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GERD at 5: Brighter future for Ethiopia and the region


GERD at 5: Brighter future for Ethiopia and the region

Worku Adera 04-06-16

The nations, nationalities, and peoples of Ethiopia are celebrating the fifth anniversary of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam - GERD. The GERD is the largest hydropower dam being constructed at Guba Woreda in Beneshangul- Gumuz Regional State some 750km north– west of Addis Ababa.

The Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam project will have 6,000MW installed capacity of and 15,692 GWh annual energy production. It is now more than 55% complete and projected to start producing around 600mw power soon.

GERD will have key role in expanding electricity; national revenue; hastening industrialization and speeding up the socio-economic transformation.

Indeed, it is a high priority project for the peoples and government of Ethiopia. It is supported by all citizens, regardless of their occupations, age, education, religion, and ethnic groups. That is why the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam project is being fully funded by the people and government of Ethiopia

Indeed, the fifth anniversary of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) was colorfully celebrated on Saturday at Guba, the project site in the presence government officials and invited guests, under the theme "the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam on which we are putting our footprints today is the beacon of our renaissance".

The importance of the GERD project for the renaissance of Ethiopia was nderlined since the begging of the project. As the late Prime Minister Meles Zenawi said dring the lanch of the dam five years ago:

"We have gathered here today at the largest of our rivers to witness the launch of this great project. It is the largest dam we could build at any point along the Nile, or indeed any other river. More importantly the project takes the pride of place, representing an incomparable addition to our national plan for expanding power production. It will not only raise our own power-generating capacity and meet our domestic needs. It will also allow us to export to neighboring countries and mobilize the resources so necessary for the realization of objectives for our rapid development endeavors, efforts which are already yielding promising results.

"The estimated cost will be 3.3 billion Euros, or 78 billion birr. As we will be financing several other projects in our plan, the expense will be an additional and heavy burden on us. All our efforts to lighten this have been unsuccessful, leaving us with only two options. Either to abandon the project or do whatever we must to raise the required funds. I have no doubt which of these difficult choices the Ethiopian people will make. No matter how poor we are, in the Ethiopian traditions of resolve, the Ethiopian people will pay any sacrifice. I have no doubt they will, with one voice, say: “Build the Dam!”"

Indeed, the benefit of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam is not restricted to Ethiopia. As confirmed by several independent researchers, the GERD will help decrease the level of siltation for Egyptians at their Aswan Dam and it will also prevent flooding disasters from taking place when the water flow of Nile is high.

For decades, Egypt has been discharging water from the dam to the desert to reduce the water level. Otherwise, they would risk the dam's structure and also flood disaster to Cairo. Now, the GERD is expected to avert such disasters from happening as it controls the water flow. Just the once the Renaissance Dam reservoir is filled with water, the water flow would be steady hence it averts such forms of disaster. This is a major benefit for the downstream countries including Egypt.

When the 2nd anniversary came around, the Panel had finished its work and prepared a final report, while the GERDP had reached a river-diversion stage. As reported by the state-owned newspaper Ethiopian Herald in the first week of April/2013:

“What makes the completion of its construction insight is the fact that the two major activities that are crucial in accomplishing the project are well in progress.

First, the river diversion works. [The work includes] a 120 m wide, 1,100 m long diversion channel excavated on the right bank of the river, discharging wet season flows (14, 700 m3/s) and 4 box culverts located at the dam foundation level on the left bank of the river, capable to discharging the dry season flows (2,700m3/s).

Then again, the major section of the dam would be the reservoir, which would be realized by the construction of a concrete gravity dam, a gated spillway and a rock-fill Saddle Dam with an emergency spillway in correspondence of its right abutment.

On the second anniversary, it was also announced that the construction of the concrete gravity dam, will soon be commenced following the completion of the water diversion work.” 

In line, with these public statements and the project timetable, the water diversion work conducted in May 2013. It was on May 28, 2013 that the Ethiopian government officially announced that it conducted diversion of the river to make way for the dam construction, which is a common task in the process of any dam construction work.

The diversion work resulted in some foolish talks in the Egypt media, especially, when the then President of Egypt called opposition parties for a dialogue on the report. In that supposedly “secret” meeting, where some of the participants are said “unaware” that it was being live transmitted on TV, they were seen suggesting measures such as sabotaging the dam, destabilizing Ethiopia, aiding insurgents, launching direct military attack, etc.

It was an international scandal that made the people think the President is mismanaging the country, the Nile issues and acting softly. In an apparent attempt to show strength and assertiveness, the President and his top officials stepped up their rhetoric officially asking Ethiopia to halt the dam in the following days, culminating with President Morsi saying the alternative is our blood.

Indeed, the diversion of the river was a wakeup call for some Egyptian pundits who used to believe that Ethiopia would not make much progress in the project. It was also a clear signal that Ethiopia will press ahead with the project no-matter what Egypt says, without closing the room for joint efforts if necessary.

Nonetheless, Ethiopia did not join such madness and the attempts to politicize the water diversion process and the mixing of the Nile issue with domestic politics in Cairo.

Instead, Ethiopia urged for restraint and for the implementation of the report of the IPOE [International Panel of Experts]. As the official website of the Foreign Ministry of Ethiopia reported at the time, dring a meeting between Dr. Tedros Adhanom and an European official:

“Dr. Tedros expressed his concern over the path that Egypt appeared to be taking. He stressed that Ethiopia was building the Dam to address its burgeoning energy demands. It had repeatedly made clear that there would be no appreciable harm on Egypt.

In order to address the concerns of lower riparian countries, Ethiopia had taken the initiative to establish an International Panel of Experts, Dr. Tedros said, and the panel in its report had made quite clear that the Dam would not harm the lower riparian countries.

Dr. Tedros suggested that Egypt’s current efforts to politicize the re-routing process were being made because it knew the report of the International Panel of Experts would be positive.

Ethiopia wants to get on the right track, starting with the report of the International Panel which had explicitly stated that the Dam would offer significant benefits to Egypt. Dr. Tedros also emphasized that Ethiopia would never halt or delay construction of the Dam.”

Indeed, Ethiopia made all the necessary efforts to assure Egyptians. The government of Ethiopia initiated the formation of the International Panel of Experts[IPoE] and provided full cooperation. As the final report, which was signed by all members of the IPOE attested, that: "the Government of Ethiopia provided the necessary GERDP related hard and soft copy documents for review by the IPoE starting at the launch meeting up to the 6th meeting of the lPoE. A dedicated web page was established to facilitate documents sharing among lPoE members."

The final report of the IPoE confirmed that the design of the GERD is based on international standards and principles and that the Dam offers high benefit for all the three countries and would not cause significant harm on both the lower riparian countries.

The government of Sudan understood the benefits of GERDP early on. This was demonstrated the workshop organized by the International University of Africa and Ethiopian Embassy in Khartoum to discuss the effects of the Grand Renaissance Dam in 2013, where Saiffudine Hamad Abdallah, Minister of Irrigation and Water Resources of Sudan, said that:

“Sudan can make maximum use of this Dam, which will reduce clay [sediment in Sudanese dams], whose removal costs millions of dollars.... the Dam will provide water at fixed levels that will help irrigated agriculture, especially in the wake of shortages of rain across the regions of the country”.

Despite initial resistances, the Egyptians are also starting to realize the benefits of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam and the good intentions behind it.

Indeed, the Egyptians have started singing in a analogous tune and responding to the cooperative spirit of Ethiopia. Last year, they acknowledged in the In the Declaration of Principles on the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam that, the Three Countries appreciate the efforts undertaken thus far by Ethiopia in implementing the IPoE recommendations pertinent to the GERD safety.

Egypt is acknowledging the river Nile is the source of livelihood and the significant resource to the development of all the people inhabiting the Nile basin. President Abdel Fatteh El SiSi conceded that, “the river has been passing through the veins of generations of Egyptians and Ethiopians as blood. This shared resource should be a reason for greater cooperation and regional integration rather than conflict and animosity."

As the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam approaches completion, the future of the region is becoming brighter than ever.

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