Ethiopia’s Grand Dam Well on its Way to Completion

Photo -By(ETHIOPIAN HERALD)OPINIONSince the overthrow of the military rule in 1991, Ethiopia has been harnessing its natural resources to alleviate poverty and ensure sustainable economic development. This and other development activities has enabled the country to register double digit economic growth, particularly in the past decade with average annual real GDP growth rate 10.9 per cent. For instance, the country has registered an annual growth of 11.6 per cent, 10.2 per cent, 11.3 per cent and 13.7 per cent in the years between 2007 to 2010.

Most importantly, this fast growing economy needs parallel growth in the energy supply. In fact, prior to 1991, the total electric power generating capacity of the nation was only 370 megawatts. Therefore, the government had to come up with a plan to expand the energy sources and supply by extensively investing in energy sources which are comparatively advantageous. The one potential energy resources the country is abundantly endowed with is hydro-power.

According to Ministry of Water, Irrigation and Energy, Ethiopia has 12 river basins with an annual runoff water volume of 122 billion m3. It is believed that the country has a total volume of 109 billion cubic meters of surface and about 2.6 billion cubic meters of ground water. However, only about 3 per cent of these water resources are used so far and only 2 per cent of the population has access to electricity in the rural areas.

Accordingly, one of the major mega plans that the government come up with to better this situation was to construct the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam. Consequently, once its construction began, the dam has attracted the attention of the Ethiopian public as well as down stream countries of the Nile basin.

One of the major rationales behind the construction of the Ethiopian Grand Renaissance Dam is economical. Along with other development projects, the GERD is believed to play significant role in realizing food self sufficiency. The GERD could also have both historic and political rationales. Previously, it was unthinkable for Ethiopia to think of, let alone accomplish such a huge project using its own finance. Of course, firstly, financial constraint has deterred the country for many years from constructing any development projects along the Blue Nile. “The use of renewable resources has made limited headway in Ethiopia, primarily because of financial constraints,” Assefa Abreha, et al (2002:38)

The second major constraint was lack of appropriate policies and strategies. There were no visionary and politically committed leaders in the country that could mobilize the people to raise the country’s economic capacity to accomplish such huge projects. Neither could they manage to win the diplomatic games so as to get foreign aid and funds for mega projects.

Thirdly, there was strong imposition of influence from the downstream countries particularly Egypt to block the initiative to undertake mega water development and hydro-power projects on the Nile. It has been persistently winning the minds and hearts of donor countries not to fund any Ethiopian projects along the Nile Waters and blocked all possibilities of getting financial aid or loans.

The country and the situation have now changed absolutely. This is amazing for many of us. The overall fast economic and human development in the country have built up strong capacity to carry out certain projects with local financial mobilization. As a result, age long belief about the impossibility of building any developmental project along the Nile River without receiving foreign aid has become history.

The construction of GERD is fully funded by the people and government of Ethiopia. The people have pledged 12 billion birr following the announcement of the project and have already contributed more than 8.1 billion. There is no doubt that the participation of all Ethiopians at home and abroad would continue until the completion of the project. Currently, more than 60 per cent of its construction has been completed.

At the beginning of its construction, there were lots of misunderstandings not only among the downstream countries but also among all Nile Basin Nations and the international community. Particularly, Egypt raised serious objection to the project arguing that the amount of water flowing to downstream countries would be reduced. Other countries also shared this concern at the beginning. However, that notion was altered later as a result of Ethiopia’s strong diplomacy and negotiation.

Egypt has still some reservations. Few Egyptian media and officials have continued to propagate that the construction of GERD could inflict harm on the downstream countries. They failed to accept the reality despite all the tangible evidences that Ethiopia has been providing them with.

One of the downstream countries, the Sudan, has comprehended the affirmative regional impact of the Dam. So did other Nile Basin countries and the international community. They have developed hopes on the significance of the Ethiopian Grand Renaissance Dam for regional economic integration.

In fact, the dam would play significant role in integrating the Horn Region. It ranked first in Africa and 8th in the world, designed to generate about 6000 Megawatts of electricity. The Dam will have an artificial lake that covers about 187, 400 hectares.

Despite what some of the Egyptian media and officials release every time, the genuine political commitment of the three countries will certainly bring consensus that could benefit the three sisterly countries: the Sudan, Egypt and Ethiopia.

The government of Ethiopia, from the very beginning, has been expressing its belief that the GERD will never inflict any harm on downstream countries. It has exerted a lot of efforts to bring these countries to a round table for negotiation.

Following the pragmatic diplomacy of Ethiopia, Sudan has already comprehended the benefit of the Dam. Consecutive consultations compelled the three countries to sign the tripartite agreement in which the lower riparian countries have acknowledged the rights of Ethiopia to develop any project along its natural resource; the Blue Nile.

Moreover, the efforts to improve mutual understanding and better diplomatic relations bare fruits that there is at least common understanding to stick to a win-win approach regarding the utilization of the Nile water.

However, in contrast to the already established diplomatic relations and mutual understanding to improve the lives of the entire people in the three countries, there are some officials from Egypt who have been separately and frequently dispatched false and negative messages concerning the impact of EGRD on downstream countries. These officials are rigid on the implementation of the colonial treaty signed between the two downstream countries: Egypt and the Sudan under the auspice of Great Britain in 1959.

That treaty left little opportunity to Ethiopia to develop any projects on its own resource. It rather let Egypt, with no contribution to the Nile Waters, use 55.5 billion meter cube of the water and Sudan to use 18.5 per cent.

On the other hand, Ethiopia, which contributes more than 85 per cent of the Nile Waters, only wants fair and equitable water utilization in the basin. From the very beginning, Ethiopia made it clear that it needs to cooperate with the Nile Basin countries in general and the Sudan and Egypt in particular for any developmental activities along the Nile River.

The country needs its fair share of water to utilize it to alleviating poverty and ensuring sustainable economic development. Its determination to build GERD has emanated from this very notion. The Sudanese government has soon recognized the insignificant impact of the GERD and its economic importance not only for Ethiopia but also for other countries in the region. Then, it has been cooperating with Ethiopia.

Ethiopia has been exerting various efforts to build confidence and trust among the three countries; thereby, strengthening cooperation among them. It has been allowing Ministers, Parliamentarians, Diplomats, Public Diplomacy Members and Media Practitioners of Nile Basin Countries to visit the Dam.

Previously, Ethiopia proposed to set an International panel of Experts that could assess any impact of the Dam on downstream countries so as to help Egypt avoid its fears. Accordingly, the three countries set an International Panel of Experts that produced its final report on the 30th of May 2013, as a consensus report signed by the representatives of the three countries: Egypt, Ethiopia and the Sudan as well as the four international experts.

The report clearly emphasized that the design and construction of the Grand Ethiopia Renaissance Dam meets international standards; which was one of the major concerns of the downstream countries. Besides, the report confirmed that the Dam has no significant impact on the downstream countries rather it will provide huge benefit to the three countries: Egypt, Ethiopia and the Sudan. Besides, the International Panel of Experts has recommended the three countries to conduct two more studies. As a result, the consultation of the three countries has continued and is expected to be concluded in a win-win approach.

Ethiopia has still devoted for mutual benefit to all people along the Nile Basin. It believes the GERD is a golden opportunity for the entire people along the basin. As Ethiopia uses the Nile Water only for generating hydroelectric power, Egypt and Sudan have still the opportunity to receive uninterrupted water supply throughout the year. The Dam could also minimize evaporation because it is situated in deep gorge, which is a good opportunity to Egypt and the Sudan. Now, there is regional hope on the GERD. The Sudan is the first to realize it. All countries along the Horn of Africa have also comprehended the economic benefit of this huge Ethiopian project. These countries along with the other Nile Basin countries developed hope and they have expressed their support to its construction.