Ethiopia’s Ambassador to Kenya, Meles Alem Tekea, spoke with Fred Oluoch about the country’s stand on the filling of the Grand Renaissance Dam.
Why does Ethiopia want to start filling the dam now?
Accessing and utilising the Nile waters is a matter of priority to enable Ethiopia to meet its energy, water and food security needs for its more than 110 million citizens and to lift millions out of extreme poverty. That is why the construction and filling of the dam should be done simultaneously. Once the construction reaches 595 metres above sea level, it automatically retains 4.9 billion cubic metres of water. Filling it now is therefore not a political decision.
It is also an opportune time as the expected rains in the basin are above average. Lake Victoria is at 13.42 metres high, a record since 1964. The High Aswan Dam, on the Nile in Egypt, currently has 180 billion cubic metres of water, that is a 30-year record. This enables filling the dam without Egypt and Sudan experiencing a reduction in water flow.
Why does Ethiopia feel an agreement is not a condition for filling the dam?
When signing the Declaration of Principles (DoP) on the GERD in 2015, Ethiopia gave Sudan and Egypt the opportunity to discuss and agree on the guidelines and rules for first filling and annual operation. Nevertheless, the DoP does not subject Ethiopia to getting permission from Egypt and Sudan to fill the dam. In addition, Ethiopia communicated its filling schedule to both countries in 2017.
The three countries have no difference of opinion on the guidelines and rules for the first stage filling. Therefore, Ethiopia isn’t filling the dam without agreement. Ethiopia is fully committed to engaging in genuine dialogue to address all outstanding issues in the negotiation, for a win-win outcome.
The challenge Ethiopia is facing is Egypt’s push to make the guidelines and rules a permanent water sharing agreement, which constrains Ethiopia’s share on the Blue Nile to the GERD only. Ethiopia contributes 86 per cent of the water of the Nile, which is an average of 77 billion cubic metres of water. The country’s share is therefore well beyond the GERD. Also, discussions on water sharing of the Nile River can only be held in the presence of all Nile riparian countries.
Egypt’s concern is that the dam outlets may not allow sufficient water to reach its territory, risking livelihoods. Could you comment on this?
GERD is a hydroelectric dam and does not consume water. In fact, Ethiopia’s benefit from the dam entails release of water. If it generates electricity, it naturally releases water. Ethiopia has not invested billions of dollars just to store water and not alleviate its acute power shortage. The design of the GERD, including its outlets and specific details were inspected by Egypt.
In 2012, Ethiopia established the International Panel of Experts (IPOE) made up of two experts from each of the three countries and four international experts from Germany, South Africa, France and Britain. This panel went through 150 design documents that Ethiopia provided. In their report, they concluded the design and construction of the GERD is up to international standards. While doing so, the panel looked into all details including the outlets and Egypt endorsed the report of the IPoE.
The ability of the GERD to release water downstream is not in question and even Egypt admits that the GERD will increase water availability in the Nile Basin. The dam will enhance the resilience of Egypt and Sudan to drought, it will control flooding and regulate the flow of water.
What safety measures has Ethiopia put in place to prevent spillage of water from behind the dam wall?
The GERD is being built by renowned dam construction companies with reputable work and track record worldwide. State of the art technology will be applied in the materials used for construction, and the structure and design of the dam. The safety of the GERD is vouched for by the International Panel of Experts, in which Egypt and Sudan as well as international experts are represented. The dam safety is also ascertained and recognised by Egypt and Sudan as provided under principle 8 of the DoP.
Furthermore, the three countries have agreed on the continued co-ordination and information exchange with regard to the safety of the dam. The Water Minister of Sudan Yasir A. Mohamed, said in an interview that aired on June 8 that the GERD is safer than the dams in Egypt and Sudan.