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Economic benefits of the GERD to Nile riparian countries

Economic benefits of the GERD to Nile riparian countries


Bereket Gebru 07-17-17

Ethiopia has been a force of economic integration between African countries, especially those in East Africa, over the past decade. Its economic diplomacy based foreign policy has paved the way for it to forge stronger economic ties with neighboring countries. As a result, the level of economic interdependence and interaction between Eastern African countries has increased over the past decade.


The level of interaction is also set to shoot up even higher with the completion of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) project. The electric power Ethiopia provides to Kenya and Djibouti will most likely cover other neighbors as well. Although not directly economic in their nature, the construction of the GERD entails numerous advantages to downstream countries that can be translated into economic terms.


As the GERD project would help the country generate more than 6,000 watts of electricity, it is expected to give answers to the power demands of the whole nation. That translates into even more accelerated growth in agriculture, the dominating sector in the economy, consequently pushing the bar of industrialization upwards. Countries like Djibouti could benefit a lot from agricultural development in Ethiopia. Industrialization in Ethiopia could also benefit other neighboring countries.


Seifulaziz Milas, an Egyptian hydrologist, noted in his article “Ethiopia: Nile Waters Diplomacy and the Renaissance Dam”, “In 2008 the Eastern Nile Power Trade Studies carried out prefeasibility 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 hydropower generation and for the promotion of interregional 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.


As Prof. Sief El Din Hamad Abdallah, the Sudanese Minister of Water Resources, pointed out at a Forum organized by the Sudanese Bar Association in cooperation with the Ministry of Water Resources in March 2012 on The Cooperative Framework Agreement between the Nile Basin Countries and the Impact of the Secession of South Sudan,  “Most or more than  80  percent of the Nile Basin water resources evaporate  in the route from the sources to the final destinations in Sudan and Egypt, and  that  in South Sudan swamps alone more than  53 billion cubic meters evaporate yearly.” Considering the GERD is only twenty kilometers from the Sudanese border and the Blue Nile meets the white a good distance away from the South Sudan swamps, it is beyond contention that the GERD provides ideal water storage that adds more water to lower riparians.


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 narrow Nile valleys of Nubia in the Sudan have also been subjected to flooding and dry spells seasonally. This centuries old problem has been confronting Sudanese people living along the banks of the river whose rise and drop of water amounts are both unfavorable.


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 forum stated above, 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 hydroelectric power, upper and lower riparian countries have a lot to benefit from it in this regard. The project is expected to produce more than 6,000 MW of electricity per year. This amount leaves Ethiopia with an electric power surplus after meeting its demands. That surplus would be sold in both upper and lower riparian countries, strengthening their ties in the utilization of Nile resources. Ethiopia has already started selling electric energy to Kenya whose purchase of electricity has contributed a lot towards the fulfillment of its demand to electrical power. The Ethiopian Electric Power Corporation also provides Sudan and Djibouti with electricity.

One can infer from the above facts that the GERD is tremendously beneficial to upper and lower riparian countries alike. Considering its contribution towards increased water, lower evaporation, flooding, seasonality and silt deposition, however, it vividly shows that Sudan and Egypt are the two countries that benefit the most. 


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