Studies on Ethiopian dam on Nile may come too late

Sunday 18/09/2016
A March 2015 file picture shows Ethiopian workers at a construction site of the Grand Renaissance Dam near the Sudanese-Ethiopian border.

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.”