Ethiopia – Grand Renaissance Dam

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As the government pushes forward with huge dam project, concerns resurface about the downstream impact.

The government of Ethiopia is currently constructing the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD), which once completed will be the largest hydropower facility in Africa.

The huge project will contribute around 6000 MegaWatts (MW) of power, nearly triple the country’s current electricity generation capacity, and will also present an important source of economic revenue for the government.

The project is seen by Ethiopia as a strong symbol of unity, with the Ethiopian Herald claiming that it fills Ethiopians with hope, not just a development project but a symbol demonstrating the wish to overcome poverty.

Statistics from 2016 show that around 30% of Ethiopia’s population have access to electricity with more than 90% of households still relying on traditional fuels for cooking, leading to respiratory infections, which are the main cause of death in the country.

The Ethiopian government rationalises the project in these terms and the economic benefits are clear. Critical commentators, however, have pointed out that in areas in which 70% of the population rely on subsistence agriculture, standard of living needs to improve before Ethiopians will consume additional electricity. Unless the electricity is subsidised by the government.

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Grand Renaissance Dam – All Africa

The government also sees crucial revenue opportunities, particularly through electricity exports. Power purchase agreements have already been signed with Djibouti, Kenya, Rwanda, Sudan and Tanzania.

But there are concerns about how this dam will affect downstream states, in particular Sudan and Egypt. Initially, Sudan was opposed to the construction of the dam, but has since agreed to purchase electricity upon its completion, and the respective countries have agreed to collaborate on a ‘free economic zone’.

In May 2017, the Middle East Monitor concluded that Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan had just finished their 14th round of unsuccessful discussions about how to manage the Nile River.

The Ethiopian government expects it will take y five or six years to fill the GERD reservoir. In contrast, Diaa Al-Din Al-Qousi from Egypt’s Ministry of Water Resources and Irrigation said 12 to 18 years is needed to guarantee water security for Egypt.

The Geological Society of America said that the Nile’s fresh water flow to Egypt may be cut by as much as 25%, with the electricity generated by the Aswan High Dam in Egypt cut by a third. Egypt is already one of the most water-stressed countries in the world, reported the Institute of Security Studies.

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Nile Basin – Global Water Forum

Ethiopia insists that the project has been conducted with adequate transparency but since it was announced in 2011 Cairo has periodically demanded that construction cease, claiming it is protected by a 1959 treaty, that divides the river between Sudan and Egypt, but does not include Ethiopia.

Ethiopia, however, claims that it never signed the treaty and highlights that Egypt has not signed the Cooperative Framework Agreement (CFA) of the Nile Basin States.

Analysts at the US-based consulting group Stratfor have said that Egypt’s reaction will be determined by its political leadership, but that a large-scale reduction in water from the Nile would be intolerable to any Egyptian government’, reported the Institute of Security Studies.

Find out more in the Africa Research Bulletin:

WATER: Ethiopia
Economic, Financial & Technical Series
Vol. 54, Issue. 5, Pp. 21732B–21733C

WATER PROJECTS: Ethiopia – Kenya
Economic, Financial & Technical Series
Vol. 54, Issue. 2, Pp. 21624B–21625C

ETHIOPIA: Regional Powerhouse
Economic, Financial & Technical Series
Vol. 53, Issue. 9, Pp. 21411A–21412C

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Nile Basin – No Deal After Summit

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Discussions between Nile Basin countries fail to reach agreement as many leaders boycott talks.

The Nile Basin Summit from June 20-22nd was convened to provide an opportunity for the ten countries reliant on the River Nile to agree on the equitable use of the resource. Tensions around the vital water source have persisted for many decades.

Initial signs, however, were less promising as a number of leaders chose not to attend. Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir and his South Sudanese counterpart Salva Kirr notified the delegates that they would skip the event.

The summit brought together all countries along the River Nile and was attended by Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn, South Sudan Vice President Joseph Wani, Burundi’s 2nd Vice President Joseph Butore and Sudan’s Vice President Hasabo Mohammed Abdul Rahman.

The leaders of Kenya, Rwanda, Burundi and Tanzania also turned down invitations to attend at the last minute, although no clear reasons for the decision were given by the respective embassies.

It was clear during the meeting that an agreement on the equitable use of resources was proving difficult as stakeholders repeatedly walked out of meetings at the Speke Resort Munyonyo in Uganda.

Led by Sudan, water security experts walked out a meeting at 10pm on June 21st, while Ethiopia followed suit. In the large the summit was organised to nudge Egypt, the biggest beneficiary of the Nile basin, to join the Nile Basin Initiative (NBI).

However, Egyptian Minister for Irrigation and Water Resources Mohammed Abdel-Atti said that his country would only rejoin if some provisions in the draft Cooperative Framework Agreement (CFA) were changed.

Al-Sisi reportedly said that his country was suffering from a water deficit of 21.5 billion cubic metres per year. However, although Egypt hasn’t yet rejoined NBI, it will engage in development projects in the region.

Speaking to journalists, Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni said he and his colleagues discussed development issues. Despite only three heads of state being present, Museveni said they decided to meet as leaders to discuss the ‘strategic issues of the Nile.’ reported the Observer. 

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Nile Basin – Source: Africa Water.

According to Museveni, prosperity for the Nile Basin countries is the best way to protect the river and other vital water systems in Africa. He pointed out a number of key threats to water systems.

These threats included the growing population, lack of electricity supply, lack of industrialisation, over-reliance on primitive agriculture and the destruction of the environment on which the Nile depends.

He said that industrialising the Nile Basin would resolve the problems of the bulk of the population engaging in primitive agriculture, pushing many into the industry and service sectors. He added that this would reduce the strain on the environment through the invasion of wetlands and destruction of forests for agriculture, reported the Uganda Media Centre.

Of course this sort of solution is denounced by others who note how industrialisation will lead to further environmental degradation and pollution, and raise levels of inequality as groups are incorporated, often on adverse terms, as labourers in the service or manufacturing economy.

Further, a deal between Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan signed in December 2015 whereby the three countries agreed to end tensions over River Nile water, is also facing an unclear future due to ongoing tensions between Egypt and Sudan.

The two downstream countries at the end of April agreed to de-escalate tensions and end counter-accusations as well as import bans and deportations had brought relations between the two countries to tipping point.

Meanwhile Ethiopia continued its quest to bring Nile Basin countries on its side as its Grand Renaissance Dam nearing completion.

With electricity as a bargaining chip observers say Ethiopia will have an edge over Egypt which claims the majority share of Nile waters, given to it by a colonial agreement put in place by the British, reported the East African.

Find out more in the Africa Research Bulletin today:

Grand Renaissance Dam Project
Economic, Financial & Technical Series
Vol. 52, Issue. 3, Pp. 20795A–20795B

POWER: Egypt – Ethiopia – Sudan
Economic, Financial & Technical Series
Vol. 51, Issue. 8, Pp. 20543C–20545C

EGYPT – ETHIOPIA: Nile Dam Problems
Economic, Financial & Technical Series
Vol. 50, Issue. 10, Pp. 20154B–20155B

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