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 “Scientific” debate on Nile   

 “Scientific” debate on Nile   

For centuries, the Nile River, the longest river in Africa and at least one of the longest in the world, is a much romanticized national resource yet having no economic and social benefits to the general population. Even after the commencement of the first and landmark project on the Blue Nile River, the nationalistic fervor towards the river had been largely peaceful.

However, as Egypt started to turn its rhetoric towards this shared natural resource more militant, the tempo of resistance and general pushback in the upstream nations also begun to intensify, greatly. Accordingly, the politics surrounding the Nile has never been as hot as it was in the last decade; especially, since the commencement of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) nine years ago.

On the other hand, Ethiopia, hard-pressed to find a way out of its daunting economic realities, has been increasingly looking to its unexploited natural resources: including the Nile. And one way to address this perpetual development deficit in Ethiopia is by kick-starting nation’s manufacturing sector, which in turn requires massive investment in power and electricity. Naturally, a nation with an endowment like River Nile, that covers at least 17 percent of the country’s geography, and account for the bulk of the nation’s power generation potential.

According to the recent findings by Ethiopian economic experts, the operations of GERD will likely induce a 1.5 percent GDP growth, every year. The economists further indicate, Ethiopia will land welfare gain valued at USD 6.9 billion. In fact, the whole Eastern Nile basin is expected to realize economic gains valued at USD eight billion when GERD enters into operation. That, however, is going to be actualized only when reservoir filling timetable Ethiopia has announced is strictly followed, and that no mandatory extension is encountered between 2020 and 2024. Postponing the filling process beyond 2024, on the other hand, would result in economic losses amounting USD 30 billion on the three countries, obviously the greater portion of the losses incurred by Ethiopia.

Economic impact of the GERD, either positive or negative, notwithstanding, recently, a team of Ethiopian scientists has begun to unearth the realities and factual inaccuracies of the claims made by Egyptian water experts.      

The first from this group is a rebuttal concerning a recently published book which they claimed lacks all the scientific method and presentation. According to the 12 experts, the book and the thought process behind it is nothing short of malicious and mischievous, as it acted against all the known scientific protocols.

The article entitled: “Scientific Misconduct and Partisan Research on the Stability of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam: A critical review of a contribution to Environmental Remote Sensing in Egypt (Springer, 2020)” has critically looked at how Egyptian experts have cooked, manipulated and mislead, a well reputed global publisher, Springer House.

The Egyptian authors, who wrote such a derogatory book, went to the extent of claiming, on chapter 17, that the GERD is potentially exposed to risks of collapse. 

The team also wrote: “we present factual errors, methodological flaws, wrong assumptions, inadequate data use, misleading conclusions and scientific misconducts committed by the book chapter written by Dandrawy and Omran (2020) on the GERD”.

The said scientific atrocities were committed in a book “Integrated Watershed Management of Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam via Watershed Modeling System and Remote Sensing”, which the Egyptian writers published with the Swizz based Springer House. The Ethiopian side argued further that the Egyptian writers have not employed “a robust methodological approach, and has not used sound data and assumptions in the analysis”. Adding, “Using direct and inverse methodological approaches as well as existing evidence, we showed that most of the results are wrong and unreasonable. We also showed our concern that those unfounded results were used to make further inference to misleading conclusions”.

The scientists Wuletawu Abera, Nigussie Haregeweyn, Yihun Dile, Ayele A. Fenta, Mulatu L. Berihun, Biadgilgn Demissie, Chalachew A. Mulatu, Tewodros A. Nigussie, Paolo Billi, Hailemariam Meaza, Kifle Woldearegay, Assefa Melesse, Semu A. Mogos, and Lulseged Tamene, most of them PhD holders from Ethiopia and outside, have teamed up to counter the ill-intentioned scientific narrations of Egypt.  

According to the Ethiopian experts, the major drawback of the Egyptian paper, in the book, can be summarized in four main components. The first issue, which they have associated with nonscientific approach, refers to the use of inappropriate rainfall data and its utilization in hydrological modelling in order to setup for the purpose of “simulating peak flood and volume without any model calibration and validation”.

The Egyptian writers have also claimed that: “GERD will flood 1,700 square kilometers of forest in northwestern Ethiopia—about 811 kilometers from Addis Ababa and 14 km from the Sudan frontier—producing a dam reservoir that will hold up to 67 billion cubic meters of water, possibly taking up to seven years to achieve ability.” That was not even near to the truth as Ethiopian experts argue. They further denounced the “blatant conclusions about the risk of dam failure due to earthquake without properly evaluating the dam design and safety protocols”.

According to the Egyptians, GERD is under serious pressure and will likely collapse due to “long precipitation and flooding periods (the cause of most failures), the presence of geological structures in the rocks like a fault, joint areas and folds”.

“Silting reservoir and accumulation of sediments in the dam reservoir owing to inadequate dam spills; Landslides into reservoirs resulting in overtopping surges; Earthquakes, typically causing longitudinal cracks at the tops of embankments, resulting in structural failure,” were some of other structural risks cited by the article. To that extent, they have further claimed that the failure and collapse of GERD might flood Sudan, seriously affecting Khartoum.

The Ethiopian team have also contradicted and pointed out the flaws in the analysis and modeling of the Egyptian research.  “As per the Egyptian claim, the flooding area might be about 700,000 square kilometers for a reference elevation below 450 meters. The report with its presentation of digital floodplain maps that show the volume and depth of flooding in major rivers, however, failed to arrive at similar outcomes as claimed,” the Ethiopian team contends. The Egyptian flooding simulation result shows that “the volume of water inundating Sudan is about 53 trillion cubic meters, with an average flooding depth of about 75 meters’ the authors of the report failed to present or perhaps deliberately omitted the magnitude of flooding in terms of volume and depth,” Ethiopian experts state.

Ethiopian scientists also noted that: “this volume of flooding estimated below 450 meters elevation in the Sudan is about 700 times higher than GERD’s maximum capacity of 74 billion cubic meters, the exaggerations speak volumes about the scientific integrity and research relevance of Dandrawy and Omran’s report,” the scientists argue.

Ethiopian experts state further that when assuming an area as vast as 667,228 square kilometers in the Sudan could be flooded only when the average depth of the flooding water due to unlikely GERD’s failure is estimated to be about 11 centimeters is deeply fallacious. This is a very small depth of flooding that probably will have little outcome in Sudan, they assert. “It is unfortunate that the report did not indicate the depth of flooding and its potential effect to support their argument of flooding risk. Although the report claimed in the introduction that they aim to map potential flooding areas in the Sudan and Egypt, the report never attempted to estimate any flooding risk in Egypt. This shows that the main motive of the report was to sensationalize the issue of GERD using emotive words and unfounded results, which, we believe, are aimed at deceiving and destabilizing the Sudanese public with fabricated stories.”

The simulation model applied in the analysis, as described, found out to be utilized out of the context for flooding simulation and wrongly claiming that a potential failure of GERD may flood a large swath of Sudan; this hence is considered as “deliberately misinterpreted evidence they have presented to reach into hasty conclusions,” they countered.

Finding numerous evidences of flaws and lacking, Ethiopian scientists have recommend Springer to revoke at least the 17th chapter of the book, with an appropriate “apology, before this work causes further damage to the thinking processes of young and upcoming researchers and possibly before the work is used to inform discourse of a strategic nature. We also urge the scientific community to keep its guard up so that science is not compromised to advance other ulterior motives that could give science a bad name and fuel mistrust among communities who would otherwise take scientific publications at face value.”