Ethiopia’s dam is a matter of survival,not development: experts

Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam is being portrayed as a prestige project in some Egyptian media outlets. Ethiopian experts say the dame is a matter of survival issue for Ethiopians.

Ethiopian Dam _ Egypt position
Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam Project. Photo credit : EBC

April 24, 2020 
Updated on April 25,2020

As Egyptian media stir sensationalism on the issue of the Ethiopian dam by painting it as a project of prestige and power, Ethiopian experts deconstruct such a narrative. 

Zerihun Abebe is a member of Ethiopian delegates of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and has been part of the negotiations. He said, as reported by state-affiliated Fana Broadcasting Corporation, completing the Ethiopian Grand Renaissance Dam is not just a matter of development. It is more of a matter of survival for Ethiopia.

Elaborating his point, he said Ethiopia’s total surface water resource is about 112 cubic meters per annum. Abay (Nile) will all its tributaries Tekeze, Baro, and Akobo river basins, all together, constitute about 72 percent of it. 

Six of the nine regional states of Ethiopia are within that river basin system, Abebe Zerihun says. Up to 50 million people in those regions directly depend on the Nile river basins, according to his analysis. 

In terms of power generation, he noted that more 65 million Ethiopian people do not have electricity. However, he said, the dam is framed as a prestige and power project in the Egyptian narratives which he says is a misrepresentation.  Their narrative might have been informed by various assumptions but the dam is a question of survival as far as Ethiopia is concerned, he underscored.  

Mekdelawit Messay is an engineer and climate advocate who studied at home and in the Netherlands. She has numerous publications regarding the Nile river and the Ethiopian dam.

She told FBC the Nile River and the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) is crucial for the survival of Ethiopia. Furthermore, she noted the level of abject poverty in the country and highlighted that the project is relevant to meet 17 of the United Nations’ sustainable development goals. The task of bringing electricity for over two-thirds of Ethiopia’s 110 million people is dependent on the project, she added. For her, not completing the dam harms not just this generation but generations to come. 

Meanwhile, project manager of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD), Kifle Horo, said on Friday that the metal works needed for the pre-power generation work of the dam is completed and the concrete filling is underway.  But the overall metal work related to the project is at 26 percent. The entire project is completed 73 percent according to the manager. 

Ethiopia is intending to start filling the dam during the rainy months of July and August of this year, and two of the turbines are expected to start generating power once that is completed. During the initial phase, 4.9 billion cubic meters of water will be filled in the dam. 

It is to be recalled that the series of negotiations that the United States of America initiated, and in which it took part as an “observer,” failed in February 2020. Ethiopia did not attend the last round of the negotiation. The United States wanted Ethiopia not to start filling and operating the dam without signing an agreement with Egypt first – a position to which Ethiopia expressed disappointment. 

Rumors in social media this week indicate that Gulf countries are interested in mediating Egypt and Ethiopia. However, political pundits tend to think that Ethiopia should not allow mediators from outside of Africa and that all Nile riparian countries need to be part of the conversation. 

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