Egyptian media and professionals are trying to influence the world with a one sided view in an attempt to deceive the international community. The purpose of the propaganda and lies is to get biased support and to pressurize Ethiopia to sign an agreement that only satisfies Egypt’s interest at the expense of over 100 million people of Ethiopia. In addition, Egypt is trying to use the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) issue to shadow and divert political and diplomatic efforts from the CFA (Cooperative Framework Agreement) that requests reasonable and equitable share of the Nile water among the basin states.
In addition to its hoodwink, Egypt has been and is supporting political opponents, religious radicals and ethnic radicals to destabilize upstream countries in order not to have peace in their countries to develop their nation, which inevitably consider using of their water.
It has to be clear that the population of the basin countries is increasing and the demand for water supply, irrigation and power generation will definitely amplify. Whatever lies and deceptions are implemented, no one can stop the people and the countries from using the water from their own backyards. It has to be clear that these countries will not continue under poverty and see their people starve while Egypt is enjoying prosperity.
We Ethiopians need to bring the facts to the fore and try to stop Egyptian professionals, scientists, journalists and politicians from deceiving the international community.
The Nile Water and the GERD
It has to be clear that there is no any significant contribution to the Nile water either from Egypt or the Sudan. However, these two countries have shared 100 percent of the water among themselves. Ethiopia is contributing 84.1 percent of the Nile water and has zero shares and the rest of the countries contribute 15.9 percent and have zero shares from the Nile water.
Egypt wants to keep this unreasonable share of water while people in other Nile basin countries live in poverty. In that regard, Egypt has been urging the World Bank and the other developed nations not to provide loans or grants towards development of the water from the Nile basin.
Ethiopia contributes 84.1 percent of the waters for the Nile river system (94.5 bcm). The Blue Nile 57.1 percent (54 bcm), Baro-Akobo (Sobat) 14.3 percent (13.5 bcm), Tekezze (Atbara) 12.7 percent (12 bcm) – while the contribution from the Equatorial Lakes region is only 15.9 percent (15 bcm), but contribution from Ethiopia other than Blue Nile is a total of 27 percent which is almost double of the contribution from White Nile or the Equatorial Lakes region.
The main water resources problem in Ethiopia is that the major rivers of the country are trans-boundary rivers.
Out of the total 84.1 percent Nile water contribution of Ethiopia, the GERD is being constructed on Blue Nile (Abay) river which is contributing 57.1 percent of the Nile River flow. This Abay River Basin covers 44 percent of the surface water source.
According to the 1959 agreement between Sudan and Egypt, the Nile water is divided as follows: 55.5 billion cubic meters to Egypt, 18.5 billion cubic meters to Sudan, and 10 billion cubic meters to account for evaporation and seepage. An Aljazeera documentary about the GERD entitled: “How Big is Ethiopia’s New Dam?” clearly showed that based on the colonial treaty the Nile’s 66 percent of the water is used by Egypt, 22 percent by Sudan , zero percent by Ethiopia, and 12 percent is lost to evaporation.
We would like to make clear that the volume of High Aswan Dam 162 billion cubic meters is more than double of the GERD volume of 75 billion cubic meters. Toshka and El-Salam projects of Egypt that have significant effect on the water rights of the upstream countries have estimated investment of about USD 100 Billion in 2017 which is about 20 times the estimated construction cost of the GERD. It has to be noted that Egypt has not consulted any of the upstream countries while developing these projects. In addition to the Nile, Egypt has ground water resources in the Nile Valley and Delta, the western desert and Sinai. The largest ground water deposit is the giant Nubian sandstone aquifer underneath the eastern part of the African Sahara, which is shared between Egypt and four other countries. It contains over 200,000 billion cubic meters of non-renewable water in total that can serve for thousands of years. The aquifer underlying the Nile Valley and Delta has a total capacity of 500 billion cubic meters (200 and 300 billion cubic meters, respectively). Egypt has to learn a lesson form the Libyan Great Man-made River (GMMR) project – a project dubbed the eighth wonder of the world that was kick-started by Muammar Gadhafi in 1983. The project supplies 6.5 billion cubic meters of fresh water per day to Tripoli, Benghazi, Sirte and others.
In addition, because of its unique geographic location (the Mediterranean Sea to the north and the Red-Sea to the east) Egypt has access to desalinated water. Egypt is well aware of the recent technological advances that have significantly decreased the production costs of desalinated water.
The GERD is located in Ethiopia; on the Blue Nile River about 20 kms from the Ethiopia-Sudan Border. The GERD is for hydropower which is non-consumptive use and does not stop the flow of the river. The dam is currently under construction; where about 73 percent of the project – both civil and electro-mechanical work – is completed. The GERD has two power plants with capacities of 3,750 MW and 2,250 MW or total installed capacity of 6000 MW that could generate average energy of 15,692 GWh per year.
GERD is an additional storage dam both for Egypt and Sudan, and also that save water that is lost by evaporation in the desert from Aswan High Dam and the reservoirs in the Sudan. It also serves as a silt trap for the dams in Sudan and Egypt. The GERD specifically saves Sudan from annual flooding of thousands of irrigable area and help to reclaim its irrigable lands that optimize irrigation in Sudan. The GERD also helps to increase the rainfall in the Ethiopian highland as a result of the evaporation from the reservoir that will contribute to the Nile flow. Based on these facts, to build a dam on the Blue Nile in Ethiopia is not a new issue at all. It was already considered as an option in the 19th century by the British, mainly because of the lower levels of evaporation, sediment control and regulated flow.
It is clear that GERD has no significant effect as compared to its remarkable benefits both for Egypt and Sudan. It has to be clear that the GERD is being constructed under zero percent water share of Ethiopia. Now what Ethiopia should negotiate is not about the GERD, it has to raise the issue of sharing the Nile water equitably among all Nile basin states.
Cooperation efforts of the basin countries on equitable use of the Nile
Based on Ethiopia’s initiative, a series of the ‘Nile 2002 conferences’ that started in 1993 continued up to 2002. This cooperation effort paved the way for the establishment of the Nile Basin Initiative (NBI) in 1999. A Shared Vision Programme (SVP) supported cooperation through promoting collaborative action, and trust intended to build a strong foundation for regional cooperation, of which the goal was the creation of an enabling environment for investments and action on the ground (NBI, 1999).
The NBI established a secretariat in Uganda and two subsidiary action programmes (SAPs) in the Eastern Nile (based in Addis Ababa) ENSAP (The Eastern Nile Subsidiary Action Program) currently includes Egypt, Ethiopia, and Sudan and the Nile Equatorial Lakes region (in Kigali). NELSAP (The Nile Equatorial Lakes Subsidiary Action Program): The Nile Equatorial Lakes region includes the six countries in the southern portion of the Nile Basin: Burundi, Democratic Republic of Congo, Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania and Uganda, as well as the downstream riparian states Egypt and Sudan.
The Nile Basin Initiative (NBI) 1995-2011 resulted in the development of the Cooperative Framework (CFA) and the establishment of the UNDP D3 project which started the negotiations for a River Nile Cooperative Framework Agreement in 1997; The D3 project had main activities of which was major for the development of the Cooperative framework agreement (CFA). Accordingly, the Panel of Experts (PoE) formulated cooperative framework and approved by Council of Ministers (CoM). The CFA (2009) adopts the seven most relevant factors for determining equitable and reasonable utilization from Article 6(1) of the 1997 United Nations Watercourses Convention.
The Nile-COM with the exception of Egypt and Sudan absent, agreed and resolved that the CFA is a clean text ready for presentation to the riparian states for signature.
The CFA signing / “Entebbe Agreement”: Ethiopia, Rwanda, Tanzania and Uganda signed the Entebbe Agreement on the day it was opened for signature on the May 14, 2010. Kenya signed on the May 19, 2010; Burundi signed on the February 28, 2011. After signing the Entebbe Agreement the four countries Ethiopia; Rwanda; Tanzania and Uganda have ratified the agreement.
Egypt has become stumbling block not to sign the CFA and yet without reached agreement on water allocation, it considers any reduction of the Nile water quantity level as a national security issue. Egypt did not want to sign the CFA which would have been a spring board for all basin states to reach to an agreement on how to share and manage the Nile water. It has to be clear that Egypt’s rigid position will let the Nile basin state countries to take their own unilateral action, which will ultimately be a nightmare for Egypt.
After four years Egypt’s position not to sign the CFA and the tensions between Cairo and Addis Ababa over the GERD project, the three Eastern Nile countries acceded to a Declaration of Principles on 6 March 2015 that lead them to agree on the guidelines of the filling and operation of the GERD. “Ethiopia as the owner of the GERD will commence first filling of the GERD in parallel with the construction of the Dam in accordance with the principles of equitable and reasonable utilization and the causing of no significant harm” as provided on the Declaration of Principles (DoP). In spite of the deception of Egypt, that is what Ethiopia is doing currently – “first filling of the GERD in parallel with the construction of the Dam”. Basically Egypt’s treachery is to use the DoP as scapegoat to gain time Ethiopia not to capitalize on the CFA and its diplomatic efforts to bring back Egypt and Sudan to the table of negotiation to sign the CFA.
Deception mechanisms of Egypt
Ignoring the fact on the ground, Egypt is trying to deceive the international community through different publications and media outlets. One of the funny proposals is the idea of developing a compensation mechanism by German research Centre Stiftung Wissenschaft und Politik (SWP Comments, Compensation rather Than Mediation March, 2020) as an option to resolve the conflict, which is a completely unacceptable proposal. It considers Ethiopia to live in darkness and wait for donations from the hands of donors and live on donations that totally undermines the sovereignty of Ethiopia and its right to use its own natural resource. The experts have not tried to say anything about the poverty and the misery in Ethiopia and the need to develop its economy; instead their concern is to try to show that Egypt is going to be affected while no significant measurable impact is going to come from the GERD. The GERD’s benefit is more than the concerns of its impact both for Egypt and Sudan.
The compensation mechanism and the propaganda that is taking place that the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam is intended to have a storage capacity of approximately 74 billion cubic meters leaving only 10 billion cubic meters to flow downstream countries is a deceiving mechanism to pressurize Ethiopia by the international community to yield to Egypt’s one sided interest. It has to be clear that the filling of the dam is not for stopping the Blue Nile flow as Egyptians try to deceive. The dam is built with bottom outlet and culverts that allow the required amount of flow to Egypt while filling the GERD during high flood season. Since it is power generation dam, once the dam is filled, in order to optimize the power generation, Ethiopia has to release the water to operate the turbines. Thus Egypt and Sudan will enjoy constant regulated flow all over the year without risk of sedimentation and flooding. So the construction of the GERD has marvellous benefit for both countries.
In addition, the Aljazeera documentary and the SWP said that Ethiopia will fill the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) in seven years and Egypt could lose 20 to 25 percent (about 12 billion cubic meters of its total annual water budget) – a claim that does not reflect the reality. The reality shows that its temporary impact until the dam is filled is much less than five percent. Once the dam is filled the flow will come to its normality and Egypt and Sudan will enjoy constant flow. Moreover, it has to be clear that the High Aswan Dam is not only more than double of the GERD’s volume but is more than the annual surface runoff of all the waters of Ethiopia (which is about 122 billion cubic meters), that has a capacity to compensate the deficit during the filling of the GERD.
Egypt is not only deceiving the international community, but it is also using the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) Region, to put a new pressure on Ethiopia. Out of the MENA countries only two (Egypt and Sudan) are the Nile basin countries, the other MENA counties have no interest in irrigation, navigation and/or hydropower on Nile basin. However, the action of the Arab League shows that, the leaders of MENA countries are manoeuvred by Egypt’s leaders.
It is easy to see that the Arab League countries are acting blindly as MENA without analyzing the economic, political and diplomatic impacts on their individual country. This type of support is similar to the support provided to Mussolini to invade Ethiopia by the Europeans to present Ethiopia as an altar- sheep for Hitler, which finally backfired to them. Unprincipled support has unexpected consequence.
What Ethiopia needs to do?
It has to be clear that Ethiopia will never and ever agree to a zero percent share while it is contributing the 84.1 percent of the Nile flow. Egypt’s position that, Ethiopia and other riparian countries to agree on zero percent share of water is non-acceptable by any measurement and must stop their lies and divisive acts. Ethiopia and the upstream basin states are entitled to an equitable and reasonable share in the beneficial uses of the water resources of the Nile River system.
In 1957 the Emperor Haile-Selassie has sent the following clear message to Egypt and Sudan that holds true all the time. “Ethiopia has the right and the obligation to exploit its water resources of the Empire, for the benefit of the present and future generations of its citizens, in anticipation of the growth in population and its expanding needs. Therefore, reassert and reserve now and for the future, the right to take all such measures in respect of its water resources, namely those waters providing so nearly the entirely of the volume of the Nile.”
We would like to make clear that Egypt’s concern is not the GERD, but it is the fear that the Economic growth in Ethiopia may in the future confront the Egypt’s position in Africa and the Middle East and the GERD will shift the power balance in favor of Ethiopia. This was reflected in 2009 by the lobby that was made to the environmentalists to deceive the ADB and other financers to stop Ethiopia from constructing hydroelectric power on Gibe River (Gibe III) that has no any relation to the Nile water.
If Egypt is genuine, it has many options to augment its water requirement rather than acting negatively to the development of the basin countries. These are:
- Use the Aswan Dam’s live storage reserve i.e. 131 billion cubic metres which is enough to offset a scenario where the Renaissance Dam will be filled in about six years;
- Egypt has ground water resources in the Nile Valley and Delta, the western desert, and Sinai. The largest ground water deposit is the giant Nubian sandstone aquifer underneath the eastern part of the African Sahara, and is shared between Egypt and four other countries. It contains over 200,000 bcm of non-renewable water in total that can serve for thousands of years. The aquifer underlying the Nile Valley and Delta has a total capacity of 500 bbcm (200 and 300 bcm, respectively);
- Transform the Water Policy for preventing users from cultivating water intensive crops such as: rice and cotton, etc.;
- Improve water demand management; i.e. improve irrigation methods; recycling (Reuse of Wastewater and Agricultural drainage water) and;
- Desalination of Sea Water; Egypt has sea outlet both on Mediterranean and the Red-Sea that makes desalinated water available both from the east and north of Egypt.
For the first time, Ethiopia is able to combine the geographic power derived from its location as an upstream country and the material power of sustained economic growth that allowed it to construct the GERD with no foreign funding. The GERD will increase electricity coverage in Ethiopia and power exports to neighboring countries, to position the country as a power hub in Africa, and to change the image of Ethiopia as a country of famine.
The GERD is a ‘game changer’ that challenges Egypt’s long-standing hegemony over the Nile basin. It heralded the transformation of Ethiopia’s counter-hegemonic policy from the reactive diplomacy of occasional contestation of Egypt’s Nile policy to a proactive diplomacy that creates new facts on the ground. It also reflects the shifting balance of power in upstream-downstream relations.
Ethiopia based on its current position should not negotiate on any issue with regards to the GERD, but it has to raise the issue of equitable and reasonable share of the Nile water among the basin countries. All its diplomatic and negotiation efforts have to be far ahead and gear towards equitable and reasonable share of the Nile water. Ethiopia should not waste its time and diplomatic effort on the issue of GERD which is being used by Egypt to shadow the big picture of the CFA and equitable share of the Nile water.
Thus in this connection, all Ethiopians have to stand together against the Egypt’s shameful view “natural and historical rights”. Ethiopians have to stand together for the right of Ethiopia to develop its water resources for the well-being of its citizens and to focus in fulfilling its national interest till the fact on the ground brings Egypt back to the win-win negotiation table in order to finalize the signing of May 14, 2010 the CFA Entebbe Agreement.
We Ethiopians collectively have to focus on completing the construction of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam. All technical, political and diplomatic efforts aggressively have to be carried out in parallel to bring back Egypt to CFA table.
As the late former Prime Minister Meles Zenawi said, the way forward is not for Egypt to try and stop the unstoppable. Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed (PhD) also said that “no force” could stop Ethiopia from building the dam.
We again confirm that Ethiopia is determined to eradicate poverty. Centuries of impoverishment curtailed our development and restricted us from exercising our right to use the resources of our own rivers. Egypt has to be aware and acknowledge that the way forward is to seek for a win-win solution for equitable and reasonable share of the Nile Water. Ethiopia will be using the Nile in a “responsible and sustainable way” that does not contravene the development interests and needs of other riparian states.
Ed.’s Note: The views expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the views of The Reporter. The writers can be reached at [email protected] and [email protected].
Contributed by Engidashet Bunare and Shiferaw Lulu