8 September, 2016 | Al-Ahram Weekly
A meeting of ministers of irrigation from Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan on the Renaissance Dam has been postponed
A meeting of ministers of irrigation and water resources from Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia on the potential risks posed by Ethiopia’s Renaissance Dam to Egypt and Sudan has been postponed.
Walid Hakek, spokesman for Egypt’s Ministry of Irrigation and Water Resources, said that at the meeting, scheduled for 9 September, the ministers were to have signed the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) consultation office agreement. “The signing has been postponed until further notice,” Hakek said.
Hakek said the meeting was postponed because the advisory office which will conduct the technical studies of the dam, as well as the legal office which will draft the contracts, were both busy with other matters.
“The ministry is currently coordinating with the consultation office and with the Sudanese and Ethiopian sides to agree on a new date for the meeting,” added Hakek.
The office is assigned to carry out technical studies that will determine the possible risk of the dam to Egypt and Sudan.
The two main studies that will be conducted by the consultation office are the impact of the dam on the river’s hydraulic head to Egypt and Sudan, and the dam’s economic and social implications, Hani Raslan, an African expert on Sudan and Nile Basin countries at Al-Ahram Centre, previously told the press.
Nader Noureddin, an expert on water resources, had said the consultation office will take up to 12 months to study the effects of the GERD on Egypt, by which time Ethiopia will have completed construction of the dam.
Sudan, Egypt and Ethiopia signed a declaration of principles in March 2015 in which they agreed on the GERD. Addis Ababa claims that the consultation offices will guarantee that the water share of each country will not be affected.
The GERD, of which 70 per cent has been completed, has strained relations between Ethiopia and Egypt since construction began in 2011, with relations reaching their lowest point in 2013.
Despite the tension between Egypt and Ethiopia over the past few years, Egypt’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Ahmed Abu Zaid has said the dam had no effect on bilateral relations between the two countries.
The Ethiopian dam, built on the Nile’s largest tributary — the Blue Nile — is to store 74 billion cubic metres of water in its reservoirs. According to Ethiopian officials, the dam is built to generate electricity and cultivate its land. Khaled Wassef, spokesman for Egypt’s minister of irrigation and water resources, said that although the construction of the GERD had been causing “deep anxiety” to downstream countries (Egypt and Sudan) regarding its impact on their historical share of the Nile’s water, Ethiopian officials have repeatedly confirmed that the share of the Nile from downstream countries will not be affected by the completion of the project.
The cost of the dam, which should be completed soon, is over $4 billion and will generate 6,000 megawatt via 16 turbines.
Historically, only Egypt and the Sudan have shares in the Nile’s water. The other Nile Basin countries did not have any need of the water; they receive enough rainfall every year to cover agricultural needs. Egypt gained a historical right to the Nile, a right confirmed by many international agreements. Diaa Al-Qousi, veteran international water expert, said earlier agreements were signed by Britain and Italy and the Upper Nile countries, the last in 1959 between Egypt and the Sudan. “We stress that these historical rights are protected by international law,” stated Al-Qousi. Until 1959 Egypt received 48 billion cubic metres of water.
After the 1959 agreement, Egypt’s total share of the Nile waters was increased to 55.5 billion cubic metres while Sudan receives 14.5 billion cubic metres. This amount only comprises six to eight per cent of total rainfall over the Nile Basin. Much of the rest is lost, either through evapotranspiration — the consumption of plants — or seepage into the ground, creating ground water. “The water losses are huge. What we use, then, is very little when compared to the potential. To tap this potential there must be water management in some areas, such as the equatorial lakes. Weeds consume more than is lost through natural evaporation,” said Al-Qousi.
Benefiting from the River Nile waters is based upon several principles. According to Al-Qousi, the share of any country must be in proportion with its population and the size of its agricultural lands. None of the Nile Basin countries should harm any of its neighbouring countries who benefit from the River Nile. He said an international dispute will ensue between Egypt and Nile Basin countries if they insist on their stance.
“Alternatives in such cases aren’t much. Other than political and diplomatic negotiations as well as international arbitration, the only remaining option will be the use of military force,” added Al-Qousi.