Egypt and Ethiopia Said to Be Close to Accord on Renaissance Dam

Foreign Policy- FP
BY KEITH JOHNSON

A general view of the Blue Nile river as it passes through the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD), near Guba in Ethiopia, on December 26, 2019. – The Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam, a 145-metre-high, 1.8-kilometre-long concrete colossus is set to become the largest hydropower plant in Africa.
Across Ethiopia, poor farmers and rich businessmen alike eagerly await the more than 6,000 megawatts of electricity officials say it will ultimately provide.
Yet as thousands of workers toil day and night to finish the project, Ethiopian negotiators remain locked in talks over how the dam will affect downstream neighbours, principally Egypt. (Photo by EDUARDO SOTERAS / AFP) (Photo by EDUARDO SOTERAS/AFP via Getty Images)

Three days of intensive discussions in Washington, under the auspices of the U.S. Treasury and the World Bank, may have laid the groundwork for a preliminary agreement that could defuse growing tensions between Egypt and Ethiopia over the construction of Africa’s largest dam.

The overtime talks—lasting a day longer than scheduled—did not yet reach final agreement on the trickiest questions about how Ethiopia will operate the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) or fully address Egypt’s fears about how the hydroelectric project could affect downstream flows of the Nile River, for millennia the country’s literal lifeblood. The two countries, along with Sudan, agreed to meet again at the end of January with an eye toward nailing down precisely those technical questions, which have so far defied consensus and led to bitter recriminations between Cairo and Addis Ababa.

But at least, after four inconclusive meetings in recent months, Egypt, Ethiopia, and Sudan seem to have reached an agreement on what’s left to solve if they are to avoid open conflict over a project that has generated ill will and threats of military intervention since Ethiopia announced the dam’s construction almost a decade ago.

“The filling of the GERD will be executed in stages and will be undertaken in an adaptive and cooperative manner that takes into consideration the hydrological conditions of the Blue Nile and the potential impact of the filling on downstream reservoirs,” the concerned parties said in a statement late Wednesday.

The preliminary agreement, even if it leaves many important details undetermined, is important because Ethiopia is just months away from beginning to fill the dam’s giant reservoir, during which it could begin to divert flows of water from Egypt downstream. The fight over the GERD has become one of the most watched water conflicts in the world and, if not solved soon, could be a harbinger of what’s to come as climate change and shifting rainfall patterns put even more strain on water-stressed countries with growing populations.

“It’s a foreshadowing of the water issues that we will be facing in the future, in which water will be a source of conflict much more than in the past,” said Paul Sullivan, a water and energy expert at the National Defense University. The three countries have spent the past eight years trying to find a solution, before finally turning toward the potential of international mediation last year if differences couldn’t be resolved.

“It won’t just be the Nile. There will be some massive water conflicts, and if we can’t solve this one, it doesn’t bode well.”

“It won’t just be the Nile. There will be some massive water conflicts, and if we can’t solve this one, it doesn’t bode well,” he said.

This showdown between Ethiopia and Egypt began in 2011, when Ethiopia took advantage of Egypt’s distraction with the Arab Spring to begin construction on the long-planned GERD, a massive hydroelectric project on the Blue Nile just across the border from Sudan. A dream since the 1960s, the dam is meant to provide huge amounts of clean electricity for the power-starved nation, energy that could both fuel economic development and bring in cash through international electricity sales. Across several Ethiopian administrations, the dam has become a must-have project politically—especially since Ethiopians themselves underwrote its $4.6 billion cost with a popular bond issue—and that’s doubly the case this year, with parliamentary elections tentatively set for late summer or fall.

But for Egypt, the dam at the headwaters of the Nile represents a potentially existential threat. Some 90 percent of Egypt’s water comes from the Nile, and about 57 percent of that Nile water comes from the Blue Nile flows that Ethiopia is seeking to dam. And it will be a huge one: The reservoir behind the GERD, once filled, will hold about 74 billion cubic meters of water—well over a year’s worth of river flow through that location.

In recent years, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi had threatened to use military force to stop the dam’s construction, and it remains a heated subject in both the Egyptian and Ethiopian press. Sudan, caught in the literal middle between the other two countries, initially opposed the dam but came to support it since it promises irrigation and electricity benefits and a way to regulate irregular flows of water that often lead to devastating floods.

2 COMMENTS

  1. I’m sure these patriot countrymen will not compromise the national interests of the old country. Stubborn stance on a winner takes all behavior will never benefit anyone of the three stakeholders. There must be thresholds where all three of them can compromise on. They can battle on it but it would be utter foolish to go to war for it. We should remember that Egypt knows very well that if war breaks because of this dam it will lose it all. Then all options will be on the table on el-Sisi’s table. Such scenario will cause our old country to lose diplomatically on global basis. It may end up being isolated. And that won’t be funny. I don’t want even begin to imagine what the situation in the old country will look like. Bigots will be able to finish the job they have started. Swaths of the country will be carved out to be fiefdoms of these hate mongers and smart alecks. Shrubs and overgrowths will be cleared so fresh tools of destruction will arrive daily from Al-Qahirah. The demonic Wahhabis will now have open doors in the east, southeast and northeast. I just don’t want to think about such scenario. I wish we should step back and ponder about the issues from all angles. We should refrain from reacting with raw emotion. It is easy to down play what these patriot countrymen accomplished from our comfy homes here in the West. We don’t have bigots breathing their dragon breath on our shoulders every minute of the day. Those glorious people who produced us all want someone to help them or show them the ways in which they can bring the dough home in peace. They are sick and tired of conflicts triggered by internal miscreants and they don’t want a double down by external forces. That Amhara parent is crying his/her eyes out because her only son was bludgeoned to death in his college campus for only reason he is an Amhara. That Oromo parent has been wailing after losing his son in a college front yard just because being an Oromo has made him a mortal enemy. That parent from Tigray has been denied a day in court for his son who was hacked to death and insult to injury he is being told he is a ‘woyane’. That Somali spouse has been wailing from dawn to dusk for the husband/father who was savagely stoned/hacked to death because being a Somali had made him a deadly enemy that given day. The same goes to Gamo, Guji. Shangul and all others. They are all very tired of conflicts.

    I say kudos to these very capable patriots Obbo Gedu bin Andargachew and Obbo Dr. Seleshi bin Bekele for what they accomplished during the negotiations.

    These two articles in the agreement strike home for me.
    2. Filling will take place during the wet season, generally from July to August, and will continue in September subject to certain conditions.
    3. The initial filling stage of the GERD will provide for the rapid achievement of a level of 595 meters above sea level (m.a.s.l.) and the early generation of electricity, while providing appropriate mitigation measures for Egypt and Sudan in case of severe droughts during this stage.

    July, August and September!!! The rest of the year is considered the dry period except mid-March thru middle May when the rain does not fall in buckets as in July or August.

    This is a win-win for all three stakeholders

  2. I’m sure these patriot countrymen will not compromise the national interests of the old country. Stubborn stance on a winner takes all behavior will never benefit anyone of the three stakeholders. There must be thresholds where all three of them can compromise on. They can battle on it but it would be utter foolish to go to war for it. We should remember that Egypt knows very well that if war breaks because of this dam it will lose it all. Then all options will be on the table on el-Sisi’s table. Such scenario will cause our old country to lose diplomatically on global basis. It may end up being isolated. And that won’t be funny. I don’t want even begin to imagine what the situation in the old country will look like. Bigots will be able to finish the job they have started. Swaths of the country will be carved out to be fiefdoms of these hate mongers and smart alecks. Shrubs and overgrowths will be cleared so fresh tools of destruction will arrive daily from Al-Qahirah. The demonic Wahhabis will now have open doors in the east, southeast and northeast. I just don’t want to think about such scenario. I wish we should step back and ponder about the issues from all angles. We should refrain from reacting with raw emotion. It is easy to down play what these patriot countrymen accomplished from our comfy homes here in the West. We don’t have bigots breathing their dragon breath on our shoulders every minute of the day. Those glorious people who produced us all want someone to help them or show them the ways in which they can bring the dough home in peace. They are sick and tired of conflicts triggered by internal miscreants and they don’t want a double down by external forces. That Amhara parent is crying his/her eyes out because her only son was bludgeoned to death in his college campus for only reason he is an Amhara. That Oromo parent has been wailing after losing his son in a college front yard just because being an Oromo has made him a mortal enemy. That parent from Tigray has been denied a day in court for his son who was hacked to death and insult to injury he is being told he is a ‘woyane’. That Somali spouse has been wailing from dawn to dusk for the husband/father who was savagely stoned/hacked to death because being a Somali had made him a deadly enemy that given day. The same goes to Gamo, Guji. Shangul and all others. They are all very tired of conflicts.

    I say kudos to these very capable patriots Obbo Gedu bin Andargachew and Obbo Dr. Seleshi bin Bekele for what they accomplished during the negotiations.

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