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Ethiopia should deploy new and stronger arguments over GERD

Scientists now say that the Egyptians have a vast sea of underground fresh water (aquifer) reserve mainly from the ice age that can last them for more than 500 years. The paradox is that they have many times more water threats to control what Ethiopia does with its waters.

An objective observer would thus find Egypt's claims over the waters of the Nile River arrogant, aggressive, grossly unfair and unethical. Their thinking is based on the assumption that Ethiopian is still weak. They have probably been watching too much of the old images of starving and dying poor Ethiopians from time long past. Present day Ethiopia is much stronger and can hold its ground. However, despite the fact that the country has very capable water experts on the Nile, skilled diplomats and an able Prime Minister, I believe that the country's case in its dispute especially with Egypt regarding the dam has not been properly presented.

So far, Ethiopia has not mounted a vigorous diplomatic effort to justify its claims to the world. Its journalists have not also done their job to dig out the truth and expose the various fallacies in the claims of the Egyptians who say that what Ethiopia is trying to do threatens their very survival and that they will do everything to defend themselves. They have given this top priority despite the fact that Egypt has the highest rate of COVID-19 infections in Africa. To win friends and supporters for their claims, they have been going up the down the globe. They even seem to have convinced President Donald Trump that Ethiopia is trying to stop the flow of the Nile – which is manifestly untrue. In short, the Ethiopians are not doing enough to justify their position, and what should have been their major agenda i.e. to protect their interests in the Blue Nile has been sidetracked by secondary local issues probably made worse by external interference. I fear that this may end up very badly.

In fact, Ethiopia has many strong points to rebuff Egypt's claims and expose the fallacies therein. I will now briefly present some of the missing links in Ethiopia’s arguments so far that could be taken up, strengthened and presented in future negotiations.

Egypt has enough clean underground water to last it for more than 500 years

This is shockingly true, but the Egyptians seem to have been hiding the fact from the world. They know it and American Scientists have confirmed it. In an article entitled "Ancient Water Underlies Arid Egypt", Mary Caperton Morton (2019) writes: "Aside from the Nile River's green corridor, much in the world of north eastern Africa is a desert. But the landscape hides a secret. Vast quantities of groundwater fill an underground aquifer the spans four countries"

She then continues:

"The Nubian Sandstone Aquifer System is the largest known fossil water aquifer in the world spanning more than two million square kilometers across Sudan, Chad, Libya and Egypt. It contains more than 150,000 cubic kilometer of ground water-more than the Nile River discharges in 500 years."

Cliif Voss, a hydro-geologist with the US Geological Survey in Menlo Park, California also says: "In 2014, we mapped out the Nubian aquifer in the hope that the four countries wouldn't have to compete over their share of the water. Fortunately, all four countries essentially have water forever, especially Egypt and Libya."

To date, it is only Libya that has tapped into the vast water reserves of the Nubian aquifer on a large scale. The pipeline known as the Great Man-Made River carries water from 1,300 wells for more than 2,800 kilometers inland across the desert to the coastal cities of Tripoli, Benghazi and Sirte. In fact, the connection between the alluvial aquifer and the Nubian aquifers means that communities and agricultural operations in the Eastern Desert have an unlimited supply of ground water without having to drill very deep.

Vass adds, "It is a gorgeous supply of water, clean, not salt. You can drink it without any filtration or treatment." Therefore, the claim of the Egyptians that the only water supply they have is from the Nile River is absolutely false and misleading. They have more than enough water under their feel. The only thing is that they want is a free ride without working hard – and get the water they need just outside their courtyard. They do not want to invest much money on this vital resource. This should constitute a strong arsenal to strengthen Ethiopian's case.

Obviously, the Egyptians are not going to die of thirst or their way of life is not going to be affected in any meaningful way if the Ethiopians fill the dam, according to the program set and get the electricity they need. In truth, the paradox is that the Egyptians have more water reserves than the Ethiopians have. They have to just dig down and get it. That is what they do not want to do, and they are becoming an unjustified burden on poor Ethiopians – to say nothing of their misguided threats.

Egyptians waste a lot of the Nile water

They use open irrigation systems which expose the waters of the Nile available to extreme evaporation and waste. They also hardly use water recycling. All the same, they are expanding irrigations systems to the vast Eastern and Western deserts. More ominously, despite the shortage of water they claim, they are giving vast tracts of land south of the Aswan Dam to many investors from the Gulf Area. After reducing the waters of the Nile in this way that enter the Aswan Dam, they then argue that the water level of the Aswan Dam should be used as a yardstick for negotiating how much water Ethiopia should release from the Renaissance Dam. This amounts to cheating.

They have enough money for nuclear powered desalination plants

Egypt has vast and multiple income streams as compared to Ethiopia. Let's compare:

Egypt

GDP PPP (Purchasing Power Parity) 2019 estimates USD 1.1391 trillion, Per Cap. USD 14,023

GDP Nominal 2019 estimates USD 302,255 billion Per Cap. USD 3,047

Ethiopia

GDP PPP 2019 estimates UD 240.186 billion, Per Cap. USD 2,701

GDP Nominal   2019 estimates $103.807 Billion, Per Cap. USD 1,066

In brief, GDP Purchasing Power Parity (PPP) allows economists to compare economic productivity and standards of living between countries GDP Nominal is the monetary value of goods and services produced. If we compare both countries, here are the disparities:

Egypt's GDP PPP and its PPP per capita are both roughly six times larger than that of Ethiopia.

Egypt's GDP Nominal and its Nominal per capita are also roughly three times larger.

The question that arises from this is why would a wealthier and financially stronger country try to make so much noise about its illegitimate rights to the Nile waters whereas it could easily rely on desalination and the aquifer waters to supplement the small amount of water it might lose when the dam is being filled?

They are 4-5 times richer than Ethiopians, and can better withstand drought: should they not give Ethiopia a compensation for its waters?

As we remember, during the 1974-75 drought, more than one million Ethiopians perished. Did and Egyptian die because of shortage of water? None. When something terrible happens because of a change of weather and shortage of water, will the Egyptians come to Ethiopia's aid with the money they have because they use our waters? The answer is no. In fact, let alone to give Ethiopia compensation, they threaten it. In collaboration with other riparian states, Ethiopians should now claim compensation – especially because 86 percent of the Nile flows from Ethiopia.

Egyptian threat over the dam will harm them more than Ethiopia: remember the Fragility of the Aswan Dam.

The legendary Ethiopian cleric, Aba Gebrehanna, it is said, had a mistress who lived in the neighborhood. When his wife found out about it, she was upset, to say the least, and threatened to torch the home of her rival. Upon hearing this, Aba Gebrehanna said, "You fool, do you think there is fire only in your home?"  Indeed, it is easy to return fire with fire. The Egyptians are found of implying that they have enough bombs and powerful bombers to demolish the Renaissance Dam. To hammer home their point, very recently they openly and widely announced that they are adding formidable American armaments and repairs to their already powerful arsenal. But, there is a limit to what all this can do. To counter the Egyptian threat, Ethiopia should immediately deploy strong ground forces and the best air defense systems that money can buy regardless of the cost. Ethiopia has as many friends in the world as the Egyptians, if not more – who can help.

Even if the Egyptians manage to hit the Renaissance Dam, that will only be the beginning of the story. Egypt by all means is very vulnerable in many respects due its population’s settlements, economic structure, including tourism, etc. More importantly, there is the Aswan Dam hovering over Egypt which also produces much of the country's supply. By the way, Egypt has complete electrifications using our waters, whereas we have very little. If they hit the Renaissance Dam, then the Aswan Dam will be a legitimate target for Ethiopia. Does Ethiopia need powerful bomber planes to do that? Of course not. All it needs is maybe one or two long range powerful missile launchers. The Ethiopian Space Agency, I believe, is in the process of developing a space rocket. We can transfer that residual technology to build new missile systems just like the North Koreans have been doing. Failing that, Ethiopian can at least buy powerful missile system from the open market or from some friendly countries using cash or kind. I have no doubt that Ethiopia can afford that. Could the Egyptians sufficiently defend themselves from mobile persistent missile attacks? All that is needed is maybe one or two missiles to hit their target. Even the Saudis with all their money and the Israelis with their air superiority could not sufficiently defend themselves from the crude missiles of the Houthis and the Palestinians respectively. Can't Ethiopian do a better job?

The other possibility is to divert the waters of the Blue Nile as much as possible and use it for irrigating the vast arid lowlands in the country. Modern technology can do that. Other undisclosed measures could also be taken as well. If Sudan provides Egypt with assistance in its military expedition against the dam, then Ethiopian has the option to take additional measures whose details would not be advisable to disclose at this stage. In fact, we respect the Egyptians and the Sudanese. They are our brothers and we wish them well. But, if we are pushed to the wall by aggressors, no one can tell how this dispute will end. Ethiopians are very resilient people and they almost always end up on top despite their deceptive poverty. How many countries can say that with hand on heart?

Why Ethiopia and Egypt may have to seriously consider population control

If we check the result of the various population censuses and estimates of both countries, the growth is really alarming. The rapid economic growth of both countries is being eaten away by the population growth. There is also environmental degradation, high unemployment rates, housing problem and shortages of water for the urban population and irrigation as well. The population growth in both countries if not sustainable. Therefore, measures should be taken to control population growth. We should not be fighting because of water shortages of our own making.

Conclusion

Why would one get into all these complications? I believe that the Egyptians are going about it in the wrong way, and they have not been entirely honest. Ethiopia's main strategy to calm the situation should not just be to explain ad nauseam that it needs the dam to produce desperately needed electricity and not to harm the downstream countries. The Egyptians have deliberately ignored that – although it is genuine. Ethiopia should now bring something new to the table. Ethiopians should not be apologetic in presenting the facts of their claims which are important and many. The Egyptians have abundant underground water resources of their own; larger than all the water available in Ethiopia. Therefore, they should now do their duty and quickly exploit the water resources they have. Then, the Renaissance Dam could be made fully operational at the earliest without any problem – and the Egyptians will have more water than they need. This would be a win-win situation. If the Egyptians continue with their bullying tactics to avoid what they must and could do, then they should be subtly reminded of what was said by Aba Gebrehanna.

Another important point in the negotiation is that Ethiopia should demand compensation for its waters. That is, in fact, what the Americans do.

The facts disclosed here are new to most people. But, American and Egyptian scientists have all along known the truth of the matter – and they are there for anyone to check. In fact, I am surprised by the silence of our water experts, diplomats and journalists on this important matter. Although it is getting late, should we not now recognize the gravity of the situation and quickly bring this to the attention of the world and seek help before we are aggressively wrong footed by the Egyptians yet again resulting in a painful and unfair fait accompli which we shall regret for generations to come? “Kebale tief, bale ‘af - indayhonibin!” “The one with a sharp and manipulative tongue should not be allowed to swindle the man with seed and substance!”

Ed.’s Note: Solomon Gheber-Ghiorghis (PhD, MA PGLELT, Dip. CPT-Distn.) is an Assistant Professor and the Director of Panafric Media and Communication Services. The views expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the views of The Reporter. He can be reached at [email protected]

Contributed by Solomon Ghebre-Ghiorghis