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What Would the Nile River Say? The GERD: Approaching the Basin (Part I) | ZeHabesha

By Amanuel T. Muhzun

Introduction      

Land and Water are the most valuable natural resources with the grace of renewability making life sustainable to global populations, plants, animals and the habitat in general. However, world hydrological statistics show a fast way of progression in using freshwater resources, causing serious conflicts between countries that demand mutual understanding and cooperation more than ever.  

Thanks to scholars and the internet technology in providing credible books, articles and other important resources that help people customize international laws, rules and regulations to resolve, or mitigate conflicts over cross border waters in a peaceful manner. The Nile Basin issue would not have to be an exception, although it is polarized and more controversial compared to other international water conflicts.

The eleven Nile Basin countries are Ethiopia, Egypt, Sudan, Kenya, Rwanda, Eritrea, Uganda, Burundi, Democratic Republic of Congo, Tanzania and South Sudan.

The purpose of this writer is to raise peoples’ awareness, while assessing alternative ideas or views to help alleviate the controversial disputes surrounding the Nile waters in general and Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) in particular. It is about mutual promise through a fair communique’ to reach a short term and long term water use provisions.

The atmosphere in the negotiation process over the GERD construction, dam filling schedules, and the Hydro Plant operation issues appear to create difficult to reach a reliable mutual deals and workable establishments. Temporary water agreements, without navigating other ways of mutual interest to relieve the tension between Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan may be reachable. In the meantime, leaving a major dispute of fundamental interests unresolved should cause complication and fresh conflict in implementing insecure agreements. There would be a growing confrontation over the GERD and the whole range of Nile water resources in Ethiopia, unless a substantial long term win-win perspectives and policies are outlined carefully.

The Nile waters conflict of strategic interests between Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan has a long history of direct and indirect armed conflicts with extension of political magnitude surrounding the Red Sea. There are considerable public involvement and resentment that demand addressing the root cause of those major conflicts through pragmatic approaches and satisfactory solutions to help today’s generation as well as to the future.

The United Nations (UN) including the Security Council, the European Union (EU), the African Union (AU), the Arab League (AL), Russia, as well as the United States of America (USA) and the World Bank have all been invited to intervene in the GERD’s dispute. Those international powers have shown their efforts to help resolve this water conflict. The talks among Ethiopia, Egypt and Sudan are on and off, seeking alternative methods for negotiation. At any point of time however, a fair international mediation role is still essential to stabilize this difficult African region.

For clarity, I have classified this long article into many subtitles to provide concerned entities and the general reader with experiences in conflict of interest over freshwaters; several points of argument and new insights; researched thoughts and helpful bibliographic references; possible solutions to “What the Nile Would Say” in approaching its basin.

  1. Hydrological  features of the Nile Basin

The Nile River is 6,695 kilometres long. It is the longest river in the world. The whole basin covers over 3,200,000 square km. The average annual water flow of this lifesaving trans-boundary River is estimated around 85 billion cubic meters. It has been said that the year 2020 records the highest rain fall in the Nile basin after several decades, particularly in Ethiopia. This well-known international River provides Egypt about 55 billion cubic meters of water annually. Generally speaking, Egypt does not get more than 200 millimeters of rainfall annually that dissipates in its desert lands.  Meanwhile, Egypt is said to be rich in aquifer layers of groundwater resource.

The mighty Nile makes its long journey through arid terrains of harsh climate including high tropical evaporation, where a series of dams and cataracts have been built in Sudan and Egypt. The Nile River on its last course forms a large triangular area of alluvial deposits or the great fertile Delta extending 220 Km from Alexandria to Port Said before draining into the Mediterranean Sea.

The average annual discharge of the Nile between 1984 and 2001 into the Mediterranean Sea was about 13 billion cubic meters, according to official report of 2002 by Egyptian Ministry of Water Resources and Irrigation. Meanwhile, over the last decade, it has been said that there is only a little amount of water emptying into the Mediterranean Sea of Egypt.

The Egyptian Aswan High Dam of 2,100 megawatts capacity is so far the biggest in the Nile basin. The dam has created the Lake Nasser of 132 billion cubic meters that include some 16% of Lake Nubia in the Sudanese territory. This massive impoundment of Lake Nasser, although exposed to high evaporation rates, is the largest artificial lake in the world. That is more than four times of Ethiopia’s Lake Tana, which is around 29 billion cubic meters.  Egypt also uses the Aswan Dam for effective flood control and navigation. The country has constructed other dams to back-up its insatiable water demands. That phenomenal hydrological capacity allows Egypt to supply freshwater for its population, and cultivating several million hectares under irrigation. The Nile River generates tens of billions of US dollars annually to Egypt’s economy.

The Grand Nile has three main tributaries: Blue Nile, White Nile, and the Atbara.  All these major rivers have their own tributaries and so many auxiliary river streams.

The White Nile watershed constitutes mainly the east African countries of Equatorial lakes region; the Baro River and Akobo stream in southwestern Ethiopia flowing into the Sobat River in South Sudan; altogether making over 14% of the total Nile waters. The White Nile is 3,700 km. long. It starts from Lake Victoria, which is the largest lake in Africa, and second in the world. The Victoria Lake is the resource with the most potential in hydrology, and it is very promising for sustainable economic development in the region.

The Blue Nile originates in Lake Tana, Ethiopia. I am very sad to hear that the beautiful historic Tana Lake is suffering from the invasive Hyacinth aquatic weeds since 2011. The Blue Nile carrying high volume of water and fertile soils is estimated 1,800 km long. It has two main tributaries, the Dedessa and Beles Rivers.  The Blue Nile and the White Nile merge in Khartoum, the capital city of Sudan to form the Grand Nile River.

The third and last tributary is the Atbara River originating in north of Lake Tana flowing about 805 km to merge the intensity of the Nile River at the city of Atbara, Sudan. The Atbara basin is dominated by Tekeze (Setit) River in northwest Ethiopia, as well as several small rivers draining from Eritrea and Sudan.

In general, the hydrologic cycle of the Nile Basin tells that about 84% of the whole Nile water is from Ethiopia carrying much sediment inflowing the downstream. Literally, Ethiopia is the genetic source of the Nile River.  However, the Nile waters going to downstream may decrease in flow due to varying weather patterns that make several streams dry. For sure, tropical evaporation rates are considerably high in the Basin. As such, variables of annual rainfall data are quite noticeable.

I value that there are much more detailed works contributed by hydrologists, researchers and involved authorities than this short hydrological summary of the Nile Basin. My intention is to demonstrate the hydrological nature of the Basin, including water contribution by a sub-basin, which is one of the criteria in approaching international principles of water share regarding trans-boundary resources.

  1. Transboundary water disputes compared to the Nile controversy: International approaches

Many international transboundary rivers and lakes have been the cause of major conflicts in water allocation between riparian nations in the world. Increasing populations and climate change with the rise in temperatures causing high evaporation rates are among the reasons in decreasing freshwater levels. There are over 200 transboundary river basins where many countries have constructed in tens of dams within their own national territory. Although hydropower is known as clean source of energy, construction of extensive dams in several countries are subjected to comprehensive environmental assessments, because they are considered contentious and environmentally unfriendly.

Over the last several decades, the United Nation Conventions has paid more attention to conflicts on international transboundary rivers. There are UN adopted laws and regulations in place to help riparian nations in managing freshwaters such as: drinking consumptions; hydropower and irrigation; industrial and commercial; as well as tourism and navigation. The UN is also dealing with drafted articles on how to use transboundary aquifers or groundwater resources.

So, there are important references to help manage the ongoing disputes in the Nile Basin; particularly between Ethiopia, Sudan and Egypt over the GERD Project, and the Nile hydrology system at large. I found it helpful to excerpt from materials of international conflicts to learn the common difficulties in water sharing, as well as some well tested exemplary approaches.

Turkey, the upper stream, contributes over 85% and 50% into Euphrates and Tigris respectively. Turkey looks strong enough in using its water resources especially since the 1970s of its integrated Anatolia Project including over 30 billion US dollars investment on building dams that brought international attention in dominating the down-stream countries, Iraq and Syria. At the same time, Syria built the Tabqah Dam leaving Iraq with poor volume of water that escalated towards a full-scale military confrontation between Syria and Iraq. These two downstream countries largely depend on the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers. The construction of Iranian dams on the Tigris and Shatt al Arab Rivers has also put Iraq under increasing shortages of freshwater and electricity supply.

The Colorado River originating in the Rocky Mountains is the main supplier of freshwater, hydropower and irrigation use for several western states of USA before draining into the Gulf of Mexico. The famous Hoover Dam of the 1940s along with its Lake Mead reservoir is located on the Colorado River. The United States and Mexico have the 1944 based treaty in sharing the decreasing Colorado Basin waters.

China, the upper-stream has strong rivers and giant hydropower plants. The Three Gorges Dam of 22,500 megawatts capacity on the mighty Yangtze River is the biggest in the world. China has extensive irrigation dam projects that include flood control systems. The country dominates the downstream countries in Asia by managing the large volume of water resources in her own territory. For example, China is the upper-stream benefiting from substantial water use in the Mekong River Basin; where Myanmar, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam are riparian states.

The domination of Jordan River by Israel has been denounced by the riparian partners, especially Jordan and the Palestinian Authority. The main objective of this water scrambling is because of the scarcity of freshwater resources in the region. Israel is now doing very well by establishing desalination water plants.

Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan are now poor countries contributing around 80% of the basin waters to downstream nations of Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan. All these riparian states were parts of the mighty Soviet Union when Tajikistan started to build the Rogun Dam in the 1980s. Construction works were interrupted intermittently due to the lack of project financing and the civil war (1992 – 1997) in the country. The dam was planned for 3,600 megawatt capacity and 13.3 billion cubic metres of reservoir. It is actually 335 metres height, the tallest dam in the world. Unfortunately, the dam took over 40 years to get completed. It has commenced production in 2018 with 600 MW only. The downstream water rival and economically better Uzbekistan accuses Tajikistan for a substantial cut to its hydropower and irrigation as the consequence of the Rogun dam.  Occasionally, the Uzbekistani anger had caused the threat of war against the upper-stream Tajikistan, cut off gas and electric supplies, and prevented trains carrying crucial supplies to suppress Tajikistan. Those complicated stories appear to have not fulfilled the Tajikistani dreams of water based economic development.

Afghanistan has now resumed building its medium size Kamal Khan Dam after the suspension of construction for decades due to instability. The purpose of this dam on the Helmand River, a major river in the country is for irrigation and hydroelectric power. Despite the downstream Iran and Afghanistan having the 1973 transboundary water allocation treaty, Iran has been arguing for not having substantial water flow in its territory due to the Afghani dams, especially during poor rain seasons. There are significant water conflicts between these two riparian nations, where Afghanistan government officials accuse Iran of supporting the Taliban to obstruct dam construction in their country. Afghanistan is rich in water resource, but many of its rivers flow downstream to Iran, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan and Pakistan. The poor Afghani people import electricity from neighbouring countries, including Iran. However, there is a better approach based on international water laws, saying that Afghanistan should not suppress Iran on transboundary water use, while Iran has to support Afghanistan for peace and economic developments.

It is wonderful to learn that there are 15 European countries sharing the potential Danube River Basin. They show great efficiency in hydrological management and sustainable mutual cooperation, making the basin an exemplary lesson to other riparian states in the world. Similarly, the Rhine is the main River in Germany flowing through six countries, and the basin is well experienced in managing its water resource together.

In West Africa, the Niger River and Volta River have nine and six riparian states respectively in their basins, where institutionalized hydrological managements are in place to administer water sharing and environmental issues. Six South African countries of the Zambesi River Basin are also consensual in managing their water resources for integrated developments.

It is interesting to learn that India and Pakistan have shown mutual understanding by reaching water share treaty over the Indus River since 1960. Most importantly, they put aside their long standing contentious territorial conflict over Kashmir, which started soon after their partition in 1947 to cause three wars and numerous skirmishes between the two neighbours.

The mighty Amazon River in Latin America is resourceful with 6,400 Km length, the second longest river in the world. More surprisingly, the hydrological feature of Amazon Basin has double drainage area and an extreme abundance of water discharge rates compared to the Nile Basin. Other powerful rivers such as: the Congo River in Africa, the Mississippi River in the United States of America, and the Yangtze River in China are much higher in water discharging volumes than the Nile River.

In those examples, we learn that the demand for water resources is much more crucial to the biggest landscape of the Nile countries that have dry tropical climate and large populations compared to several other international basin states. The Nile is unique in its importance especially to Egypt. Water dispute behaviours are so intense compared to other transboundary river basins, because the mighty Nile is the only lifesaving major River in the north-east African region.

There is a new feasibility study to build the “Grand Inga Dam” on the potential Congo River in the Democratic Republic of Congo, in Central Africa. The main purpose has been said to generate about 39, 000 MW capacity of hydroelectric power, and the entire construction cost is estimated US 80 billion dollars; according to the World Energy Council information of January 2011 on Wikipedia. If this magnificent plan for the Grand Inga Dam is achieved, imagine the extensive scale of electric power that would be supplied to the surrounding economies of the greater African region and dominate other dams including the expected hydroelectric project of the GERD.

International approaches

Transboundary hydro-political issues on irrigation, dam construction, reservoir filling and management are complex requiring share of concerns and careful roundtable discussions. There are universal principles under international water laws and charters such as: the rights of people to share or access to freshwaters; the right to use one’s own natural resources; population density and water demands; reasonable dependability on water resources; a no significant harm to others; equitable water share; the volume of water a riparian contribute; the situation or circumstance of disputes.

In a related scenario, riparian partners in a dispute might be treated according to their domestic strength, geopolitical importance and international reputation. However, riparian nations have a sort of international obligations to cooperate with each other for important economic developments. Meanwhile, international principles, as well as articulated approaches including diplomacy are very important during a dispute or litigation in making a hydrological case successful.

Most basin states in the world agree to nominate a technical committee together and share various data. They can move freely within a certain basin to overview meteorological, hydrological, hydraulic and infrastructural conditions, etc. Some few countries do have agreements of institutionalized management on their joint river basins. China and India do not have water sharing agreement, but they do share meteorological and hydrological data to identify weather patterns and water discharges as well as drought and flooding impacts. International water treaties including transcendence of ground waters, as well as fishing and navigation concords are quite possible. It is important to notice international experiences as how water sharing disputes are complex, controversial, confrontational and continuous process of interactions. It is possible that some of those water related international disputes may have been currently resolved.

However, as a result of growing global populations, the demand for freshwaters is increasing almost anywhere. Such obvious trends or indications in economic and social patterns will have to bring more serious moments between downstream and upstream states. That trend would lead to a reasonable water use compensation packages to support riparian partners.

  1. Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD)

The GERD is located in north-western Ethiopia, some 700 kilometres from Addis-Ababa, and about 30 km. away from the Sudanese border. This mega dam Project for hydroelectric power supply started construction in April 2011 during the time of Prime Minister Meles Zenawi. Ethiopia has been heavily engaging its own people (including the diaspora) in financing the GERD of 6,000 megawatt planned capacity. Of course, the Government makes capital fund allocations towards the Project, which is over five billion US dollar estimated costs. The dam was planned to achieve 10 billion cubic meters volume (1,780 metres long and 145 m. high), and over 70 billion cubic meters of reservoir capacity.

The main contractor of the GERD is Salini Impreglio, a well-known fully equipped and experienced Italian company. This international company has over a half century of services in construction works in Ethiopia with grown familiarity in the country. Salini has built large and medium size dams in many countries of the world that require sophisticated engineering works. There is the Studio Pietrangeli, a century old planning and consulting engineering company experienced in construction designs including sophisticated dams in many countries. The Metals and Engineering Corporation (METEC), military-industrial complex in Ethiopia was assigned to do electro-mechanical works on the GERD construction till August 2018. However, a couple of foreign companies have contracted in substituting METEC. It was told that the GERD construction site had the record of over 7,000 (seven thousands) employees working in shifts at a time.

According to Ethiopia’s plan, it will provide electricity to its neighbours at a lower rate compared to the prices in the region. The Sudanese had analysed that the GERD will stretch out their national interest without putting any capital into this project. Yes, this mega dam would contribute to Sudan in flood control and public safety, besides a manageable irrigation system to increase productivity. There are several foreign agricultural investments in Sudan relying on the support of the Nile waters.

Egypt worries an increase in irrigation capacity in Sudan as the result of the GERD would deteriorate water flow to its territory. However, under careful and collective responsibilities in water management, Egypt might profit from this mega dam through economic cooperation, by building mutual agricultural processing plants that may be coordinated with Ethiopian hydroelectric production and the Sudanese agricultural plains. Ethiopia considers Egypt and Sudan to be prospective customers for electric sales and in securing the GERD together. In fact, Egypt has enough sources and technology of its own to generate a large capacity electric power.

According to Ethiopia’s market provisions, the GERD may extend to some other Nile countries and the greater region for electric power supply, if completed according to the plan. Eritrea would be given the opportunity to obtain power from the Ethiopian mega dam to animate or support its meager economy. In presumption, the grand plan seems overemphasised to meet all those electric production goals.

This writer served for an international planning and consulting company in the 1990s in the economic sector of Ethiopia’s Original Tana-Belles Project within the Blue Nile sub-basin. Meteorology and hydrologic data processing, supervision on agricultural operations, as well as Project work report write-ups were parts of my job assignments as Rural Development Officer. That ambitious project of Ethiopia had experienced considerable internal and external challenges in security and financial issues. The opportunity has helped me to understand the sensitivity of the potential Blue Nile watershed within the Nile Basin.

I wrote the following paragraph in 2013 article about the GERD. This commentary hints at the sensitivity and confrontational nature of the Blue Nile Basin:

“One of the main national tasks Ethiopia has embarked is the building of the Millennium Mega Dam in the highly sensible watershed of the Nile Basin. This has a great international focus with rumors about its advantages and disadvantages. The mega dam should be a very challenging investment for Ethiopians and the country at large. It also requires geopolitical and economic cooperation. I believe Ethiopia will not undermine the dependency of the Sudan and especially Egypt on the Nile River as she likes to use waters for mutual benefit. The country is the main contributing into the Nile and deserves fair water sharing with all her riparian nations. The downstream countries ought to agree with the fundamental principles of the Nile Cooperative Framework Agreement to ease the tension of hydro-politics and make their water sharing fairly reliable. Actually, there is somehow diplomatic tolerance between the Nile riparian states. However, major conflicts of interest over water resources will be inevitable”. (What Ethiopia and Eritrea need to recognize in common, Nov. 2013)

Egypt is located in the last downstream and relies heavily on the Nile waters. The country insists to apply a timeframe between twelve and twenty years to fill the GERD. Egypt wants to secure a minimum of 40 billion cubic meters of water on annual average basis through this mega dam on the Blue Nile River, which is estimated over 50 billion cubic metres discharge in a good annual rainfall.

First, Ethiopia had the imagination to fill this major dam in three years. After moderate discussions however, Ethiopia has increased that timeframe to five and seven years. Egyptian leaders said that the improved Ethiopian proposal for filling the reservoir behind the dam and release only 32 billion cubic meters annual average can still cause significant harm on Egypt’s diverse economy, losing millions of jobs and over two billion US dollars annually. In the course of the dialogue, Egypt and Ethiopia agreed upon 37 billion cubic meters of water release.

There have been long arguments between Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan over the years in regard to the size of the Dam and environmental issues that engaged Tripartite National Technical Committee as well as international technical experts. There have also been belligerent attitudes by politicizing the Nile waters based on the old treaties between Egypt and Sudan, reflecting wide differences in hydrology, dam security and technical matters.

The ‘Trilateral Declaration of Principles’ of March 2015 signed by the Head of States of Sudan Ethiopia and Egypt, was recognized to help bring consensual atmosphere and cooperation without causing a significant harm and good will principles on water use. Meanwhile, this Declaration may contain clauses of advantage and disadvantage to each signatory. The GERD construction, water filling procedures and technical matters of the dam rely on that 2015 stipulated trilateral negotiation. Technical cooperation such as meteorological and hydrological data sharing as well as necessary field visits to provide the downstream with flood and drought warning, etc. should be well possible. The GERD project sounds like a fait accompli in construction, which is said over seventy percent (70%) completed. Despite that progress, Egypt is taking advantage on unstable Ethiopia by putting more pressure of controversial issues.

Ethiopian Minister of Water, Irrigation and Energy Dr. Shleshi Bekele announced in October 2019 that the power capacity of the Dam has reduced to 5,150 MW from 6,000 MW and to 13 turbines from 16 for efficiency and economic reasons. I see that as important measure to mitigate water conflicts and the risk in managing the dam for now and afterwards, as well as in the eyes of outside mediations. Under proper care and maintenance, major or extensive hydroelectric dams can stay active for more than 100 years. In fact, there are a few small size dams in the world such as in Syria, Spain and Japan that are over a thousand years old and still operational with very careful renovations.

As the extensive dam reservoir requires much storage of water, it could be a burden to Ethiopia’s own upper stream territory, when a crucial lifesaving development is needed in the future. It could frustrate and impact the country if restricting agreements for water use are reached with the downstream. Therefore, limiting the dam capacity and reservoir has its own benefit. It should be very important to expect tough hydrologic situation, and uncertain obstacles during construction of the mega dam and afterwards.

The biggest topic or the issue in question is that Egypt and Sudan request to legally bind Ethiopia to skip fill the dam during drought calamites including possible multiyear droughts, and even to get water released from the stored amount of water in the dam reservoir. Egypt is also making difficult to resolve future water disputes by stressing to have substantial control over the dam during construction and afterwards, such as dam operation management and hydrological movements of the Blue Nile sub- basin. It is not known to this writer if there are other key proposals and arguments raised in the GERD negotiation process.

Ethiopia and Egypt have a long time of heated arguments over dam filling procedures, of which the 4.9 billion cubic meters initial storage was on the table seeking an accord before starting to fill the dam. Meanwhile, it was surprising when Ethiopia and its Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed Ali announced in late July 2020 that the dam has already collected the initial amount through natural rainfall.  Egypt and Sudan have said the filling without an agreement was disappointing. Although mutual assent was important, it was said that the water filling did not make an impact to the downstream countries. The 4.9 billion cubic meters can only be one tenth of the Blue Nile River annual flow to the downstream. That amount of water stored in the last year with plenty of rainfall season is not big in volume.

The main arduous situation lying ahead is that there will be a long striving ways in dealing with the downstream to fill the reservoir, as well as dam management issues. Ethiopia has planned to fill 13.5 billion cubic meters for 2021, to which Egypt and Sudan say an agreement should be reached before that stance. Although Ethiopia would not have to resist in valuing its unilateral position in filling the dam, it appears to be difficult to achieve the GERD plan, if the reservoir is supposed to release a substantial amount of water during drought from previous accumulation. It will be hard to cope with water loss and run enough turbines to attain production targets. Languishing turbine engines would lead to unsteady hydroelectric production and low economic return in Project operational cycle.

The dam reservoir requiring a huge volume of water sees Egypt as existential threat and most frustrating. The country’s unlimited proposal over the GERD with heckles of technical and hydrological restrictions appear to cause future impositions as well as enduring conflicts with Ethiopia. Multidimensional pressures by Egypt could finally bring this dam insufficient or insecure amount of water storage with an increase sediment deposits. The conflict is not only about filling the dam reservoir, but also the hydro-dam operational issues.

Sudan was swaying between Ethiopia and Egypt although this country is considered to be a beneficiary from the GERD.  In an unusual manner, Sudan is now saying the GERD would pose a threat to about 20 million of its population. Sudan has been caught between Egypt and Ethiopia to slightly shift its positon in favour of Egypt. Egypt and Sudan are members of the Arab League and are deemed strategic partners that may allow enforcing more pressure on Sudan.

The contentious hydrologic and security issues of frequent disagreements with Egypt and Sudan might cause more painful events. This dam could be exposed to an unforeseen risk and more delays to fill the extensive reservoir that can jeopardize the planned production targets. We may learn the examples of Tajikistan and Afghanistan, mentioned in the ‘transboundary water disputes’ of this article, where these two poor upstream countries found it difficult for several decades to achieve their dam projects due to own national instabilities and obstacles from water conflicts with their immediate downstream neighbours.

The GERD appears to be not only a big challenge, but a choking point and a game changer between the upstream and the downstream. The GERD persuaded each riparian with its own agenda that involve opportunities and threats in water use. This mega project is very challenging legacy in terms of financial investment and national security for Ethiopians and their governments. Ethiopia is locked into severe water conflict that requires geopolitical and economic cooperation, including support from our partners Egypt and Sudan.

However, in the course of time, if this big conflict on Nile waters is not going to be handled carefully, the GERD may be fated to stall its operations, or even end up serve mainly the downstream as a reservoir for water supplement and flood control. If such multifaceted pressure on unstable Ethiopia persists as regional threat, the country may have to look for an alternative measure on this public financed, expensive mega dam Project. These issues have been among the major concerns of this writer.

Nevertheless, I would like to share my sincere opinion at this critical juncture over the GERD. The first option is: Ethiopia may have to invite or allow Egypt and Sudan officially for a joint ownership on the GERD that includes financial contribution and dam hydrological management. In such approach, Ethiopia could develop moderate water related projects on its Nile basin territory. In sharing hydrological concerns associated to the joint ownership on this Hydropower Dam, Egypt is appealed earnestly to supplement its domestic water needs from the massive Lake Nasser Reservoir for a couple of years to help fill the GERD between four to seven rain seasons, or as quickly as possible. Trilateral engagement through shared responsibility could bring enough confidence and security to carry the GERD construction constantly according to the designed plan. In such atmosphere or scenarios, Sudan and Egypt may have to invite or allow Ethiopia invest in their own hydroelectric dams and build more fraternal relationships.

For example: the Kariba Dam which has formed a very large artificial lake on the Zambezi River is managed by Zambia and Zimbabwe on joint ownership basis. There are several examples of shared management on dams that could offer learned experiences and establish a joint ownership for integrated sustainable development. The question is could Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan get along to manage a water joint venture. Joint tasks on hydrological matters can be complex posing managerial and shareholders conflict over dividends that require genuine cooperation and follow-up for adjustments.

The second and most reliable option is to Help Ethiopia fill the mega dam in four to five years without having to release water from its reservoir to the downstream in case of drought calamites. That means: Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia would have to face the possible consequence of drought alike on their own hydrologic capacity. Egypt would not go thirsty because this great country has the Lake Nasser and abundance of underground water capacity in its territory to survive freshwater shortages. Of course, a mutual assent between Ethiopia, Egypt and Sudan is important to fill the GERD reservoir. A team for water management in the Nile Basin may have to consider special water needs during severe droughts, and technical irregularity in water flow.

Having said that, Ethiopia would have to sign a binding agreement not to build new dams or water related projects on the tributaries of the Nile for a certain years. In line with that obligation, Ethiopia would have to earn some water endowment compensation, and this country deserves to manage the GERD operations independently. To see The GERD in full operation as quickly as possible on the one hand, and agree to provide the downstream with enough time to recuperate water deficit on the other hand are necessary steps for mutual peace and lasting economic developments.

The idea to concede water resources for a limited or fixed period of time to reciprocate a dispute sounds like a mix of shocking and exciting. Sharing risks and concerns are very important in conflict resolution. Let us continue analysing the general situation the GERD/Nile basin is facing along with national security issues, and see the brief opinion regarding a limited time water concession in the “Conclusion” of this long article.

 

Amanuel Tesfaselassie Muhzun

 

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