Ethiopia moving to implement the recommendations of the International Panel

The International Panel of Experts (IPoE), established in December 2011 to study the impact of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) on downstream countries, was an initiative of Ethiopia. It was specifically aimed to build confidence and trust about the project among the lower riparian states, Egypt and Sudan. The Panel, composed of two experts from each of the three countries as well as four additional international experts, produced a report that supported the findings and deliberations made by Ethiopia about the Dam.

The IPoE vindicated Ethiopia’s claim that the construction of the GERD would benefit all three countries and cause no appreciable harm to any of them. Among other points, the report unequivocally noted that the design of the GERD fully met with international standards and design criteria. It detailed the benefits accruing to the region as well as to the three states, including production of 15,000Gwh of renewable hydropower energy. The report affirmed GERD’s vital role in boosting power interconnections throughout the region and, in light of Ethiopia's policy of exporting surplus energy, the contribution to infrastructural integration.

The report also noted that GERD will help to reduce flooding in downstream countries through regulating the flow of the water throughout the year which in turn will also create opportunities to develop large tracts of land for irrigation in Sudan and Egypt. The report indicated that the construction of GERD had the added benefit of preventing the Aswan High Dam and other dams in the downstream countries from the silting up, a process which has already either shortened their dam-life quite literally or given rise to excessive costs for the removal of silt from the reservoirs. The fact that GERD is being constructed in a much less humid area that many of the dams lower down the river also means a saving of billions of cubic meters of water that previously evaporated. As the Nile is one the most erratic trans-boundary waters in the world, GERD’s benefit in saving the water from evaporation will also help the imperative of equitable and reasonable utilization of the Nile Waters among the riparian countries. In short, the IPoE report confirmed that the benefits of the construction of the GERD go well beyond the developmental needs of Ethiopia to provide benefits for the downstream countries. It should lay to rest all major worries in that regard.

The Report of the Panel also listed some recommendations that it suggested should be carried out, some by Ethiopia and others jointly by all three countries. As the initiator of the IPoE, Ethiopia accepted the report immediately and indeed started implementing the recommendations provided. It also continued to cooperate with Sudan and Egypt to form a national committee to oversee the implementation of the recommendations. At a second meeting of the three Water Ministers, of Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan, on December 4, agreement was reached on the composition and tasks of a national committee drawn from the three countries. They agreed that the main responsibility of the national committee should be conducting the hydrological modeling and socio-economic impact assessments that the IPoE had recommended. The Water Ministers are scheduled to hold their third meeting this weekend (January 4-5) in Khartoum to finalize their agreement and find solutions to some of the remaining outstanding issues.

Ethiopia has already announced that it has finalized most of the recommendations made specifically to it by the Panel. The Minister for Water, Irrigation and Energy, Mr. Alemayehu Tegenu, affirmed that most of the recommendations have been finalized in accordance with the directions suggested by the IPoE. He noted that most of these were essentially related to the engineering, procurement and construction elements (EPC) of the GERD project. In fact, the very nature of EPC contracts demands periodic and phase-by-phase review of design documents based on up-dated findings of hydrological, geo-technical and geological work as construction proceeds. In other words, most of the recommendations were made not because of any faults found in the design but were related to the periodic nature of the studies. Indeed, in that regard, since the IPoE’s term ended before the preparation of the Level 2 design updates and reports, one of the recommendations was that these should to be prepared as part of the follow-up process. Accordingly, Ethiopia did in fact prepare the Level 2 reports as part of the relevant engineering, procurement and construction contracts, in effect anticipating the recommendations of the IPoE.

All of this, including the conduct of the studies, the implementation of the recommendations and Ethiopia’s full participation in the tripartite meetings of Water Ministers of Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia, underlined Ethiopia's commitment to relay the message to the general public and to the governments of Sudan and Egypt that the construction of GERD is for the real benefit of downstream countries. While Sudan fully recognized the benefits of the GERD, it is unfortunate that vestiges of the age-old culture of suspicion and mistrust between the Nile riparian countries still linger in Egypt, to counter Ethiopia’s message of genuine cooperation. Equally, Ethiopia's completion of the unilateral recommendations of the IPoE is certainly a milestone in Ethiopia’s efforts to establish equitable and reasonable utilization of the Nile Waters.


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