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By Reem Leila, Issue No.1242, 16 April, 2015. Al-Ahram Weekly
Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia have agreed on two international consultancy firms to carry out technical studies on the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam, reports Reem Leila
Minister of Irrigation and Water Resources Hossam Moghazi travelled to Addis Ababa last week to announce the selection of French and Dutch consultancy firms to carry out technical studies on the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) and its impact on the share of Nile water of downstream countries.
During a two-day meeting the three countries collectively reached a decision regarding the international firms. The decision came after more than two months of negotiation and study. Twelve experts from Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia participated in the selection process.
The selected firms were mandated to start their mission after a contract signing in the first week of May, finishing it within eleven months. The studies are expected to determine the proper amount of time for the dam’s reservoirs to be filled in order to avoid possibly negative environmental and social impacts on Egypt and Sudan.
After the meeting, Moghazi said that the coming months will see better understanding between the three countries regarding the filling of the dam’s reservoirs.
Last month, Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia took the first step towards solving years of dispute over the GERD by signing a Declaration of Principles on the Ethiopian dam. “This month, the three countries took the second step towards solving the dispute. The three countries agreed to abide by the recommendations of these international firms,” Moghazi said.
He said that one of the two firms will be the main consultant, while the other will act as a subconsultant. “The final decision regarding organising the work between the two firms will be declared on 4 May. Signing the contract with them will take place immediately afterwards,” Moghazi said, adding that the three countries will celebrate the signing in Addis Ababa.
“While the firms are accomplishing their mission, the three countries will jointly sign four other agreements related to the Declaration of Principles document to avoid any harm to downstream countries,” the minister added.
Alaa Yassin, a consultant to the ministry, said there is no harm in selecting two firms to work on the technical studies of the GERD and its impact on Egypt and Sudan. “A similar situation took place during the construction of Egypt’s Aswan High Dam. There was more than one international firm responsible for the technicalities of the dam,” Yassin said.
He said a report on the minister’s visit to Addis Ababa has been sent to both President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi and Prime Minister Ibrahim Mehleb. “Moghazi will be waiting for the president’s instructions regarding the follow-up within the coming few days,” Yassin said.
After the meeting in Addis Ababa, international dam expert Meghawri Shehata said that assigning two international firms to the mission is a positive step, as it helps decrease the time required to finish the environmental, economic and social studies of the GERD.
“Both companies are experienced and have a good reputation. Neither will risk their reputation for the sake of one country on the account of the other. Their studies will be objective and performed by a highly specialised team,” Shehata said.
The firms will produce several reports, among them one on hydraulics and one on environmental impacts. “The reports will complement each other, not contradict each other. We expect highly professional reports to be issued by these firms,” Shehata added.
He believes that the steps taken since the signing of the Declaration of Principles are positive moves towards ending the dispute, which has lasted between Egypt and Ethiopia for decades. “Let’s hope for the best and expect good intentions from Ethiopia,” Shehata said.
However, Hani Raslan, an expert on Sudan affairs at Al-Ahram’s Centre for Polit++ical and Strategic Studies, was not optimistic about the situation. “Ethiopia does not accept Egypt’s historical share of the River Nile’s water, which is estimated at 55.5 billion cubic metres,” he said. According to Ethiopia, this historical share was set by the 1959 Agreement and was agreed upon under the influence of British colonisation.
Raslan believes that the consultancy firms will not help solve the dispute over the GERD and its negative impact on the downstream countries, Egypt in particular. “We are moving in a vicious circle, and what is happening now is a big waste of time from which Ethiopia is benefiting. Ethiopia will not make any positive moves, especially after Egypt’s recent steps which show our good intentions,” he said.
“What really matters is not the agreements but the presence of the will to solve the dispute along with good intentions,” Raslan said, quoting President Al-Sisi. “If Ethiopia continues with its current strategy, its intention to control the waters and energy of the River Nile and its intransigence and intention to impose a fait accompli will lead to nothing but continuing disputes. Ethiopia must prove its good intentions.”
According to Raslan, Ethiopia has not done anything to show its willingness to cooperate with Egypt in solving the GERD crisis. “The 1902 Treaty prevents Ethiopia from constructing any dams on the River Nile without the approval of the downstream countries. The GERD is not only a developmental project. It also has hidden political and strategic aims,” Raslan said.
Just two days after Ethiopia signed the Declaration of Principles, Raslan said, it signed a mutual defence agreement with Turkey. Turkey and Ethiopia are located in two different regions and do not have any common interests or threats facing them unless Egypt is their common target, he said.
Raslan believes that Turkey and Ethiopia consider Egypt to be an obstacle hindering their expansion plans under the auspices of the same sponsor, the US. According to him, the two countries are seen as implementing US plans in the region, working as agents of the US to lay waste to Egypt.
“We must be aware of Ethiopia’s true intentions and its future plans in the region,” Raslan warned.
Immediately after the recent meeting, however, Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn said, “The GERD’s construction will not cause any damage to any of the Nile Basin countries, especially not to Egypt.”
In response to Desalegn’s words, Raslan said, “We will have to wait and see.”