By Solomon Dibaba (ENA)
Naturally endowed with 12 water basins some of which are trans-boundary, Ethiopia is considered as the water tower of Africa with the potential capacity to generate more than 60 million MW of hydro-power every year.
However, According to the data from Ethiopian Electric utility, the country has so far been able to utilize less than five percent of its hydropower resources with heavy dependence of bio-fuel which led to the rapid depletion of its forest resources. To date, only 55 percent of the population has access to electric power while the rural population is the least served.
With the rapidly growing energy needs of the country estimated at 30 per cent annually, Ethiopia has been challenged to meet the energy demands of its population and more markedly the power needs of its growing industries, including the industrial parks. Therefore, Ethiopia’s quest to use the waters of the Nile as a major contributor to the river is not only legitimate but is also pronouncing justice as well.
On April 2, 2011, the late Prime Minister of Ethiopia put the foundation stone for the construction of the Grand Ethiopian Renascence Dam (GERD) with the objective of improving access to electricity, and generate foreign currency by exporting power to neighboring countries.
From the outset, the construction of GERD was based on powering Ethiopia’s development policy of Climate Resilient Green Economy Strategy. The project is intended to benefit its own people, neighboring and downstream countries.
Ethiopia’s quest for harnessing and using the waters of the Nile to generate the required energy needs of the country effectively complies with Convention on the Law of the Non-navigational Uses of International Watercourses, UN General Assembly resolution 49/52 of December 1994 which reads:
“Watercourse States shall in their respective territories utilize an international watercourse in an equitable and reasonable manner. In particular, an international watercourse shall be used and developed by watercourse States with a view to attaining optimal and sustainable utilization thereof and benefits there from, taking into account the interests of the watercourse States concerned, consistent with adequate protection of the watercourse.”
A year after the inauguration of GERD, Ethiopia which contributes 85 percent of the Nile Waters, took the initiative of involving Sudan and Egypt to build trust and narrow differences on the construction of the GERD.
In 2012, the International Panel of Experts was formed with experts from Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia, and other independent entities to discuss mainly engineering and partially impact related questions.
In 2016, the three countries signed an agreement tasking French consulting companies BRL Ingénierie and Artelia with conducting feasibility studies on the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD).
In March 2015, leaders of the three signed an agreement that would enable them to use the Nile in a more equitable and constructive way.
Addressing the House of Peoples Representatives during his visit to Ethiopia it is to be noted that Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi has commended the Ethiopian government for its understanding, flexibility and seeking good will in support of Egypt’s water needs. He acknowledged Ethiopia’s right to build the GERD.
Egypt came up with a new proposal during the tripartite meeting which took place in Cairo for the first time in more than a year. Through the proposal Egypt wants a guarantee from Ethiopia for an annual 40 billion cubic meter of water release every year and to fill the dam’s reservoir over an extended period of time, which is seven years.
Ethiopia has rejected the proposal as it was “technically impractical and is tantamount to agreeing to hold the operation of the GERD hostage to Egyptian water use. Further since Ethiopia cannot control Egyptian water use/withdrawal from High Aswan Dam, agreeing to this demand means ending up in perpetual ‘water debt’.”
Following trilateral talks between Water Ministers of the three countries which took place in October in Khartoum, Ethiopia denounced Egypt’s latest move to invite a third party into the negotiations as disruptive and one that “side-steps” the working procedure of the NISRG.
Ethiopia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs stressed that the filling plan of Ethiopia that is set to be completed in stages is based on the hydrology is considerate of the interests of the downstream countries. Furthermore, Egypt is persisting on its position of having all its proposals accepted without which it was not willing to have the NISRG conduct its analysis.
The statement went on to assure that Ethiopia “upholds the principles of equitable and reasonable utilization and the causing of no significant harm on any other riparian country in the use of the waters of the Nile”
Furthermore, the Ministry stated that the government of Ethiopia will continue to follow an approach that will not result in direct or indirect recognition of any preexisting water allocation treaty, which has no applicability whatsoever on Ethiopia.
Egypt’s request for the interference of a third party, although not an entirely new proposal, was not only contrary to the spirit of the agreement signed between the three countries, it also seriously defies the general principles of the process of the current negotiations that has been conducted between the three countries totally discrediting the efforts so far made by the countries.
Besides, Egypt’s proposal to establish a committee of experts drawn from Egypt and Sudan not only again defies the sovereignty of Ethiopia over its share of the waters but also sows mistrust among the sisterly countries. It is intended to show that Egypt would take over the technical control of the filling of the dam, a suggestion that is no less than denying the sovereignty of the country over its natural resource.
Egypt demands some 40 billion cubic meters of water which is almost close to what the Nile produces annually. This implies that the country is indirectly injecting the spirit of the 1959 agreement to which Ethiopia was not a party.
Politicizing on Ethiopia’s good faith in using the waters of the Nile which is intended for common development programs of the three countries and categorically denying Ethiopia its rights to control the flow of the water in its own territory without affecting the water flow for downstream countries is not in the spirit of the major agreement signed between the three countries. Ethiopia is open to any discussion on the technical issues of filling GERD but not at the cost of its sovereignty.