VENTURES AFRICA – Ethiopia has always been the major contributor of the Nile, with its Blue Nile feeding the rainfall from the Ethiopian Highlands to the wider Nile downstream. Since the Government announced the start of construction of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) project in 2011, with the aim of generating 6,000 mw, the project has attracted attention from a number of media outlets. The project was awarded to Salini Costruttori SPA, an Italian company which has built more than 20 dams in Europe, Asia and Africa, including the Gilgel Gibe II and Tana Beles dams in Ethiopia and is currently constructing the on-going Gilgel Gibe III dam. The electro – and hydro- mechanical work at GERD is being undertaken by Ethiopia’s Metal and Engineering Corporation (METEC), while Alstom, a French engineering company, will supply turbines and generators and supervise the installation of all the electro-mechanical equipment for the hydro-power plant’s consulting work is being carried out by a joint Italo-French Engineers company.
The primary objective of the GERD project is the generation of electricity. It will enable Ethiopia to completely cover the country’s internal power needs. These have been growing at an average rate of 25% a year. A reliable and affordable source of energy is a fundamental need not just for the wellbeing of the population but also for the economic growth and poverty-reduction efforts being undertaken by the country. Many rural communities in Ethiopia still do not have the benefits in health and quality of life provided by electrical services, such as lighting or refrigeration. Ethiopia also aspires to be the green energy hub of East Africa, delivering clean and renewable energy at cost value to neighboring countries. It has already signed contracts to export electricity to Kenya, Djibouti and Sudan. According to various studies, a one unit percent increase in energy supply can increase economic growth by at least one percent. On that basis when GERD begins operations, the national economy will increase by an additional four percent. This, in turn, will provide a catalyst for mutual development, interdependence, helping create long-lasting peace between countries throughout the region.
However, the benefit of the GERD is not restricted to power supplies. The Dam will regulate the flow of the water and ensure a steady flow throughout the year, preventing the occurrence of floods downstream in Sudan or Egypt. Equally, GERD will hold back a major portion of silt and sedimentation. Over the years, this has rendered dams located in downstream countries much less effective, causing them to lose their water storage and electric power generation capacities. Indeed, this had meant both Sudan and Egypt have had to allocate huge sums to infrastructure maintenance, including replacement of turbines and dredging of clogged irrigation channels. Another benefit is that the topography of GERD’s location and the fact that the reservoir is to be built in a deep gorge will help minimize the water’s direct exposure to sunlight and reduce evaporation loss by up to 4 billion cubic meters annually. This, of course, means there will be significantly more water available for downstream countries to use.
Ethiopia has, time and again, demonstrated its determination to promote mutual benefit among all the Nile riparian countries and assist in the eradication of poverty from the region in this 21st century. It was at the proposal of Ethiopia that the International Panel of Experts conducted its studies of the impact of the GERD project on lower riparian countries; and Ethiopia immediately accepted in full the recommendations of the IPoE Report, and has set about implementing them. In this connection, and contrary to some media reports, Ethiopia has not rejected proposals presented by Egypt. Indeed, the Egyptian government has not presented any new proposals over implementation of the IPoE report on GERD or on mutually beneficial utilization of the River. During his recent official trip to Ethiopia, made at his own request, Egyptian Water Minister, Mohamed Abdul Muttalib, did not advance any new proposals. He only raised issues of the proposed confidence building and other unresolved issues that had been discussed at the last tripartite meeting in Khartoum in relation to the establishment of a new international panel of experts. Ethiopia and the Sudan agreed that the issue of the principles of confidence building presented by Egypt in Khartoum had clearly been dealt with under the Cooperative Framework Agreement and emphasized that the tripartite meeting agenda was focused on technical issues. In regard to Egypt’s call for the establishment of a new international panel of experts, Ethiopia and Sudan felt this was unnecessary in the light of the IPoE’s Report, but accepted the idea as something to be set up if the agreed national committee found itself in disagreement over the two recommended studies which the three parties had mandated it to oversee.
The Egyptian Minister also suggested halting construction of the GERD until Egypt had conducted further studies. This was rejected by the Ethiopian government, which told the Minister quite clearly that the construction of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam was a “flagship project” for the nation, and that it would be completed within its project timeline with the full participation of Ethiopians at home and abroad. As a matter of fact, according to the National Coordination Office for the Dam, the GERD will begin to generate 700mw electricity from September 2015.
Following the Egyptian Water Minister’s meeting with Ethiopia’s Minister of Water and Energy, Ato Alemayehu Tegenu, Egyptian media outlets intensified their negative campaign against the GERD Project and Ethiopia. They claimed technical matters were an issue, including building standards or whether the Dam was safe from collapse. These were nonsensical, not least since the Dam is being built to the levels of 21st century state-of-the-art technology, very much improved since the construction of the Aswan High Dam fifty years ago. Imaginary doomsday scenarios of collapse are not helpful in finding solutions for differences. Ethiopia hopes Egypt will come to its senses. It is clear there is no alternative to move to start discussions with all Nile Basin states over the use of the waters of the Basin for the mutual benefit and best interest of all.
Ethiopia has made clear its preference to continue talks since this is the only way to resolve differences and to produce a win-win solution. At the same time, the Ethiopian government has emphasized that it is not ready to conduct further discussions in the absence of the Sudan or outside the framework of the tripartite Water Ministers’ meetings. For Ethiopia, cooperation among Nile Basin countries was and remains a central principle of policy. This underlines its determination to respond to any concerns and the reason for immediately accepting the IPoE’s recommendations and starting to implement them unilaterally and without delay. This was also why it immediately agreed at the tripartite Water Ministers’ meetings to the further studies suggested by the IPoE. Ethiopia has, in fact, made every effort to take into account the concerns of Sudan and Egypt, and will continue to do so in order to implement the GERD, a project that will have valuable multi-fold applications throughout the whole of the East Africa region. Its successful implementation will be a source of hope, power, prosperity and pride for the region and a very real symbol of regional integration.
Culled from A Week in The Horn of Africa, a newsletter that focuses on economic developments in the Horn of Africa region.