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GRAND ETHIOPIAN RENAISSANCE DAM- A Ticket to Progress or Conflict?!

~Shayadri Singh



Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) formerly known as the Millennium Dam, is a project undertaken by the Ethiopian Electric Power Cooperation, constructed on the Blue Nile River in Ethiopia, about 15km east of the border with Sudan and Egypt located over 2500kms downstream of the site. This will be the largest hydroelectric power plant in Africa making it 7th largest in the world. The already-existing sensitive situation among the African countries regarding the sharing of the water of River Nile, the longest river in the world which stretches across 11 countries in its journey of 4,000 miles from the equatorial rivers that feed Lake Victoria to its final destination in the Mediterranean Sea, was recently revived and caused a row between Egypt and Ethiopia with Sudan caught in between over the construction of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam by Ethiopia after it announced it started filling the reservoir, a maneuver in opposition to what had been proclaimed by Egypt that the dam shouldn’t be filled without a legally binding agreement over the just allocation of the Nile’s waters, Egypt also preceded over to invite the international community to get involved in furtherance of this mediation.


The construction of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam affirms the generation of 12,000 jobs, facilitating flood protection in the lower areas, and irrigation. It is also said that the dam will be equipped for taking care of a surge of 19,370 cubic meters for each second, will diminish alluvium in Sudan by 100 million cubic meters and furthermore encourage water system of around 500,000ha of new farming terrains. It will likewise diminish around 40km of flooding in Sudan, upon its fruition. The directed progression of water from the Renaissance dam will improve agribusiness and the effect from dissipation of water from the dam will be insignificant contrasted and different dams in Ethiopia, which will help in water preservation. Water vanishing from Aswan High Dam, just as different dams in Ethiopia, likens to around 19 billion cubic meters. Great Ethiopian Renaissance Dam will diminish the limit of the Aswan High Dam, thusly sparing around six billion cubic meters of water. The dam will likewise fill in as a scaffold over the Blue Nile, which includes few extensions and hardly any common scaffolds. It would be ignorant to just pay heed to the aforementioned benefits of the dam and turn a blind eye to the further loopholes that the dam accompanies with in Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia. Like any other developmental project, this development project seems to be guided by single sightedness and neglecting the sensitivities that comes along with a project as massive as a dam which could be boon for one party and bane for another, this dilemma calls for a balanced negotiation for the succession of the dam.


“Water market, says Chellaney, is “the next big investment opportunity” because water management reflects corporate business models. Global sales of water-related equipment and services total up to half a trillion dollars a year. But there is zero charge on withdrawing water. Indeed, most countries subsidise electricity to farmers resulting in overexploitation. Corporations have convinced politicians that commoditisation is the ideal way to control wasteful use of water. But a litre of bottled water requires 1.6 litres of water which makes this a wastewater generator apart from colossal plastic-bottle waste. Water consumption by refineries is usually larger than the quantity of gasoline or diesel fuel manufactured. Growing consumption of meat, biofuels and nuclear power — all water-guzzlers — make groundwater the world’s most extracted source.” - Water Wars and Geopolitics, the review, THE HINDU


The conflict over the allocation of water between different countries sharing the same river have not been an alien issue in the world, even in the past and currently there are several countries involved in war over water. Water as an essential resource have always been one of the many defining factors that affects the geopolitics of a nation. The feud between Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan has been a prolonged tensed situation regarding the allocation of the River Nile. Taking into account the geographical affectivity of the states situated downstream (Egypt and Sudan), the project seemed to be affecting the availability of water from the river in these downstream riparian economies that center almost all their economic activities around the availability of water acting as the lifeline for millions of people in these states. However, the upstream states that includes Ethiopia asserts that the initiation of the dam would not lead to the paucity of water instead the hydroelectric project would improve the livelihoods of the region.


“Ethiopia has one of the world’s fastest-growing economies. The dam offers it a chance to become Africa’s biggest power exporter. And, just as in Egypt, the Nile is central to the country’s sense of itself.”- Indian Express


The backdrop of the entire conflict over the Nile’s waters traces back to the Anglo-Egyptian treaty 1929 and the 1959 agreement between Egypt and Sudan that majorly allocated all the Nile’s river waters to Egypt and Sudan and left nothing for Ethiopia or the other upstream riparian states with them disagreeing the treaty completely. Even though Egypt ever since 1929 have perpetuated its dominance over the river Nile, it has also prevented any infrastructure developments with the help of its extensive diplomatic relations. Egypt was persistently adamant claiming this agreement to be the cornerstone of every development that would take place on River Nile, assuming it’s exclusive monopoly over the river. However, due to the lack of a proper legal agreement for water allocation the situation worsened with time. There were several negotiations among these three countries (Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia) de facto 2015 treaty was solely to regulate these negotiations and Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan agreed on a ‘Declaration of Principles’ that enlisted an “equitable and reasonable” distribution of Nile but all in vain as Ethiopia in the end moved forward and filled the dam with little no consideration of these downstream states. The filling of the dam according to Egypt is seen as “existential threat” and depicts its concern that this would have negative impacts on the country’s water supply. In contrast to this Ethiopia completely denies any negative impact of the dam, declaring that if anything the hydropower plant will provide will be benefits to these regions and nothing else. Egypt wants to have a secure comprehensive agreement that ties Ethiopia to delivering a fixed measure of the river’s stream and a process for observing Ethiopia's consistence with the same. Ethiopia, on one hand, looks to evade a lasting duty or a permanent agreement instead wants a flexible agreement with a provision for periodic reviews. Ethiopia’s withdrawal to enter such an agreement have left the negotiation in lack of inertia in this tensed situation which can have detrimental consequences given to the already sensitive relation between the countries.


It is inevitable to acknowledge that with the capitalization of natural resources, would not always lead to zero-sum game. There would be parties at disadvantage and other parties at an advantage. Capitalizing of any resource has at its heart more often than not motives that would just take into account selective development rather than a holistic or sustainable development. Therefore, it is imperative for these countries in Eastern Africa to have a comprehensible discourse over the water conflict and move ahead with the aim to maintain peace and equality while achieving development for all. With the inclusion of this negotiation these countries should also with wide minded approach should encounter the existing controversial issues and relations before inviting a third party to seek for its own interest, each of the 11 riparian nations should try to improve relations among themselves past their relationship with the Nile, particularly in commonly useful regions, for example, exchange; instructive and social trades; the administration of regular assets, including water; managing dangers to harmony and security, including the concealment and avoidance of psychological oppression and fanaticism; and facing significant difficulties to financial development and neediness mitigation, for example, environmental change, boundless ignorance, and helpless foundation. The Nile riparian's must comprehend that the waterway is a typical asset whose powerful administration must be drawn nearer from a bowl wide point of view. Accordingly, it is just through participation that Egypt, Ethiopia, Sudan, and the different riparian's can calmly resolve clashes over the Nile and accomplish the sort of water utilize that will contribute altogether to local financial and human turn of events.


Recapitulating the aforementioned and pondering on the rhetoric question of whether the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Damn, is a ticket to progress or conflict, it would seem like a black and white issue yet with several layers to adhere to. Ethiopia with this dam project is progressing towards the development the dam would bring to the country solving the problem of poverty in the country, while on the other hand Egypt and other downstream states feels threatened for their livelihood with the development of the dam. It is essential for both the parties to do not ride high horse and negotiate and acknowledge the problems and issues encountered by the affected states and come to a conclusion cause fortunately the human society has the free will to buy a ticket, preferably a ticket to progress with its aim to achieve peace in the world.

Bibliography

1) Palmer et al. "Ethiopia’s Power Play On The Nile Has Left The Region In A Deadlock". Foreign Policy, 2020, https://foreignpolicy.com/2020/09/28/renaissance-dam-ethiopia-egypt-negotiations/.

2) "Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam Project, Benishangul-Gumuz". Water-Technology.Net, 2020, https://www.water-technology.net/projects/grand-ethiopian-renaissance-dam-africa/.

3) "Water Wars And Geopolitics". The Hindu, 2020, https://www.thehindu.com/books/books-reviews/water-peace-and-war-book-review/article7141547.ece.

4) "For Thousands Of Years, Egypt Controlled The Nile. A New Dam Threatens That". The Indian Express, 2020, https://indianexpress.com/article/world/for-thousands-of-years-egypt-controlled-the-nile-a-new-dam-threatens-that-6258451/.




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