Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam a threat to downstream Nile states, including Egypt | Daily Maverick

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The government of Ethiopia is currently constructing the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam. Once complete, the dam will be the largest hydropower facility in Africa (about 6,000 MW) – nearly triple the country’s current electricity generation capacity – and represent a potential economic windfall for the government. By Zachary Donnenfeld for ISS TODAY.
The benefits for Ethiopia and for many electricity-importing countries in East Africa from the construction of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam are clear. However, the implications for downstream countries aren’t all positive – and need to be better understood.
In 2016, about 30% of Ethiopia’s population had access to electricity and more than 90% of households continued to rely on traditional fuels for cooking. Traditional fuels can cause respiratory infections, and according to the World Health Organisation, acute lower respiratory infection is the leading cause of death in Ethiopia.
So the benefits of better access to electricity in Ethiopia are clear. But creating a larger supply doesn’t mean demand will automatically follow. In Ethiopia, where 70% of the population lives in rural areas and relies on subsistence agriculture, the government must also invest in developing human capital to increase incomes and stimulate the demand for services. The standard of living needs to improve before Ethiopians can consume additional electricity – unless it’s completely subsidised by the government.
The government may also anticipate a boost to revenues through electricity exports from the dam. Several power purchase agreements have already been signed with neighbouring countries, including Djibouti, Kenya, Rwanda, Sudan and Tanzania.
There is a need for more rapid progress along various dimensions of human development in Ethiopia, as highlighted in a recent ISS report produced for the United States Agency for International Development. But there are concerns about how this dam will affect downstream states, particularly Sudan and Egypt.
Although Sudan was initially opposed to the dam’s construction, the country has recently warmed to the idea. This could be because Sudan has agreed to purchase electricity from the dam, while the two countries have also agreed to collaborate on a free economic zone. While bilateralism has proved effective with Sudan, multilateral negotiations haven’t been particularly fruitful.
Signed in 2015, the Khartoum Agreement ostensibly mapped out a way forward, but implementation of the deal hasn’t been easy, and cracks are starting to show. In May this year, the Middle East Monitor concluded that Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan had just finished their 14th round of unsuccessful discussions about how to manage the Nile River.
At that 2015 meeting, officials from the three countries agreed to proceed with an impact assessment that was to be completed within 15 months. After 17 months, the report has yet to be publicly released. There is still no independent feasibility study, cost-benefit analysis or environmental impact assessment.
This is worrying since Ethiopia could begin filling the dam at any time. The Ethiopian government expects it will take roughly five or six years to fill the dam’s reservoir. However, Diaa Al-Din Al-Qousi from Egypt’s Ministry of Water Resources and Irrigation believes that a period of 12 to 18 years is needed to guarantee water security for Egypt. This is quite a discrepancy.
A recent report from the Geological Society of America said a period of between five and 15 years seemed reasonable, apparently giving credibility to both sides. But the same report noted that the “Nile’s fresh water flow to Egypt may be cut by as much as 25%, with a loss of a third of the electricity generated by the Aswan High Dam”, which would be bad news for Egyptians.
Also, many Egyptian officials fear that the increased evaporation from the sheer size of the dam could affect water security in the country – already one of the most water-stressed in the world.
Ethiopia maintains that the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam project has been conducted with adequate transparency and involvement from the relevant stakeholders. It also highlights that Egypt hasn’t signed the Co-operative Framework Agreement (CFA) of the Nile Basin States, whereas Ethiopia has.
Since Ethiopia announced it would go ahead with construction of the dam in 2011, Cairo has voiced disapproval. At various stages, Egypt has demanded that Ethiopia cease construction, threatened action at the United Nations Security Council, and claimed that it is protected by a 1959 treaty, even though Ethiopia didn’t sign the treaty. The treaty essentially divides the river between Sudan and Egypt, leaving nothing for Ethiopia, where more than 60% of the Nile’s water originates.
With its national livelihood depending on the Nile, it’s difficult to anticipate what Egypt’s reaction might be should Ethiopia proceed with its plan to fill the dam. Egyptian Foreign Ministry spokesman Badr Abdelatty recently told Reuters that Egypt had “no other resources … we will not allow our national interests, our national security to be endangered”. This brings back memories of former president Mohamed Morsi’s ominous 2013 speech, in which he declared that if the Nile “loses one drop, our blood is the alternative”.
Analysts at the Texas-based consulting group Stratfor have concluded that Egypt’s reaction will, in part, be determined by its political leadership. But they also stress that “whatever its political inclination, a large-scale reduction in water from the Nile would be intolerable to any Egyptian government”.
Ethiopia has a right to exploit its own natural resources to support much-needed human development projects, but can it afford to compromise its relationship with downstream states, particularly Egypt? The government of Ethiopia has done well to finance and promote this project. The question now is how best to manage the possible implications with downstream states.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Egypt faces water insecurity as Ethiopian mega-dam starts filling | Climate Home -

Farmers along the lower Nile have little information to guide them as upriver barrage threatens to compound the impacts of global warming

Egyptian farmers depend on the Nile to irrigate their crops (Pic: Flickr/Florian Lehmuth)
“The land has become very dry,” observes Mahmoud Abo Khokha, a farmer from Al Monofeyya governorate, in Egypt’s Nile delta. “Drought is no longer predictable; it used to hit a certain 15 winter days. The whole year’s crops could be destroyed because of one week’s drought.”
Like most farmers round here, he blames Ethiopia. They are under the impression that a massive hydropower dam being built upriver is already affecting their water supply.
In fact, the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam is only starting to store waterthis month, reports Daily News Egypt, citing Ethiopian officials. The water scarcity farmers have experienced to date has other causes: climate change and the demands of a growing population.
But during the 5-15 years it is expected to take to fill the reservoir behind the 1,800 metre-wide barrage, the Nile’s fresh water flow to Egypt may be cut by up to 25%.
“Nobody is telling farmers how to mitigate and adapt to climate change,” says Magda Ghoneim, a socio-economist and professor of agricultural development at Ain Shams University. “Adding the pressure of a dam puts Egypt on the verge of catastrophe. Soon enough we won’t [find food to] eat.”

The challenges for farmers are myriad: new diseases and insects, unprecedented humidity, rising seas contaminating groundwater with salt. Indeed, when Abo Khokha tried pumping underground water to make up for reduced river flow, he found only half the usual volume, with a higher level of salinity.
A study recently published in Nature found that climate change is bringing greater variability in the Nile River flow this century compared to the last. In the Nile’s seven-year cycle of flood and drought, the former is becoming heavier, and the latter more extreme.
Egypt’s five million feddans (21,000 square kilometres) of crops consume more than 85% of the country’s share of Nile water. With an annual supply of 600 cubic metres per person, the country is approaching the UN’s “absolute water scarcity” threshold, as the population closes in on 100 million. Water is a sensitive subject.
Although Ethiopia claims to have taken climate change into consideration in the dam’s design, the government did everything at the same time: construction and civil works, financing, and social and environmental impact studies, explains Emanuele Fantini, a researcher at IHE Delft Institute for Water Education. “So by the time these studies are concluded, we are already in front of the fait accompli”.
Building was under way when the governments of Ethiopia, Egypt and Sudan – sandwiched between the two – in 2016 agreed to commission an independent study from Artelia, a French consultancy. “We are not sure if and when the results will be made public,” says Fantini. “They should be made public so that the accuracy can be checked by the international scientific community”.
“Some information, like worst case scenarios, might cause unnecessary panic”
So far, though, there has been little attempt to explain the risks to those at the mercy of the weather and geopolitics.
Alaa al-Zawahri, an Egyptian member of the tripartite committee studying the effects of the dam, tells Climate Home: “There are several scenarios, but nothing certain. Some studies predict a rise in temperature and thus little rain, and others predict more rain”. Diaa al-Qousi, a water specialist who worked for government, says the findings point to heavy rains for the next 30 years, then a huge drop the 60 years that follow.
Asked if the different conclusions have been communicated with farmers, al-Qousi says “farmers would not understand such specialists’ findings”. Government is selective about what it releases to media, adds al-Zawahri: “Some information, like worst case scenarios, might cause unnecessary panic.”
In the absence of reliable information, farmers turn to conspiracy theories and militaristic fantasies.
Qatar “is funding the dam, like it is funding terrorism” to harm Egypt, claims Mohamed Nasr, who owns three feddans in Al Gharbeyya. There is no evidence for this common rumour; the Ethiopian government says it is funding the project nationally.
Ethiopia will not be allowed to alter the balance of water supply along the river, Nasr asserts: “Egypt’s water share is internationally known. If the share is touched, the dam will be completely removed.”1
Osama Saad, a farmer in the Upper Egypt governorate of Minya, is more explicit: “People talk about how the president should bomb it.” The idea is not alien to higher level discussions around the dam. Previous leaders have threatened military action.
Yet work on the 6GW dam, a prestige project for the Ethiopian government, has continued unabated.
Al-Zawahri outlines some peaceful options for responding to water stress. The government is looking into telemetry, water-saving irrigation systems, and desalination. A navigational course from Lake Victoria to the Mediterranean is on the table, which would provide eight billion cubic meters more water for Sudan and Egypt. Egypt can also manage its own High Aswan Dam more efficiently to decrease evaporation of water. “These plans are to be applied gradually,” he says.
Water expert al-Qousi is upbeat: “The Egyptian farmer has been cultivating lands for seven thousand years, and has always found a way around water shortages.”
Ghoneim begs to differ. “Farmers have traditional knowledge, which they lived by for a long time. But this knowledge is now falling short,” she says. “It is not an awareness problem that faces farmers, it is an issue of the state obstructing information.”

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Egypt fails to make headway as it navigates Nile River talks

Heads of state meet at the first Nile Basin States Summit held June 22 in Entebbe, Uganda, June 22, 2017. (photo by Ethiopian Ministry of Foreign Affairs)

CAIRO — At the first Nile Basin States Summit held June 22 in Entebbe, Uganda, Cairo failed to amend the three clauses it rejects in the Entebbe Agreement. The latter, also known as the Cooperative Framework Agreement, was drafted as part of the Nile Basin Initiative (NBI) and is aimed at regulating use of the river's waters in the 10 countries it flows through. While six of the upstream countries have signed the agreement, Egypt, Sudan and Congo maintain their opposition. 
SUMMARY⎙ PRINTIn the wake of a failed attempt by the Nile Basin states to reach an agreement, Al-Monitor speaks with a former Egyptian Foreign Ministry official on what comes next.

The most important of the three clauses Cairo rejects is the one relating to water security. This one, which addresses the fair use and distribution of Nile water, failed to recognize Egypt’s historical annual quota from the Nile River, amounting to 55.5 billion cubic meters of water, or Sudan's 18.5 billion cubic meters in accordance with the 1959 Nile Waters Agreement. Egypt must now pin its hopes on other rounds of negotiations between the heads of state as it calls for another summit in Cairo.
Both the Sudanese and the Ethiopian delegations withdrew from preparatory meetings on the water issue held two days before the Nile Basin States Summit.
Cairo is seeking to resume technical projects and other activities in the Nile Basin that were suspended when Egypt froze its membership in the NBI in 2010 after six countries signed the Entebbe Agreement. In addition to not recognizing Egypt’s water quota, the agreement allows upstream countries to build dams, block or store water from the river without prior notice. Cairo believes that the agreement poses a threat to its water security.
The agreement also stipulates that decisions must be voted upon based on a majority system, while Cairo demands decisions be made by consensus as stipulated in the NBI constitutive act because the numerous upstream countries have many common interests, while the downstream countries will be greatly affected by any decisions that do not take their interests into account.
Al-Monitor interviewed Mona Omar, Egypt's former ambassador to South Africa, Denmark and Rwanda, who is now the director of the African Center at the British University in Egypt and assistant to the former Egyptian foreign minister for African affairs.
The interview includes questions about the future of cooperation between Egypt and the other Nile countries and about the feasibility of holding future meetings of heads of the Nile Basin states. The text of the interview follows:
Al-Monitor:  What is your take on the future of cooperation between Egypt and the Nile Basin states following the recent summit’s failure to reach solutions on the differences over the Entebbe Agreement?
Omar:  First of all, I don’t agree that the summit was a failure, because it was the first positive step taken in many years. The Nile Basin states’ presidents met to discuss the issue, and their differences were technical, not political. Their positions differed given their different interests, and no one expected them to reach a consensus at the first meeting, especially considering that the principles that Egypt is clinging to cannot be waived. Cairo insists that the use of the river water be determined in accordance with the needs of each country and its population. It also insists on the principle of prior notice before any project is started in the upper Nile and to a unanimous voting mechanism instead of a majority one.
As for the fate of future cooperation between the Nile Basin states and Egypt in the event of continued differences, the current Egyptian approach is to strengthen relations with all of the Nile Basin states, all the while entrenching the principle of common interests rather than the interest of one party at the expense of another. The meetings held at the sidelines of international forums among leaders of the Nile states and Egypt confirm that there is an ongoing dialogue and that Egypt is on the right track.
Al-Monitor:  Do you expect other similar meetings?
Omar:  Egypt has offered to host another summit focusing on cooperation in order to achieve joint development projects away from any points of contention.
Al-Monitor:  The Egyptian historical quota of the Nile waters is the main point of contention with the upstream countries. To what extent does the water security clause in the Entebbe Agreement fail to assure Cairo regarding its quota?
Omar:  This article has two parts, the first of which is about quota sharing. It wouldn’t be fair for water quotas to be distributed without regard for the needs of each country and population. The second part calls for prior notification in accordance with international law. Being a downstream country, Egypt has the right to be notified before any project is started on the Upper Nile so that it can assess the potential danger and negative impact that might ensue as far as the flow of water to it is concerned. Egypt suggested that prior notification should not be made in a bilateral way so that Egypt is not accused of undermining the sovereignty of any state. It said that notification should be made collectively through the NBI. Third, Egypt objects to the majority voting mechanism stated in the agreement, and instead calls for unanimous voting because the two downstream states are a minority.
Al-Monitor:  What is your take on the Nile document submitted by Egypt during the recent summit of Nile Basin states’ presidents as an alternative to the Entebbe Agreement?
Omar:  I haven’t looked at the document yet, but I don’t think it included general issues that all countries could have agreed on, and Egypt might have once again incorporated controversial points, thus preventing the upstream countries from adopting it.
Al-Monitor:  Can Egypt participate in the NBI activities without being part of the Entebbe Agreement, similar to Sudan?
Omar:  The agreement and the NBI are two sides of the same coin, and I wonder how a state objecting to a cooperation mechanism can join the entity behind this very mechanism. Frankly, Sudan's position is incomprehensible. By the way, Congo and South Sudan have not yet signed the agreement. There are still upstream countries whose parliaments have not yet ratified the entry into force of the agreement. I think that by doing so, these countries are keeping a leeway that could lead to the return of Egypt.
Al-Monitor:  To what extent are the differences on the Entebbe Agreement related to the Renaissance Dam crisis, in light of the current obstacles hindering the finalization of the dam’s impact study?
Omar:  Had the article of prior notice in the agreement been approved, and had the issue of equitable quota been based on the Egyptian request, things would have gone smoothly. The current course of the Renaissance Dam negotiations is stalled, which required Egypt to call for an urgent meeting among water ministers in Ethiopia, Sudan and Egypt.
Al-Monitor:  Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir did not attend the Nile Basin states summit despite Sudanese media reports of a desire to join the agreement. How do you think Cairo would be affected?
Omar:  Sudan's accession to the Entebbe Agreement would weaken [Sudan], being a downstream country, and when Egypt negotiates the principles of respect for historical water rights, it speaks for both downstream states, namely Egypt and Sudan. As for the Renaissance Dam, international reports have shown that it can cause damage and that the first victim would be Sudan. If there are differences between Egypt and the Sudan, then they should be put aside to serve the two countries' interests.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Renaissance Dam: Need for political intervention as technical negotiations get complicated | MadaMasr

Renaissance Dam: Need for political intervention as technical negotiations get complicated

Intense activity by several official Egyptian actors is underway as Ethiopia begins to pool water at the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam reservoir site, which Ethiopia began without providing Cairo with official notice. An Egyptian government source told Mada Masr that Addis Ababa has started what he called an “early filling” of the dam.
A government source linked to the renaissance dam file told Mada Masr that vigorous governmental action had in fact started regarding the dam, the construction of which is nearing completion and would lead to a significant decline in the Egypt’s historical share of Nile water. “We are now facing a different situation than the one we expected and feared: the possibility that Ethiopia will move even faster than it is entitled to move. We are thus currently considering which way to react,” said the source, speaking on a condition of anonymity.
Egypt’s share of the Nile water is already considered insufficient in meeting the growing needs of the country. It is expected that the flow of water will decline for an unspecified period before reaching its new rate – according to the most optimistic estimates – in five years.
The source indicated that the governmental activity includes several ministries, among which are the ministries of foreign affairs and irrigation, as well as security and information entities.
On Thursday, Hossam al-Imam, the official spokesperson for Egypt’s Ministry of Irrigation and Water Resources, denied that Ethiopia had begun filling the dam. He said that the amount of water recorded at the dam “is not significant” and that it coincides with the flooding of the Blue Nile. These statements coincided with the Egyptian irrigation minister’s visit to Tanzania and Kenya, two members of the Nile Basin countries, where he conducted bilateral negotiations aiming to raise the efficiency of the joint use of water resources.

Cairo was “flexible and understanding”

Cairo is preparing to organize a tripartite committee meeting,  with representatives from Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia. It is expected that the meeting will take place at the end of this month. The committee is working on following up on obligatory technical studies relating to the dam, as specified by the agreement signed by the committee in Spring 2015. The tripartite agreement bars the upstream countries from beginning the construction process before these studies have been completed and confirming that Addis Ababa has taken into account all technical considerations.
“It’s too late now for such actions. We are now following this path just to ensure our legal rights in case we decide to follow legal or diplomatic procedures, seeing that Ethiopia has already begun construction without the submission of the technical reports,” said another governmental source, familiar with the dam file and speaking on condition of anonymity.He also indicated that Cairo was very flexible in dealing with the renaissance dam.
The Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam is projected to hold more than 70 million cubic meters of water. As a result, Egypt could lose 65 billion cubic meters of its share. The two parties disagree on the specific timeframe for filling the reservoir, with Addis Ababa suggesting three years while Cairo aims for a period between three and seven years, according to the source.  “The negotiations between the two parties cannot be seen as achieving any kind of progress,” the source said, indicating that the stalemate was clear in the Nile basin states’ summit meetings, which were hosted by Uganda last month.
The lack of progress was also palpable during a meeting between Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry and his Ethiopian counterpart, that took place on the margins of a meeting between the African Union foreign ministers. “Cairo feels that it has shown a lot of understanding regarding Ethiopia’s position and has refrained from exerting any exaggerated pressure on it, but Ethiopia did not reciprocate this understanding,” he said.
He also emphasized the failure of the mediation attempts made by several actors, who tried to persuade Addis Ababa to deal more positively with Egypt’s concerns. However, he refused to comment on whether Israel was one of the states mediating between Egypt and Ethiopia. He also refused to comment on the position of Saudi Arabia regarding this issue. Nevertheless, he did add that Sudan “does not stand by Egypt at all. It, in fact, stands by Ethiopia.”

A possible intervention

A Sudanese diplomatic source told Mada Masr that “Khartoum understands Egypt’s concerns. However, it [Sudan] finds that its direct and developing interests lie with Ethiopia.” He added that Cairo cannot expect a full and direct alliance from Khartoum at this stage.
The Sudanese source pointed out that Cairo’s two most prominent regional allies are Riyadh and Abu Dhabi, and that they are the ones who can persuade Addis Ababa to “appropriately schedule filling the reservoir” in a way that reduces the damage befalling Egypt, especially given the interests that Saudi Arabia and the UAE share with Ethiopia, whether in regard to the dam, or in other areas.
The two Egyptian sources confirmed that the path to technological negotiations with Ethiopia and Sudan does not seem easily navigable. They indicated that the statement Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry made on the margins of the African Union summit in Addis Ababa earlier this month, accurately sums up the situation: “The matter now is in need of political intervention.”