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Ethiopian Nile Dam Study Warns on Safety, Urges Cooperation

by William Davison
April 24,2015

Ethiopia and Egypt “urgently” need to agree on the coordinated operation of their two large dams in the Nile River basin to ensure water is shared fairly during periods of reduced flows, a group of international experts said.

Ethiopia is planning to complete the $4 billion state-funded Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam, known as GERD, in mid-2017 on the Blue Nile River, the main tributary of the Nile. Downstream Egypt, which finished its High Aswan Dam in 1968, has expressed concern that the hydropower plant will reduce its water supply while the reservoir is being filled.

Coordination is needed so “Egypt and Sudan are not harmed during the filling period or during periods of prolonged drought,” according to a report by the International, Non-Partisan Eastern Nile Working Group, brought together by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The experts also warned of dam-safety issues.

Ethiopia, Egypt and Sudan, another downstream nation, last month agreed on principles governing the 6,000-megawatt GERD, including that it shouldn’t cause “significant harm” to the other two countries. The three will discuss how to manage what will be Africa’s largest power plant in about a year, after international consultants have assessed its regional impact.

Ethiopia has said it may take as long as six years to fill GERD’s 74 billion cubic-meter reservoir, which is more than 1.5 times the volume of the annual flow of the Blue Nile at the dam site. The plan must be “flexible” enough to respond to varying rainfall, the experts said in the report, posted on MIT’s website Thursday.

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