Sunday,20 September, 2015
While the building of Ethiopia’s Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) is now in full swing, reliable studies assessing the harm this could have on Egypt seem even more remote.
This month, the two consultancy firms supposed to submit the studies failed to meet the deadlines. One also withdrew, leaving Egypt with the possibility of having to choose another firm which could take another six months while the dam is becoming more and more of a fact on the ground.
Further meetings with Ethiopia and Sudan to discuss a way out of the problem are not possible soon, as Addis Ababa is busy with putting together a new coalition government, meaning it will not be able to attend a meeting before the end of October.
Ethiopia initially blamed the deterioration in its relations with Egypt on Cairo and Egypt’s alleged neglect of an active Egyptian role in Ethiopia or Africa in general, said Maghawry Shehata, an expert on water issues.
“Now we are trying to open channels of dialogue and find joint interests. It is Addis Ababa that is putting up obstacles and delaying things in resolving the Dam issue,” he added.
The Dutch consultancy firm Deltares declared on 9 September that it had decided not to participate in the studies assessing the impacts of the Grand Renaissance Dam commissioned by the Tripartite National Committee (TNC) of Ethiopia, Sudan and Egypt and consisting of four representatives from Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan.
The company wrote on its Website that “after three months of negotiations on possible cooperation in the studies with BRLi [the other consultancy firm], Deltares had to conclude that the conditions as imposed by the TNC and BRLi on how the studies should be carried out did not provide a sufficient guarantee for Deltares that an independent high-quality study could be carried out.”
Nader Noureddin, a professor of agricultural resources at Cairo University, was not surprised by the withdrawal of the Dutch company, chosen by Egypt and Sudan. Although it is an experienced company in the field of building dams, he said, Addis Ababa had insisted on selecting the French company BRLi as the main consultancy firm although its experience was mainly in irrigation and drainage.
“This is the best example of Ethiopian intransigence. As a result, BRLi was commissioned to carry out 70 per cent of the work and Deltares only 30 per cent. Deltares found this situation condescending to its status and decided to decline the studies altogether,” he said.
The two consultancy firms failed to meet the deadline for submitting reports on the impact of the Renaissance Dam. They were supposed to reach an agreement and deliver their reports on 5 September to the NTC.
The firms had already missed another deadline in August and forced the NTC to schedule the new deadline of 5 September after a meeting in Addis Ababa last month. The consultancy firms did not give a reason for their failure to deliver their reports to the committee on time.
Ethiopia has declined to hold an emergency meeting to discuss the failure of the firms to submit their reports, saying that it is busy with internal matters. In an official letter to the Egyptian ministry of irrigation, Addis Ababa stated that a meeting would not be held before the end of October because the country was busy with selecting its coalition government.
Egypt is now in a difficult situation, since the dam, which could affect its much-needed Nile water quota, is being built, and the country has not been able to get any reliable studies to assess the amount of harm that it could face in the future as a result.
Shehata said that the way out of the dilemma could take two paths. The first would be to change the Declaration of Principles signed by Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan in March, while the second would be to choose another consultancy firm, though this would take time, a factor that is not in Egypt’s interest.
A further option, which he prefers, is to seek direct dialogue between the technical delegations of the three countries concerned. “They should deal with the dam as a reality and try to agree on the regulations for filling the reservoir and for yearly operations, while respecting the no harm principle to be used for all the parties involved,” he said.
Noureddin, who blamed Egypt for failing to ask for the halting of the building of the dam in the negotiations, believes that Egypt should resort to international mediation. “Cairo should take the matter to the UN Security Council and the African Union and clearly show them that the Dam would affect Egypt’s water quota and that Ethiopia is not showing the will to resolve this vital issue,” he said.
“We need international support from other countries and possibly from the EU which has also showed sympathy with our case. That support should press Addis Ababa to negotiate with Egypt and reach a solution that will not cause harm to Egypt or Ethiopia,” he added.
The dam and its effects on Egypt’s water quota has been a cause of considerable differences between Egypt and Ethiopia. However, the two countries decided to open a new page of cooperation and take confidence-building measures after President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi held talks with his Ethiopian counterpart Mulatu Teshome earlier this year.
In March, Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan met in Sudan and signed a Declaration of Principles on the GERD. After the signing, the three countries agreed to sign contracts with the French and Dutch consultancy firms to carry out studies of the dam’s possible effects on the accessing of water by downstream countries.
The studies were also expected to determine the time period it would take for the dam to be filled and possible environmental and social impacts on Egypt and Sudan.
Noureddin regards the signing of the Declaration of Principles to have been a grave mistake because it represented Egyptian consent to the building of the Dam without reservations on capacity and height.
“The present capacity and height of the dam are unjustified if it is being built for the purpose of generating electricity rather than storing water,” he added.
Egypt has previously voiced concerns about its share of the Nile’s water and depends on the Nile for 95 per cent of its water needs.
According to the Irrigation Ministry, Egypt is already suffering from a water deficit of 20 billion cubic metres a year, which means it cannot accept any other possible fall in its water quota.
The Grand Renaissance Dam, scheduled to be completed in 2017, will be Africa’s largest hydroelectric power plant with a storage capacity of 74 billion cubic metres of water and a height of 145 metres, the Ethiopian government has said.