The International Panel of Experts commissioned to report on the impact of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) has handed its findings to the governments of Ethiopia, Sudan and Egypt. It has produced a lengthy, detailed and technical report after seeing all the documentation for the design, construction and related studies, holding six meetings and making four visits to the Dam site. It submitted one single final report with full consensus, signed by all ten members of the Panel.
It was at the initiative of the Government of Ethiopia that the two downstream countries, Egypt and Sudan, were invited to form the Tripartite International Panel of Experts, to investigate in good faith and in a transparent manner, and share all available information and documentation on the construction of the on-going GERD project. The initiative also was intended to address some of the concerns of the two downstream countries. It was an unprecedented step by Ethiopia aimed to foster cooperation and build confidence among the three Eastern Nile Basin Countries. It was also intended to ensure that Sudan and Egypt could understand the potential shared benefits and impact of the GERD. The final report of the Panel indeed put on record the Panel’s appreciation of the initiative taken by the Government of Ethiopia.
The tripartite committee was composed of 10 experts; two each from Ethiopia, Sudan and Egypt. The addition of a further four international experts was also suggested by Ethiopia and accepted by Egypt and Sudan.
The mandate of the International Panel of Experts set the objectives of reviewing the design documents of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam Project; providing transparent information sharing; soliciting understanding of the benefits and costs accruing to each of the three countries; scrutinizing the impacts, if any, of the GERD on the two downstream countries; and building confidence between Ethiopia as an upstream country and the two downstream neighbors. The Panel was also tasked with proposing recommendations to the Governments of the three countries on issues of concern that might be considered in the future.
The final report of the Panel in general made it clear that the on-going GERD project was being undertaken in line with international design criteria and standards. It also specified that the Dam would have significant benefits which would accrue to all the three basin countries as the project would not result in any significant adverse impact on the two downstream countries. Indeed, the report makes no mention of any adverse effects on any of the three countries. It noted that the construction of the GERD did not only benefit Ethiopia in terms of access to energy and jobs, but it would also solve the shortage of power in the region and make it available at significantly less cost. It would solve the problem of siltation in the dams in Sudan and Egypt, a problem that costs millions of dollars in rectification annually, and produce a more constant water flow. The experts were also unanimous in saying that the GERD would solve the problem of the frequent flooding to which the Sudan has been prone. It would reduce evaporation loss, improve water management and enhance rural development in Sudan; and for Egypt it would improve flood control and the flow to the Aswan Dam, reduce evaporation losses by as much as 12%, and by sharply cutting sediment reaching the Aswan Dam, increase its life by up to a hundred years. In general, GERD was identified as producing major benefits overall to the three countries, not least the provision of clean energy for the Nile Basin and the region as a whole. The storage of the GERD will actually bring a new source of water into the system with the effect of its regulation saving significant quantities of water from overbank flow and floodplain loss. All these benefits are detailed in the Panel’s final report.
The Panel also made a number of recommendations. It is now up to the three governments to decide how to carry out these recommendations which are divided into two parts. One set of recommendations are directed to the Government of Ethiopia; the other to the three governments of Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan jointly.
Ethiopia has accepted all the recommendations and suggestions directed to it, and indeed it has already begun to update some of the project documents, and the environmental and social assessment studies. It will continue to update other studies to increase the efficiency and cost effectiveness of the project as suggested. It has already begun to respond to the recommendations of the Panel and deal with the engineering aspects of the Dam, concerned with construction detail. Construction will, of course, continue as it is independent of the activities of the Panel.
As regards the recommendations to the three governments, these include the suggestion of further detailed studies of the water resources and hydrology modeling of the whole Eastern Nile system, taking into account that it is proposed to take 5 to 7 years to fill the Dam in order to ensure minimum effects on the flow of the river. Other recommendations are for the three governments to carry out joint further studies on the environment and social impact and a full trans-boundary environmental impact assessments. Ethiopia has made it quite clear that it is prepared to consider these recommendations but they do need Sudanese and Egyptian co-operation.
Ethiopia has consistently assured the Sudan and Egypt that they have everything to gain and nothing to lose from the construction of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam. The position of the Ethiopian government has been clearly confirmed by the final report of the International Panel of Experts. It underlined that the construction of the Dam as well as Ethiopia’s initiative to invite the two downstream countries to jointly consult and deliberate on the GERD project deserved to be welcomed. The final report of the Panel clearly shows the GERD project is being undertaken with professional competence and with due regard to internationally recognized standards and criteria as well as the concerns of the downstream countries. The necessary studies and designs of the project are being conducted as required at different stages. They are going to be updated to address some of the concerns raised in the Panel’s report as necessary.
Ethiopia’s position is very clear. It has the report and it accepts all the recommendations made by the Panel in good faith. It hopes Egypt will now come and discuss the next stage with Ethiopia and Sudan, to implement the recommendations made by the Panel for the three governments. In the meantime, the construction of the project within the required international standards as the Panel has confirmed, will continue.