Zerihun Abebe Yigzaw
Since 2010 the Nile is a front page of weekly or daily newspapers and online news sources. This is due to the developments that the Nile Basin has been experiencing following the signing of the Cooperative Framework of the Nile (CFA) in Entebbe-Uganda on 14 May 2010 which declares the principle of equitable and reasonable utilization of the Nile waters for all riparian states as the corner stone of the New Nile Basin. This was welcomed by upstream states yet objected by Egypt followed by Sudan despite these states were part of the ten years plus negotiation (1997-2010). A year after such development though a new departure in the history of the Nile Basin happened following the commencement of the construction of a mega hydraulic infrastructure called the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD). Once again the Nile becomes a day to day story of both the print and the broadcast media. The main reasons for such developments are the following. Firstly, Ethiopia is building this huge infrastructure by its own finance despite the scale of the dam needs external finance which would be unthinkable for a poor country like Ethiopia. Secondly, the dam is under construction in a transboundary watercourse where there has never been a multilateral treaty or customary law that governs the utilization and the management of the water shared but showed a one state show which is reversed by the signing of the above mentioned treaty-CFA. Thirdly, it is due to the acute opposition from the most downstream state in the Nile-Egypt claiming that the dam will affect water flow downstream and many other constructed and reconstructed reasons. On the other side also, the joy and the hope regarding the dam from the Ethiopian and also from the Sudanese side is another important factor. Nonetheless, all the news, all the articles, all the pieces are not as balanced as they have to be. An assessment of the articles from downstream signals that there are gaps to fill, confusions to clear and it necessitates to clean the misunderstandings and misperceptions about Ethiopia`s claim of the Nile waters and its intension of constructing the GERD. This author has tried to answer to some of the news and opinion articles from Egypt regarding the GERD and the CFA in previous times. Recently a new confused and confusing personal opinion by Nader Noureddine on the Al Ahram Weekly of Egypt entitled “Tough Talk: Ethiopia fails to see reason over the River Nile-” is published with a destructive impact on the truth about the Nile issue in general and the GERD in particular.
Nader and His Piece: What He really misses?
The writer tried to portray that Ethiopia has no any reason for its claims on the Nile and in its construction of the GERD. Despite the writer is a professor of water resources and soil from Cairo University his piece lacks intellectual test and just focused on politicization of the science as what the self-claimed Group of the Nile did a few months ago. In fact, he is one of the members of the group and one can guess where the politicization of the issue comes from. Despite the fact that Egypt should ask Ethiopia an apology for a number of reasons Nader reversed the request to come from Ethiopia-which is nonsensical and unscrupulous. Be that as it may, Nader as a professional could work towards bringing the riparian states together to build confidence and enhance trust despite he goes against it. As member of the epistemic community using science to create epistemic consensus-which indeed has tremendous effect on decision making and influence public opinion, should be the objective so as to enhance peace and achieve sustainable development and prosperity among peoples in the Nile Basin-whose bone and flesh is made of the Nile. Now is time for Nader and people with the same stance with him to reexamine their position as to what they hold is nothing other than vicious and unconstructive. In this article I show how and why the writer-Nader Noureddine fails to see reason over Ethiopia`s claim on the Nile in general and the GERD in particular. As a response this piece is also an attempt to clear the confusion, blurredly perceived and misunderstood Nile claim of Ethiopia and the GERD by the Egyptian elite and their victim-the misinformed general public of Egypt.
Nader cited the fact that Ethiopia`s surface water is estimated to be 122 billion cubic meters. No wrong is said here. Despite such a fact, it is only one river-Awash which remains in the country. Almost all except Awash are transboundary watercourses. Numbers tell us that it is only 3 percent of the mentioned 122 billion cubic meters (only 3.67 billion cubic meters) which remains in the country. The rest flows to neighboring countries to Somalia, Kenya, Sudan, South Sudan and Egypt through Genale-Dawa-Wabishebele, Gibe-Omo and the Blue Nile (including Abbay, Baro-Akobo and Tekeze rivers) respectively. The Nile Basin alone covers more than 70 percent of Ethiopia`s surface water resource which is not yet touched. I hope Dr. Nader now get the real information regarding the 14 rivers he wrote about. Dr. Nader and others most of the time run to talk about the erratic rainfall in Ethiopia which is neither sustainable nor sufficient to meet the demand of the fast growing population unless dammed or harvested through the rivers which would otherwise left the country during the short lived rainy season as flood. Global warming and related climatic problems are adding problems to this. But let me ask Dr. Nader and his likes that why are Egyptian scholars afraid to talk about ground water which makes Egypt the most watery country on earth with countries such as Libya and Sudan? For readers information Egypt`s untouched ground water is estimated to be 150, 000 billion cubic meters with a maximum groundwater table up to maximum 1500 meters which in the contemporary technological advancement is easy to utilize in a huge amount.
Dr. Nader wrote about a very interesting issue regarding the Sinai and the Toshka projects which are costly, environmentally unfriendly and legally unacceptable projects from the international law perspective. No state can take a transboundary watercourse outside its natural course for any purpose. But Egypt did that to Sinai through the Al Salam Canal and to Toshka through the huge water pump from Lake Nasser named after ousted president Mubarak which feeds a spillway to the western desert of Egypt. Dr. Nader tried to deceive readers claiming that Sinai was part of the Nile centuries back. Let me ask Dr. Nader how many centuries before was Sinai part of the Nile? The silt deposit he talked about is a fabricated data to deceive the whole world and is a jam-packed politicization of science. Historically at least in the Holly Bible we had no such evidence which we would have if Sinai was part of the Nile at least before 4000 years during the Exodus of the Israelites that they would not be thirsty and God through St. Michael would not rock the rock to quench their thirst. Alas, the Dr. tried to add Toshka as if it was also part of the Nile-another white lie. The two projects-Sinai and Toshka were aimed at controlling every drop of the Nile and to impede upstream states from utilizing the Nile waters by creating facts on the ground and are criticized as the ‘Pharaohnic Monuments of Mubarak’ by both logical Egyptians and non-Egyptian professionals. The truth in general is that there is no any historical as well as scientific evidence to justify that both Sinai and Toshka were part of the Nile Basin system.
Nader also asked about the necessity of increasing the size of the dam and its capacity of storing 74 billion m3 of water in the reservoir that will be created by the GERD. This question was asked by the Group of the Nile of Cairo University where he is a member and answers were given by then. I need to say two things, though. First the 14 billion m3 what Nader talked about is what people like Nader in Cairo needed it to be not Ethiopia needs it. Secondly, the construction of this mega hydraulic infrastructure is also to increase its capacity of generating huge amount of hydroelectricity which would be limited to not more than 2400MW of electricity which is not enough taking Ethiopia`s development objectives and growing demand for energy. For readers` information Ethiopia`s demand for energy is increasing by 32% each year which is difficult to meet unless the country embarks on huge hydraulic infrastructures such as the GERD, Omo III, and the foreseen Omo IV and V, Mabil, Kara Dobi, Beko Abo and Mendaia projects.
Another concern of Dr. Nader seems the problem of siltation that the GERD would face. Is Dr. Nader showing his circumspection for Ethiopia that it would lose the dam because of huge sedimentation and siltation? Building such expensive mega structure needs care and it must indeed be sustainable and durable. In order to maintain its health environmental conservation must be undertaken by all concerned stakeholders at all levels especially in the upper stream. Thit is one most important reason that the other four (Mabil, Kara Dobi, Beko Abo and Mendaia) dams on the Blue Nile are on the pipeline as they also precipitate the need for environmental conservation and taking serious measures of watershed management which will enhance the health of the environment, avoid erosion and sedimentation and increasing the quality and quantity of water not only for Ethiopia but also for Sudan and Egypt.
Nader seems to blame Ethiopia regarding studying the environmental impact of the dam on downstream countries. It should be clear for readers that Egypt had denied some information that would be added as an input during the study process that Ethiopia conducted. But what is denied did not preclude Ethiopia from going ahead in the process. Besides it is clear that the International Panel of Experts (IPoE) that comprises two experts each from Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia and one each from UK, France, Germany and Republic South Africa was established due to Ethiopia`s request and Ethiopia has accepted what the Panel of Experts said and has been working for its implementation. Ethiopia was confident enough about the outcome of the report of the IPoE and that is what indeed come about. Is not it Egypt which tried to undermine the report of the Panel of Experts by trying to bring a new unnecessary proposal in Khartoum on November? For Egypt it would be nice if lessons learned from Sudan and its position regarding the GERD.
Another concern of Dr. Nader Noureddine is what he and the group that he belongs to from Cairo University repeatedly asked: “What if the dam collapsed?” Let me ask: Why is the dam would collapse? For a huge dam like GERD to be collapsed there should be some fundamental problems and reasons both either manmade or natural. Let us consider the natural problems that would led for a dam to collapse. Endogenic forces such as earthquake and volcanic movements would be reasons. Nonetheless, when we look at Guba-where the dam is under construction in Benshangul Gumuz near Sudanese border, such forces are not threats as scientifically collected and analyzed data proves. Let us also consider manmade factors if any. For a dam to collapse due to manmade problems is when either there is a problem in the design and construction or due to other problems such as deliberate destruction. Let us consider the first and we can find that the International Panel of Experts has unambiguously declared that the dam is based on international standards. Secondly the deliberate destruction could be any kind of bombardment or sabotage from enemies which is unthinkable taking the consequences and as each and every Ethiopian are the watchdogs of this mega national pride. And do not forget the made in Ethiopia drones, and the flag carrier armed forces which are always on alert watching who is flying and moving over the skies of Guba.
Nader tried to defend that Egypt had never been a security threat to Ethiopia. Ethiopia has well registered the scars of the Nile politics which have been manifested in civil wars, inter-states wars in the Horn of Africa as proxy wars sponsored by Egypt and the bloodless wars being fought in the international financial institutions and donor agencies which have been denying loans to Ethiopia due to objections from the watchdogs of Egypt. There are four reasons why Egypt should apologize Ethiopia regarding the Nile. Firstly, for the unnecessary and destructive interventions in civil wars and proxy wars that it betrothed against Ethiopia; secondly for its relentless efforts of objecting Ethiopia`s access to finance from international financial institutions; thirdly for using the Nile lavishly and its construction of the unnecessary Aswan High Dam in an open dessert from where more than 10 billion cubic meters of the Nile waters evaporates; and fourthly for the infamous drama at the presidential palace in Cairo where the ousted president Morsi and opposition leaders ridiculed in a live televised discussion which exposes what the elite in Egypt thinks.
A Message to the People of Egypt
As reasoned out above Ethiopia`s water resource is more or less confined on the Ethiopian part of the Nile Basin which accounts more than 70 percent of its total surface water. At the same time it is this area which have been plagued by drought and famine and made headlines of portraying Ethiopia as a land of the ‘green famine.’ Hence utilizing the waters of the Nile to meet development needs in accordance with internationally accepted principles in a way that also protects the needs of its neighbors is its only solution. Ethiopia and Ethiopians believe that as a people of the Nile the bones and flesh of all peoples in the Nile Basin is made up of the mighty Nile. This shows us that we are one. That is why Ethiopia sings the song of peace and development which is based on mutual benefit. That is why Ethiopia has been singing the song of ‘One River, One Nile, One People’ (Nehar wahid, Al nil wahid, sheab wahid). Hence what is important is to develop trust and confidence which will enhance peace, togetherness, and brotherhood which is the only way out of any problem. In this regard, the role of the epistemic community as professionals in providing researched inputs to the general public and governments has effects. It is only when professionals engage honestly and being loyal to the truth that peace can be achieved. The Nile was there and will always be as a belt that binds all the riparian states and its people, what is important is cherishing its fruits mutually and for a common peace and development agenda for a brighter future.