How will the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam pan out?

The Blue Nile in Ethiopia

There's been a lot going on in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) in the last few weeks. There's been elections in Iran; an increased number of attacks in Iraq by Iran; the replacement of Israel's former prime minister and longest-serving, Benjamin Netanayhu with Naftali Bennett; and trouble between Egypt, Ethiopia, Sudan and Egypt with the project known as the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD).

We, at Lucia Dore Consultancy (LDC), been following this in great depth and have been looking at all the ins and outs of this issue (See previous articles posted here).

Here's an article outlining some of the problems that Egypt and Ethiopia are facing. This is followed by an article in which South Sudan has decided to build a dam to rival Ethiopia's.

Diplomacy wears thin between Egypt, Ethiopia over Nile Dam

By Mohamed Saied for Al Monitor

July 2, 2021

Egypt has once again warned Ethiopia over the continued failure to reach an agreement on filling and operating its controversial Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam. Addis Ababa is building the dam on the Blue Nile, the main tributary of the Nile River.

Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry said in televised statements June 26 that Egypt has turned to the Security Council as a last recourse in its diplomatic efforts to resolve the dispute. He said that should the UN Security Council convene to discuss the dam issue and Ethiopia does not abide by its recommendations, Egypt will have exhausted all peaceful methods.

Shoukry's statements portend a possible escalation between the two countries amid rising concerns over a military conflict breaking out in an already troubled region.

Shoukry expects the Security Council to discuss the dam dispute during the second week of July. He said, "If we do not reach an agreement after all these efforts, we will have exhausted all the peaceful means and the extent of intransigence and absence of political will from the Ethiopian side as well as the extent of flexibility by Egypt and Sudan will be revealed to the international community."

Egypt and Sudan recently sent separate letters to the Security Council urging it to intervene in the dispute by holding an emergency session to discuss the matter and convince Ethiopia to back off on the second stage of filling the dam's reservoir until Addis Ababa reaches a legally binding agreement with the two downstream states.

Ethiopia rejected the proposition to internationalize the conflict over the dam and wrote in a June 23 letter to the Security Council that the dam issue is outside the council's mandate. Ethiopia also accused Sudan and Egypt of undermining the ongoing negotiations under the auspices of the African Union.

Ethiopia is planning on filling the dam's reservoir during the coming rainy season in July and August, regardless of whether an agreement is reached. Ethiopia already completed the first stage of filling the reservoir to 4.9 billion cubic meters last year, alarming Sudan and Egypt.

In June 2020, the Security Council held an open session on the dispute, upon Egypt's request, and urged the three countries to reach a consensus and not to take unilateral measures. The three countries agreed to proceed with the negotiations under the African Union.

However, African Union efforts to broker a deal have failed repeatedly. In the latest round held in the Democratic Republic of Congo capital of Kinshasa in April, each side accused the other of obstructing the talks.

Hani Raslan, head of the Nile Basin Studies Unit at Al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies, said that internationalizing the issue will push the international community to pressure Ethiopia to return to the negotiations and reach an agreement.

Egypt and Sudan have repeatedly called for international mediation by a quartet made up of the United Nations, the European Union, the United States and African Union. Ethiopia insists that the African Union do the job.

Egypt and Sudan want a legally binding agreement for filling and operating the dam that entails an effective and binding mechanism to settle future disputes. Ethiopia is willing to agree only to nonbinding guiding principles.

Just days before the second filling stage, Cairo and Addis Ababa exchanged heated statements.

An Ethiopian general questioned Egypt's ability to destroy the dam. The director of the Engineering Department at the Ethiopian Defense Ministry, Gen. Buta Bachata Debele, told RT June 25 that his country is not seeking to resolve the dam crisis with Egypt and Sudan militarily, but it is ready for such a scenario. He added, "We are ready to repel any enemy that tries to undermine our sovereignty. We are ready to defend."

Shoukry described Debele's statements as "provocative." He said they show Ethiopia is trying to impose its one-sided will regarding operating and filling the dam.

"We always seek peaceful means," Shoukry said in televised statements June 25, adding that Egypt will not stand idly by if its water interests are compromised.

Tarek Fahmy, a professor of political science at Cairo University, said that Ethiopia seeks to draw Egypt into a vicious circle of statements and counterstatements that waste time and essentially run out the clock.

He told Al-Monitor that Ethiopia is trying to confuse decision-makers in Sudan and Egypt and take advantage of the lack of coordination between them. He said Egypt's efforts to get Sudan to play a significant role in placing "ongoing pressure on Ethiopia have apparently failed. Sudan is still not responsive."

On June 27, Sudan said it has conditionally accepted, in principle, a partial interim agreement proposed by the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the African Union's current chair, to fill the dam.

Sudan's conditions are for the agreement to hold for six months and include international guarantees. Ethiopia would commit to signing off on everything that was agreed on previously, on condition that the interim agreement does not mention water-sharing. Cairo has yet to comment on Sudan's conditions.

Sudan and Egypt agreed in early June to coordinate their efforts to push Ethiopia to negotiate seriously to reach an agreement. Officials of the two countries agreed that the agreement should be comprehensive, but Sudan's acceptance of an interim agreement indicates a possible shift in this position.

Although Ethiopia sees the dam as crucial to its economic development, Egypt fears the dam will negatively affect its share of Nile water, which meets more than 95% of Egypt's freshwater needs.

While Khartoum sees benefits from the dam in the form of the regulation of Blue Nile waters and the electricity it will provide, Sudan wants guarantees about the safe operation of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam to protect its own dams, including the Roseires Dam, Sudan's largest.

Raslan said he thought Ethiopia would not accept Sudan's conditions. Raslan also said the timing of the announcement of Sudan's proposal shows that the Sudanese negotiating delegation is not seeing the big picture clearly.

Fahmy said, "Sudan is changing its stances based on its interests … but Ethiopia is taking advantage of this to involve Egypt and Sudan in a series of useless partial agreements to gain time and force them into a de facto situation."

Sudan did reject an Ethiopian proposal for the second filling of the dam.

He added, "All the current indications show that the negotiations will not be resumed in the foreseeable future. The Egyptian administration therefore has all options open. I think the military option is now more pressing than ever to address the crisis."

Egypt, Sudan react to South Sudan's plan for new dam on Nile By George Mikhail for Al Monitor

July 2, 2021

As the crisis over the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam escalates, South Sudan has expressed its intention to build a new dam on the Nile River.

In an interview with The National newspaper on June 24, South Sudan's deputy foreign minister, Deng Dau Deng Malek, said the government plans to build a dam to generate electricity and help prevent floods.

Commenting on the possibility that the new dam might ignite a dispute with Egypt, he said, "It's our sovereign right. But the Nile water is shared. This will be done in conjunction with Sudan, Uganda, Ethiopia and Egypt."

Malek said South Sudan will fund the project with oil revenues in addition to foreign investments, mainly from China.

The spokesperson for the Sudanese Irrigation Ministry, Osama Abu Shanab, said in a June 24 press statement, "This is the first time I've heard of it. I have received no information on plans to build dams in South Sudan. They would have notified us if they had such plans. South Sudan will not implement plans to build dams on the White Nile without first notifying us and the Egyptians."

Mamdouh Antar, head of Nile water affairs at the Egyptian Irrigation Ministry, said in televised statements June 26, "The Egyptian approach is to support South Sudan in any project as long as it does not affect Egypt's share of the Nile water and does not prejudice its water resources." He added, "There are close relations with South Sudan and there are several Egyptian projects currently being implemented there."

"Egypt [is seeking] to help South Sudan in the Wau Dam project, which is located on the Siwi River, a main tributary of the Jur River in the Bahr al-Ghazal Basin," Antar noted. "The Wau Dam's goal is to generate 10.40 megawatts of electricity."

He explained, "This project aims to secure drinking water for about 500,000 people and supplemental irrigation for about 30,000 to 40,000 feddans."

He added, "The project's technical and economic studies were conducted with the assistance of experts from the National Water Research Center in Egypt."

South Sudan's announcement coincided with the five-day visit of Egypt's Minister of Irrigation and Water Resources, Mohamed Abdel Aty, to South Sudan on June 21.

On June 23, Abdel Aty inaugurated an underground water treatment plant built by Egypt in South Sudan's Lemon Mountain. He also inspected other Egyptian projects, including six solar-powered underground water treatment plants.

On June 26, Egypt and South Sudan signed a memorandum of understanding on a new project designed to reduce flooding in the Sudd swamp in South Sudan.

Egypt has been building up its presence in South Sudan through projects and economic assistance since Paul Mayom Akech, South Sudan's former irrigation minister, announced in June 2013 that South Sudan will sign the Entebbe Agreement, which reallocates Nile water shares to the Nile Basin countries.

In November 2020, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi visited South Sudan for the first time. During the visit, the two countries signed several economic agreements, including a hydropower cooperation agreement on power generation projects.

Hani Raslan, an analyst of African affairs at Al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies, said that South Sudan's plan to build a new dam on the Nile is illogical.

He told Al-Monitor, "Rainfall in South Sudan is extremely heavy, exceeding 500 billion cubic meters per year. Hence, this country does not need water and there is no need to build a dam on the Nile."

The monsoon rains, which last for at least seven months a year in South Sudan, lead to significant flooding.

Raslan explained that the problem in South Sudan is that large wetlands hinder development and optimal use of land, water and natural resources in the country. That is why Egypt is undertaking dozens of projects to solve the problem, he added.

He further warned that South Sudan's intention to build a dam echoes Ethiopia's position on the GERD crisis that is threatening security in the region, and in Africa.

Abbas Sharaki, a professor of geology and water resources at Cairo University, told Al-Monitor, "South Sudan's announcement that it would will a dam on the Nile River amounts to political blackmail to obtain more concessions from Egypt."

He added, "South Sudan does not need dams for water storage due to the heavy rains and floods in the country. It needs power generation projects, which Egypt is implementing there."

He explained, "Ethiopia's intransigence has encouraged some officials in the Nile Basin countries to follow in its footsteps when dealing with Egypt."

Sharaki stressed, "Cairo will not stand idly by as dams are built on the Nile River. At the same time, it will not oppose any water project as long as it is not harmful" to its own water security.

"Egypt will not stand against building a dam on the Nile River in South Sudan, provided that the two countries coordinate with each other on the matter," he concluded.

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Tuesday, 03 August 2021