The Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) on the Blue Nile has been a controversial project that troubled waters between Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan. The project draws the attention of the world to potential unrest in the relations between Ethiopia, on one hand, a key player in the Horn of Africa, and Egypt, on the other hand, a strategic country in the central pivot of the three continents of Africa, Asia, and Europe and one that maintains balance, peace and security in the Arab Region and the Middle East.
Ethiopia s Violation of International Law
The GERD project unilaterally launched in April of 2011 by Ethiopia on the Blue Nile, the largest tributary of the Nile (the world s longest river) was seen by Egyptians as a project that took advantage of Egypt s political vacuum immediately after the forced resignation of its president at that time. The launching of the Dam construction without consultation with Egypt was seen as a violation of the principles of international law, the 1993 agreement signed between Ethiopia and Egypt, and the 1902 agreement signed between Ethiopia and the United Kingdom, which necessitates consultation with downstream countries on Ethiopian structures that may affect the flows of Nile headwaters through the Blue Nile, Lake Tana, and the Sobat River flowing downstream to Sudan and Egypt. Ethiopia seems to see the Nile river headwaters originating within its territories as a matter of absolute sovereignty and that agreements signed between Ethiopia and Egypt or the United Kingdom (on behalf of Egypt and/or Sudan) as non-binding to Ethiopia.
Unfortunately, there was no comprehensive Hydraulic Impact Assessment, Environmental Impact Assessment, or Socio-economic Impact Assessment Studies that were conducted on the GERD and publicly shared by Ethiopia, or consulted upon with the affected downstream countries, Egypt and Sudan. These measures that Ethiopia ignore dare actually required by international law. Even when an international consultant was agreed by the three countries to conduct the joint impact assessment studies, after the fact, the consultant s joint studies were halted at their inception by Ethiopia,which pressured the consultant to redefine the “baseline conditions” to include Ethiopia s future plans for additional dams as part of the existing baseline conditions; a tweak of globally agreed terminology that would defeat the whole purpose of the impact assessment studies. Ethiopia s avoidance to attend the final meeting in a series of USA-World Bank facilitated negotiations in the end of January 2020, and Ethiopia s announcement to start the filling of the GERD in July of 2020 before reaching a final agreement with Egypt and Sudan, may be seen as another breach to international law, since it would be breaching the GERD Declaration of Principles (DOP) signed by the three countries in 2015. The DOP stipulated that the three countries are toagree on guidelines and rules on the first filling and annual operation of GERD, which means that the first filling should not take place without an agreement between the three countries on those guidelines and rules.
What does the Nile & the Blue Nile mean to Egypt?
Unlike any other river in the world, the Nile, and more importantly the Blue Nile, for Egypt is a matter of life and death. The Greek Historian, Herodotus, once said that "Egypt is the Gift of the Nile". To put this statement in technical terms, let s examine the following factual information. 85% of the Nile waters flowing to Egypt originate in Ethiopia through the Blue Nile, Atbara, and Sobat tributaries. 67% of the Nile water allocated and/or actually being used by Egypt and Sudan comes through the Blue Nile. The Average annual flow of the Blue Nile is about 50 Billion Cubic Meters (BCM) per year, while Egypt s historical uses, acquired and documented water rights allocation is 55.5 BCM/year. Theoretically speaking, one may also consider that the Blue Nile flows out of Ethiopia represent in volume, 90% of Egypt s historical water uses of the Nile. The Nile River is the only source of renewable water for Egypt, which depends on the Nile in meeting about 97% of its water needs.GERD and the Ethiopian attitude in dealing with the issue are threatening the destiny of Egypt s lifeline, livelihood and national security.
Infringement attempts on Egypt s 55.5 BCM Water Rights
Although the announced objective of the GERD is for hydropower generation, yet the Ethiopian strategy in negotiating the agreement on filling and operating rules since the unilateral Ethiopian decision to build the dam,may suggest a far more different objective than hydropower generation. Almost 10 years of Ethiopian procrastination had passed without reaching an agreement with downstream Egypt and Sudan.Ethiopia s future plans shows that Ethiopia may be planning to use water storage behind the GERD Dam for consumptive use purposes such as irrigated agriculture, industrial and others. Studies have shown that, due to the exaggerated 74 BCM capacity of the GERD reservoir design, and the anticipated operational rules to maximize hydropower generation,the accumulative impacts of the associated seepage and evaporation losses from the reservoir behind the GERD Dam, can have detrimental effects on the Blue Nile river flows and hence would likely infringe on Egypt s ability to continue to use its water rights and annual historical uses of 55.5 BCM.
Ethiopian positions during negotiations and press releases after meetings have been aiming at having a free hand on the Ethiopian headwaters of the Nile andattempting to strip Egypt off of its rights to its meager Nile share of 55.5 Billion Cubic Meters (BCM)/year. The Ethiopian official andmedia language has always been trying to discredit Egypt s water rights, using phrases such as “contested Egypt shares”, and “Egypt s claimed 55.5 BCM”. They repeatedly misinform the international community about the full water potential of the Nile Basin and attempt to mislead it by alluding to myths such as “Egypt is using all the waters of the Nile”.
An article published on April 2nd, 2020 by Ethiopia Insight, referred to Ethiopian negotiators indicating that “Egypt and the USA (during the 2019/2020 US-World Bank facilitated negotiations) had proposed an un-amendable plan, which amounted to a “water-allocation” arrangement that effectively protects Egypt s claimed 55.5 BCM annual share of Nile waters.” Other than the fact that the draft February 21st, 2020 GERD agreement (rejected by Ethiopia) was a result of the facilitated 2019/2020 negotiations between Ethiopia, Egypt, and Sudan, and is not an Egypt-USA proposed plan, the agreement is drafted to ensure that GERD filling and operation does not significantly harm on Egypt and Sudan.
It was not a “water allocation” arrangement, but it was an agreement that, while attempting to maximize hydropower generation for Ethiopia, also attempts to minimize significant harm impacts by the GERD on Egypt s and Sudan s ability to continue to use their water rights and historical water uses. Any attempts to ignore these impacts may be considered aninfringement on Egypt s and Sudan swater rights. On the other hand, if GERD s objective is hydropower generation which is supposedly a non-consumptive use, why does Ethiopia bring into the discussions Egypt s right to its share of 55.5 BCM/year and why does it try to disclaim Egypt of this right?!Speaking of equitable utilization, is it too much for Egypt that hosts 20% of the Nile Basin countries population to benefit from only 3% of the Nile Basin s 1660 BCM/year of the Nile Basin s rainfall, or from even 0.8% of the 7000 BCM/year of Nile countries rainfall?! Ethiopia actually benefits from 23% of the Nile basin s rainfall or 12% from the Nile countries rainfall. It is definitely a far more different reason than lack of water resources in Ethiopia that drives its infringement on neighboring countries water rights. To confirm that and to shed some more light on this matter, let s examine Ethiopia s renewable water resources.