June 10, 2013

Conflicting Reports: Al-Ahram Weekly

Conflicting Reports: Al-Ahram Weekly

Workers build the wall of the Renaissance Dam in the Asosa region of Ethiopia (photo: AP)

Workers build the wall of the Renaissance Dam in the Asosa region of Ethiopia (photo: AP)

Findings of the tripartite committee on the impact of Ethiopian Renaissance Dam fan the concerns of both Cairo and Khartoum, Reem Leila reports

The international panel of experts commissioned to report on the impact of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) has handed its findings to the governments of Ethiopia, Sudan and Egypt. The tripartite committee is composed of 10 experts, two each from Ethiopia, Sudan and Egypt, and four from other countries.

Immediately after receiving the report on 1 June President Mohamed Morsi convened a meeting with Minister of Foreign Affairs Mohamed Kamel Amr, Minister of Irrigation and Water Resources Mohamed Bahaaeddin and the leaders of major political parties.

The full text of the report, which recommends further comprehensive studies be undertaken by the Ethiopian government to assess the negative impacts of the dam on downstream countries, has not been made public. What is clear is that after a year of study and six visits to the dam’s location the writers of the report have serious reservations about the project’s impact on the flow of the River Nile.

The GERD is planned to be 1,780 metres long and 145 metres high. Behind this massive wall with its central stepped spillway a reservoir will be created covering, at full capacity, an area of 1,680 sq km and holding 74 billion cubic metres of water.

The panel of experts complained that studies commissioned by the Ethiopian government on the dam’s impact were either insufficiently broad or else outdated, and assessments of the expected repercussions on both Sudan and Egypt in the case of malfunction of the dam have not been undertaken.

Hani Raslan, an analyst at Al-Ahram Centre for Political and Strategic Studies, accuses Ethiopia of hiding important documents on the negative impact of the dam on Egypt and Sudan from the committee. He charges that “Ethiopia has deliberately impeded the work of the committee by delaying meetings and providing it with incomplete data.”
Addis Ababa, says Raslan, asked Egypt several times to postpone the release of the report of the tripartite committee, the last time was in February. The Egyptian government, he adds, only refused further delays after Ethiopia began diverting the course of the Blue Nile four months before its scheduled date.

The dam, scheduled to be completed in 2017, will be constructed over basalt rocks along the grand African rift. Yet Ethiopia, says Raslan, has yet to offer any comprehensive geological survey of the site. He warns that the area in which it is to be constructed is unstable. Existing instability will be exacerbated by the pressure of the 74 billion cubic metres of water which will collect behind the dam, leading to an increase in the possibility of earth tremors of up to 5.0 on the Richter scale as geological faults widen.

“In the event the dam collapses much of Sudan will be inundated. Egypt’s High Dam would be seriously affected if Lake Nasser happened to be full,” warns Raslan. “The Italian company which was awarded the construction contract [without tender] has said it will inject the ground with cement but this will only delay any potential problems.”
Ethiopia, says the report, has failed to undertake any serious studies of the dam’s environmental impact. The panel of experts concluded that after GERD is completed Egypt will lose 30 per cent of its annual share of Nile water for the six years it is expected to take for the lake to reach its capacity. After that, they predict Egypt will enter a seven-year cycle of excess water followed by drought.

The ability of Egypt’s High Dam to generate electricity is likely to be compromised by the GERD, especially during high and medium flood seasons. Should Ethiopia attempt to continue filling its reservoir during periods of drought the impact on Egypt’s ability to generate electricity and irrigate agricultural lands will be devastating.
The tripartite committee focussed on the possible negative environmental cause by the dam on Ethiopia’s ecosystem and Egypt’s agriculture. The report expressed concern about aspects of the dam’s design. Although Ethiopia accepted these concerns and said it would change the designs accordingly no modifications have been made.
Water expert Diaa Al-Qousi stresses that the report recommended Ethiopia build two smaller dams further upstream which between them would have the same storage and generating capacity as GERD.

“Ethiopia has the option to build further upstream and will gain the same benefits without harming Egypt or Sudan’s share of the water,” says Al-Qousi. He believes it has ignored this option out of geopolitical calculations. In short Ethiopia, charges Al-Qousi, wants to control the supply of water to its downstream neighbours.
Al-Qousi also warns the dam will result in political conflict between Egypt and Sudan. According to the 1959 water agreement between Egypt and Sudan the two countries share 84 billion cubic metres of water, with Sudan’s allocation set at 18 billion.

“Egypt’s share was never sufficient to cover its consumption. Egypt has consistently borrowed from Sudan’s share and now owes Sudan more than 300 billion cubic metres of water,” says Al-Qousi.
Under circumstances in which the flow decreases as a result of the GERD it is inconceivable, says Al-Qousi, that Sudan will continue to donate part of its own share to cover the Egyptian shortfall.
“Sudan will refuse. Eventually Egypt will cut its own share and start repaying the 300 billion cubic metres of water it has borrowed,” he argues.

Raslan believes Cairo must begin to explore strategic and political solutions to the crisis immediately.
“The government should refer this issue to the Arab League, the African Union and to the UN Security Council. It must express its concerns forcibly to all countries that support the construction of the GERD, stressing the legal point that Ethiopia is violating Egypt’s recognised historical rights in the River Nile and that all options will remain open for Cairo to defend those rights.”

On 26 May Ethiopia’s Ministry of Water and Power claimed the plans for the GERD complied with all relevant international standards. On the same day Ethiopia’s Foreign Ministry insisted the tripartite report had confirmed the dam would “not greatly harm” Egyptian or Sudanese interests.

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