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GERD: Relentless efforts to introduce a new approach

GERD: Relentless efforts to introduce a new approach

Bereket Gebru 06-13-17

The more pragmatic approach over the GERD by the current Egyptian administration and the Egyptian media is creating a more conducive environment for the two countries to work closely on the issue. The understanding and trust that spurs in the relations of the two countries is always welcomed by Ethiopia.  


Although change might take some time to diffuse into society with outright oppositions expected at the beginning, an unrelenting effort to showcase the positives the change brings with it would pay off under normal circumstances. Through time, the negative rhetoric that emanates from the sense of unfamiliarity with the new subsides and a more objective way of looking at it emerges.


The strategy that needs to be followed on the part of the body introducing the new approach or technology is to consistently showcase the advantages keeping enough room for dialogue with those who hold a different opinion. As long as the newly introduced product offers real benefits, it would only be a matter of time before people start to buy into the idea.


Ethiopia’s policy over the Nile waters that stresses the water rights of both upper and lower riparian countries and advocates shared utility has long been shared by upper riparian countries. Although the two lower riparian countries of the Sudan and Egypt were suspicious of the policy considering they were the only two of eleven countries using the Nile waters, they have come around bit by bit over the last four or five years. Ethiopia’s efforts to clearly show the advantages of the GERD not only to itself but to the lower riparian countries as well have paid off. Efforts to show Egyptians the dam poses no harm to their water security are no more falling on deaf ears.


In fact, the reality is that the GERD presents numerous advantages to Egypt. Quite a number of Egyptian hydrologists actually have found out that the dam would be very beneficial to Egypt in their studies. Some of their arguments are depicted below.

As Seifulaziz Milas, the Egyptian author of “Sharing the Nile: Egypt, Ethiopia and the Geo-Politics of Water” wrote in his article “Ethiopia: Nile Waters Diplomacy and the Renaissance Dam”, “In 2008 the Eastern Nile Power Trade Studies carried out pre feasibility studies at three sites in the Abbai Gorge under the auspices of the Nile Basin Initiative/Eastern Nile Subsidiary Action Program (NBI/ENSAP) in which Egypt had been taking an active part. These studies confirmed the suitability of the present site along with others for hydro power generation and for the promotion of inter regional trade in power supplies. According to the experts, the amount of water available to the downstream riparian states would not be affected. Even if Ethiopia drew significant quantities of water, Egypt and the Sudan would still benefit from the construction of the reservoirs in Ethiopia.”

There are also a number of Egyptian hydrologists and Nile experts who back the fact that the dam would not decrease water discharge with some even going further. The Nile Basin Core Group (NBCG) is where such opinions are heard aloud. In what has been a notable scientific revelation on the topic, Haytham Awad, a hydrologist from the University of Alexandria, has conducted research that indicates the GERD may actually increase water flow to Egypt. Awad’s research shows that during the flood season in late August and early September, the majority of Egypt’s water arrives in Lake Nasser, where it is stored for approximately ten months until peak agriculture season in July the following year. During this period, approximately twelve percent of the stored water evaporates. On the other hand, the evaporation level in the Ethiopian highlands water storage projects is only three percent. Therefore, the water being stored in the GERD, where there will be less evaporation, will help conserve water.

Historical accounts document that the Nile has always caused floods and dry spells seasonally, especially in Sudan and Egypt. Long term attempts to control the flow of the Nile have culminated in the construction of the Aswan low and high dams in Egypt. Though the construction of the Aswan high dam controlled seasonal flood waters, mass flooding occurred upstream on the Nile displacing a large number of people and devouring sites that were once the home of archaeological wonders. The flooding also contributed to an increase in erosion along the lower courses of the river.

The construction of the GERD would, however, tackle this old problem by ensuring a steady year-round flow of the river. That could prove to be a very valuable change in both Egypt and Sudan as it positively affects agriculture and other economic activities the river supports.

The other major problem associated with the Blue Nile in lower riparian countries has been the deposition of silt, fertile soil washed away by the river, behind their dams. The lake that is formed behind the Aswan high dam, Lake Nasser, provides the best instance of silt deposition. The Aswan High Dam Reservoir extends for 500 km along the Nile River and covers an area of 6,000 km2, of which the northern two-thirds (known as Lake Nasser) is in Egypt and the remaining one-third (called Lake Nubia) is in Sudan. As a result of years of silt deposition behind the dam, the water holding capacity of Lake Nasser is shrinking. In simple terms the lake is filling up with silt that subsides to the bottom of the lake and gradually takes up much of the space displacing water. Experts have also projected that the rapid siltation near the head of the reservoir in Lake Nubia of Sudan may dam up the narrow Nile valley in Nubia in a relatively short time since 99.98% of silt was deposited in Lake Nubia Until 1973.

Another problem associated with silt deposition behind the dams is that it denies Sudanese and Egyptian farmers of free fertile soil that makes their lives easier while demanding a big chunk of money from the government for cleaning it up. Prof. Sief El Din Hamad Abdallah, the Sudanese Minister of Water Resources, in the March 2012 noted that the accumulation of silt at the Egyptian High Dam in Aswan had now reached 6 billion cubic meters. He further stated that his country spends US $12 million to remove mud from the irrigation channels of the Gezira Scheme. The banks of the Nile are also undergoing severe erosion, because they are being eaten away by the Nile without being replaced by fresh silt, and the fertility of the Nile Delta has declined dramatically.

A significant decrease in the amount of silt deposited in downstream dams would help lower riparian countries spend less on cleaning up while providing an opportunity for farmers along the banks to benefit from government assistance in their agricultural endeavors. By taking up part of the silt that currently goes to lower riparian countries, the GERD would dramatically decrease silt deposition in both Sudan and Egypt increasing the water holding capacity of their dams.

With the main aim of the GERD being the generation of hydro-electric power, both upper and lower riparian countries have a lot to benefit from it in this regard. The project is expected to produce 6000 MW of electricity per year. This amount leaves Ethiopia with an electric power surplus after meeting its demands. That surplus would be sold to both upper and lower riparian countries strengthening their ties in the utilization of Nile resources.


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