Studies on Ethiopian dam on Nile may come too late
Cairo - Two French consultancy firms have been chosen to conduct studies for Ethiopia, Egypt and Sudan on the technical and environmental effects a multibillion-dollar hydroelectric dam Ethiopia is constructing on the Nile will have on the two downstream countries.
The studies are expected to take 11 months, which means that Ethiopia will have finished construction on the disputed Renaissance Dam by the time they are completed.
“The studies will be useless and the two riparian states will be faced with a situation they cannot alter,” Egypt’s former Irrigation minister Mohamed Nasr Allam said. “Ethiopia is only wasting time until it constructs the dam and puts Egypt and Sudan in an irreversible situation.”
With an annual share of 55 billion cubic metres of water from the Nile, Egypt, which has a population of 91 million, already suffers a water deficit of almost 20%. The deficit will increase as the population grows and as Ethiopia starts filling the Renaissance Dam reservoir next year.
The dam is expected to shatter Egypt’s agricultural development plans, which are indispensable for feeding its growing population. This is why there is alarm among Egyptians.
The three countries signed a declaration of principles on the dam in March 2015 vowing to cooperate on the Nile and not cause significant harm to each other. However, the declaration is non-binding.
Non-binding, too, are the results of the studies of the two French firms, according to Walid al-Haqiqi, the spokesman of the Egyptian Irrigation Ministry.
“The studies will only explore the effects the construction of the dam will have on the two downstream states,” Haqiqi said. “However, none of the three states is under any obligation to act in the light of these recommendations.”
This is Egypt’s calamity. Ethiopia says the construction of the dam is vital for its economic development. A sizeable part of the country is prone to drought and famine. Ethiopia says electricity generated from the dam will also bring in much-needed funds for the economic welfare of its people.
This, however, is less about economic development and more about Ethiopia’s desire to bring Egypt to its knees, Allam said.
“Ethiopia wants to shift the focus of ongoing negotiations from the impacts of the dam to water itself,” Allam said. “It wants to negotiate with Egypt over water and sell it to Egypt in the future.”
This is why he is among experts calling for halting what they describe as “useless” negotiations and starting a new course of action. One of the scenarios proposed is for Egypt to resort to the UN Security Council to get international support for suspending dam construction.
However, water expert Nader Nour Eddin said it is too late to do this.
“We have followed the wrong course from the very beginning and Ethiopia succeeded in wasting time until the dam became a fact on the ground,” Nour Eddin said. “There can be no international arbitration while the dam is almost complete.”
The studies by the two French firms will cost $6 million, paid by Egypt.
The three countries were given copies of the technical and environmental study contracts. Sudan and Ethiopia have approved the contracts but Egypt has not, according to media reports.
It took the countries almost three years to settle on the companies that would conduct the studies and the duration of conducting these studies. They are also expected to take time to agree on the terms of the studies’ contracts.
Ethiopia is, meanwhile, actively implementing the Renaissance Dam project and preparing plans for constructing other dams on the Nile.
In a 2013 meeting with ousted Islamist president Muhammad Morsi, which was broadcast on state TV by mistake, a group of Egyptian politicians called for bombing the Ethiopian dam. One of the politicians suggested paying the Ethiopian opposition to stoke tension in the country with the aim of suspending dam construction. This is why Ethiopians do not trust Egypt, observers said.
Egypt does not apparently trust Ethiopia either.
Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi has been preparing the public for the dry days to come by initiating seawater desalination projects and sewage treatment plants.
“Acute water shortages will be strongly felt here as of next year,” Nour Eddin said. “We are heading towards tough days.”