. Egypt has historical rights to the Nile confirmed by many international agreements. Diaa Al-Qoussi, the veteran international water expert, pointed out that earlier agreements were signed by Britain and Italy and the Upper Nile countries. The last such agreement was signed in 1959 by Egypt and Sudan. “We stress that these historical rights are protected by international law,” stated Al-Qoussi. Until 1959 Egypt received 48 billion cubic metres of water.

After the 1959 agreement, Egypt’s total share of Nile water was increased to 55.5 billion cubic metres, while Sudan has received 14.5 billion cubic metres. This amount only comprises six to eight per cent of the total rainfall over the Nile Basin. Much of the rest is lost, some through evaporation and transpiration, some under the ground. “What we use, then, is very little compared to the potential. Yet to tap this potential, water management must be introduced in some areas, such as the equatorial lakes, where water losses are huge. The weeds consume more than is lost through natural evaporation,” said Al-Qoussi.

Benefiting from Nile water respects several principles. According to Al-Qoussi, the share of any country must be in proportion to its population and the size of its agricultural land. None of the Nile Basin countries should harm any of its neighbouring countries who benefit from the River Nile. An international dispute will develop between Egypt and Nile Basin countries if they are to insist on their stance. “Alternatives in such cases aren’t much. Other than political and diplomatic negotiations and international arbitration, the only remaining option will be the use of military force,” added Al-Qoussi.

Ibrahim Nasreddin of Cairo University’s African Studies Institute stated that the Nile Basin countries have begun to develop and many of them want to use Nile water for irrigation. “However, decisions such as these cannot be made by one country. From now on there must be consultation and mutual agreement,” emphasised Nasreddin. Egypt will eventually need to increase its quota as this is a legal right, nonetheless. “Due to the ever increasing 80 million souls inhabiting the country, the individual’s share of potable water became less than 750 cubic metres per year, compared to 2,000 as that person’s share in any of the source countries. Officials must start talking and the details will come later. They should focus on joint projects similar to that of Gongli. The most important principle, though, is that the Nile is for all its countries. This understanding relieves the Upper Nile countries and definitely today there is a new attitude emerging,” he explains.

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