The Arab Center hosted (April 27, 2014) former Water Law and Policy Adviser at the World Bank, Dr. Salman Mohammed Ahmed Salman, to present his assessment of “The Ethiopian Renaissance Dam: Challenges and Opportunities.”
Dr. Salman began by observing that the Nile River is shared by eleven states: Burundi, Rwanda, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, South Sudan, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Sudan and Egypt. He ranked these countries’ usage of the Nile River basin’s waters, and therefore their concerns regarding the dam project’s potential impacts, as being “very high” for Egypt, Sudan, South Sudan, and Ethiopia; “high” for Uganda; “moderate” for Kenya, Tanzania, Burundi, and Rwanda; and “low” for Eritrea and the Congo.
Turning to speak of the treaties that have been ratified over the past century on use of the Nile’s waters, Dr. Salman indicated that these controversial agreements have constituted a source of conflict between the Nile Basin countries.
Ethiopia’s history of building dams began in the nineteen-seventies with the Fincha Dam, followed by the Tisabaye and Lake Tana Beles dams, and the huge Tekezé Dam that was completed in 2010 on the Atbara River, Dr. Salman explained. Work on the Great Renaissance Dam began in April 2011, and in May 2013 Ethiopia diverted the course of the Blue Nile River in order to construct the dam on the natural river course. The Renaissance Dam is located about twenty kilometers from the Sudanese border, and has a height of about 170 meters. The lake created will contain 74 billion cubic meters of water, expected to generate 5,000 megawatts of electricity when work is completed in 2017. The dam’s cost of about five billion dollars will be covered, according to Ethiopia, from Ethiopian domestic resources.
Egypt and Sudan had objected to the dam on the basis that it would deprive them of a great deal of water, rendering agricultural land into desert and reducing the power output of Egypt’s High Dam and Sudanese dams. However, Sudan last December expressed support for the dam since it would help to stem the build-up of silt that has bedeviled Sudanese dams, causing them to lose more than half of their water storage and electrical generation capacities, and that it would also bring flooding to an end, regulate electricity generation, help in production of multiple crops, and replenish ground water on an annual basis – ending the present situation of seasonal fluctuation. Other reasons for Sudan’s support could be found in Ethiopian promises to sell Sudan and Egypt electricity generated by Ethiopian dams at cost price, and to irrigate Sudanese lands via a canal fed from the Renaissance Dam’s lake.
Following the dispute with Egypt and Sudan over the dam, Ethiopia proposed the formation of a ten-member international committee (two members from each of Egypt, Sudan, and Ethiopia, and four members from outside the Nile Basin) tasked to prepare a report on the dam. This committee was established in 2011, completing and submitting its report in May 2013, and recommending additional studies of the dam’s impacts. Egypt and Sudan called for a halt on construction works pending completion of the additional studies, with international participation. Ethiopia refused to stop work on the dam, indicating that it was prepared to undertake the work without engaging the participation of any international parties. Negotiations between the three states were suspended last February (2014) due to their failure to resolve differences on the dam.
Dr. Salman concluded his lecture by saying that full mutual cooperation – in complete good faith - is the only way for the parties concerned to benefit from the limited waters of the Nile. From this standpoint, Dr. Salman felt that Egypt and Sudan should, as a priority, focus their efforts upon negotiating with Ethiopia for shared responsibility in ownership, management, and financing mechanisms for the Renaissance Dam; in this way all three countries may avail the benefits of electricity supply and irrigation.
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