The Nile basin is home to more than 400 million people, roughly around 40 percent of the African population. Out of this more than 260 million of them live within the basin boundaries, directly dependent on the Nile. It is no secret that this part of Africa, with one major exception that is Egypt, is home to some of the poorest countries in the world with many still living below the poverty line. Food insecurity, lack of clean water and sanitation, clean energy, dignified living and decent work, lack of economic growth and stability are often the de facto descriptions of these areas.
Incidentally, the issues mentioned above are major agendas of the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) for 2030. It does not take a rocket scientist to figure out that working to ensure these goals in this region of Africa will contribute to the SDGs significantly. One would also think that global actors, both countries and international organizations, and all other involved in ensuring that the world reaches the SDGs by 2030 would be immensely interested in and even be supportive of any effort in this direction. However, this is where my dilemma starts.
The Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD), a dam that Ethiopia is building on the Abay River, is one such project which is instrumental in achieving the SDGs. The GERD, as a project on a transboundary water course, will tremendously help not only Ethiopia but the whole Nile basin region to move towards the attainment of the SDGs. But I have found the position of some of the major actors in the world regarding the GERD to be utterly hypocritical and/or willfully ignorant.
Here is a project which will surely increase the food and water security of not just Ethiopia, which happens to account for a quarter of the 400 million people living in the basin, but the region as a whole. Ethiopia is constructing the GERD with the aim of eradicating abject poverty in the country (SDG1). The project will also contribute towards Zero Hunger (SDG2) as well as provision of clean water and sanitation (SDG6). Ethiopia is a country with more than 65 million people without access to electricity. The GERD is a project which will cater for millions providing Affordable and Clean Energy (SDG7) for Ethiopia and the wider region at large. Providing clean energy is instrumental in the fight against climate change (SDG 13) as this will drastically reduce biomass consumption and contribute to reduction of greenhouse gas emission.
The GERD will also industrialize the nation by making much needed electricity accessible (SDG9) and thereby creating numerous jobs and decent living for people (SDG8). The project will ensure good health and wellbeing (SDG3) and reduce the inequality observed within and across countries in the basin (SDG10). The commissioning of the dam will also immensely contribute to sustainable cities and consumption (SDG11) as well as responsible consumption and production (SDG12) through the production of low emission clean energy. The GERD, by its very nature i.e. as a large dam susceptible to sedimentation, necessitates ecosystem restoration and environment protection at a large scale.
Here is a project which can be the corner stone for the establishment and strengthening of peace and justice strong institutions and frameworks (SDG16) across the basin. The GERD provides an opportunity for Egypt and the Sudan to accede to the Cooperative Framework Agreement on the Nile (CFA) and realize the long awaited basin wide permanent river basin commission. The Dam can potentially be a foundation for partnership across the basin to collectively reach our shared global goals (SDG17). The GERD as a mega electricity project assists in the run towards all of the SDGs as energy security is at the root of achieving all of the goals.
The GERD is a jewel of a project which can achieve all of this and so much more. But what is the response from the international community who are supposed to be custodians of our global welfare? Recently, the United States Department of the Treasury issued a statement that clearly favors only one country while actually undermining the GERD`s role in the national and regional development. The Arab League as a regional block also echoed the same sentiment. I can only interpret such moves as willful ignorance of the value of the project for the sake of political expedience. Turning a blind eye to the project instead of support is utter hypocrisy and disdain for the poor who rely on this project.
It should be noted that when any entity, be it Egypt or otherwise suggest obscenely grotesque “solutions” such as extended filling of the dam in 12-20 years instead of 4-7 years, which is already a big concession for Ethiopia which can fill the Dam in three years; or replacing this project by other “alternative monetary compensation” etc… not only are they trampling on Ethiopia`s sovereignty, dignity and citizens’ human right but they are in essence condemning Ethiopia to suffer for 20 more years. They are essentially saying halt all your development goals for the next 12- 20 years; suffer and perish so we can live instead of “live and let live”.
I find it incredibly hard to think that the US and the World Bank, who participated as observers in the GERD negotiations, do not recognize the relevance of such a project such as the GERD, at least purely from economic and technical perspective, to speak nothing of the social and emotional relevance it has for Ethiopians. This begs my question why then, are they so willfully ignorant and hypocritical to a point that they would also jeopardize their own agendas of global welfare. There is no global welfare without welfare in Africa. In an ideal world the GERD would have been a trophy project which should have been paraded around the globe, but no, political expediency is more valuable than people’s livelihood apparently. My message to those actors who fail to see the GERD and its enormous regional and global significance is if you can’t support us on our journey towards a better future, the least you can do is to not be in our way.
Ed.’s Note: The views expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the views of The Reporter.
Contributed by Mekdelawit Messay