Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam and Nile logjam - GulfToday

Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam and Nile logjam

Ethiopia Dam

Ethiopia's Grand Renaissance Dam is seen as it undergoes construction work on the river Nile in Guba Woreda, Benishangul Gumuz Region, Ethiopia. File/Reuters

On July 5, Ethiopia had notified Sudan and Egypt, the two down-stream riparian countries, that the reservoir behind its Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) will be filled up for the second time as this is the rainy season when the Blue Nile upstream gets fed.

Egypt and Sudan have been insisting that Ethiopia should not unilaterally decide to fill up the dam without finalising the framework of rules for sharing the Nile waters. The negotiations among the three countries have been going for the more than a year under the African Union (AU), but there has not been a satisfactory breakthrough.

After the July 5 announcement of filling up the reservoir, Khartoum and Cairo had approached the United Nations Security Council. At its meeting on Thursday, July 8, the UNSC apart from reiterating the need for a peaceful resolution of the issue, preferred the negotiations to continue under the aegis of the AU. Egypt and Sudan remain dissatisfied.

The concern of Egypt is over water flows in drought years. The Ethiopian dam would reduce the flows still further, and therefore it wants Ethiopia to bind itself to an agreement, which promises minimum flows of water. Egypt thinks that the dam poses an ‘existential threat’ to Egypt because 90 per cent of its fresh water supplies are met by the flows in the Nile, and any change in the quantity of flow would deal a heavy blow to Egyptian agriculture and economy. The concerns of Sudan are again about the flows of water in drought years.

Khartoum is also concerned about the safety of the structure of the huge dam, which when completed would be the seventh largest one in the world, because it is across the border. For Ethiopia, the dam offers the big deal of the country generating more than 5,000 mega watts of electricity, which Addis Ababa hopes to export.

The Nile flows through 11 countries, and it is the lifeline for the millions of people living along its course. No one country should be able to make unilateral use of the river without keeping in mind the consequences for the other riparian countries. It is imperative then that there has to be an international agreement over the use of its waters.

Both the UNSC and Ethiopia have been arguing that the dispute over sharing the waters of Nile should be settled by the AU on the principle that African problems should be settled by Africans themselves. Egypt is keen that the UNSC, the United States and the European should be arbiters in the matter as well because it seems to believe that the AU has not been able to come up with acceptable solution so far.

There is a general perception that future wars between countries will be over water because as populations grow and the water supplies remain static or reduced due to various climatic factors, this is likely to lead to water wars. It is a realistic scenario indeed, but it is for this very reason that mechanisms and solutions should be found on a war-footing about sharing river waters, especially in the case of rivers like Nile flowing through many countries. Upstream countries cannot take advantage of their geographical location and build dams which could affect the share of the river water for countries downstream.

This is exactly the problem that arises between Ethiopia on the one hand, and Sudan and Egypt on the other. What we need is an international arbiter on the lines of the International Court of Justice (ICJ) to settle river water disputes between countries. More than that, each country must learn to accommodate the concerns of the other.

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