Cooperation among Nile Riparian States Central for Sustainable Use of Waters

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BY SOLOMON DIBABA

With her majestic 12 river basins dissecting the country from north to south, east and west Ethiopia deserved to be called the water tower of Africa. The tower implies that most of these river basins are located in the northern highlands of the country washing away tons of top loam soil from the rugged mountains in the northern part of the country.

Ethiopia has been conducting a major rehabilitation of the ecosystem in the country for the last 11 years. The country which is listed as the most vulnerable country in terms of climate change is not getting enough support from the international community for massive environmental rehabilitation programs it has been conducting for more than a decade. As Abay River originates from the highlands of Ethiopia, it is indeed prudent and wise for Egypt and Sudan to support the green initiative the country has launched as part of mitigating climate change which would otherwise affect the flow of the river.

The torrential run off across the country, particularly in the northern areas, has left thousands of hectares of land barren, rugged, degraded for agricultural activities. Consistent erosion in the catchment areas of the rivers has led to the degradation of the highland areas and loss of vegetation which could trap the soil resources in these highland areas resulting in massive imbalance of the ecosystem.  

The Blue Nile and its tributaries wash away about 1.3 billion tons of top clayish soil which ends up in the dams of Egypt and Sudan. According to Dr. Mekdelawit Deribe and Dr. Terusew Asefa, prominent researchers on the Nile, the Blue Nile carries away 270 Mt. of top soil every year. The sediment from the Blue Nile results in the loss of 10% storage space of the dams due to siltation every 50 years.

The prevention of soil erosion, land degradation and other environmental hazards requires political will and conviction to address the challenge right from the sources. The promotion of soil and water conservation and other catchment development programs require huge amount of finance and mobilization of millions of manpower in tree planting and other afforestation programs. This certainly demands the cooperation of lower riparian countries, including Sudan and Egypt, on massive tree planting campaign, soil and water conservation programs right at the root and catchment areas of the Blue Nile,  to avoid continuous siltation in the dams built in the respective countries.

The issue of sedimentation or siltation at the dams cannot be an environmental concern only for Ethiopia but should be a joint priority of concern for the three countries.

Ethiopia’s National Green Legacy Campaign has now become the best alternative for preventing soil and water conservation across the Abay River basins in the country. This national program is not just about planting trees to recover the forest resources of the country. It is also about arresting soil erosion and huge runoff that has left millions of hectares of land barren and degraded.

The Green Initative that was launched four years back by Prime Minister Abiy has a range of global, regional and national level advantages—i.e. reduction of the level of carbon in the atmosphere, prevention of loss of arable land due to erosion, promotion of food security through fruit tree forests, rehabilitating the state of fauna and flora of the country to its original  level as well as promoting the balance of nature by preventing the effects of climate change and global warming and green house effects.

The initiative also helps to increase the volume of water that Sudan and Egypt need from several perspectives. It will also help to increase the annual precipitation across the country that would in turn increase the survival rate of the planted trees to a much higher level by retaining the necessary moisture required for their maturity and growth.

Egypt has been lambasting the construction of GERD from day one, politicizing over the issue,  when in reality, the GERD opens opportunity to down riparian states as mentioned above. First, GERD will provide Egypt and Sudan with more water through two interlocking technical factors. By markedly reducing the level of siltation in the dams in both countries, it would help to regulate the amount of water that consistently flows to the dams throughout the year and would also help to maximize the storage of water in their dams.

Ethiopia has provided several technical reports that the construction of GERD will never affect the standard volume of water, for it is only meant for the production of hydropower, after hitting the turbines, the water flows into lower riparian states.

 As stated above, Green Legacy Initiative reduces the level of siltation that could flow into GERD by preventing the flow of sedimentation into the dam.  Here,  the role that the Green Legacy initiative and GERD can play in de-siltation of the dams in the lower riparian countries need to be seriously considered. Both the initiative and the final completion of GERD will not only release more volume of water but also help to improve the storage capacity of the dams in the two countries—guaranteeing Egypt and Sudan a regular and uninterrupted flow of increased volume of water which they can use for generating power, irrigation and other farming practices.

Maintaining the natural ecosystem in the highlands of Ethiopia should not be left to Ethiopia alone, Egypt and Sudan are technically obliged to support the Green legacy initiative instead of accusing Ethiopia for simply using its share of the water for hydropower.

It must be clear that although water is perishable natural resources, Egypt and Sudan are losing a huge amount of water through evaporation. They will therefore have no technical sound evidence that GERD will reduce their share of water while in practice it ensures the flow of far more volume of water compared to what they have been getting for thousands of years. Ethiopia is a source of water for Egypt and Sudan, where its green initiative must be supported. These countries and the international community need to support Ethiopia’s efforts of building carbon free economy.  

Any thinker with a rational mind will now conclude that GERD has actually become a potential source for more volume of water for Egypt and Sudan—ushering in an opportunity for the three countries to engage in myriad of mutually beneficial projects that can turn confrontation into cooperation and development across the Horn of Africa.

Misinformation and media propaganda on GERD will not alter the objective reality on the ground; the flagship dam will soon be filled for the third round. Again, Ethiopia calls upon Egypt and Sudan to cooperate for they are also beneficial from the entire strategic undertaking.  

Regrettably, instead of cooperation on the development of GERD, the conspiracies on GERD by Egypt, Sudan and TPLF and its surrogate terrorist groups are trying to disrupt the filling on the dam which is just at the corner.

These two countries and their supporters are attempting to impose the colonial treaties of Blue Nile on Ethiopia—obsolete and irrelevant in the 21st century. Ethiopia will fill the GERD for the third round and the water will continue flowing as ever.