Salman Salman, Brill
The Ethiopian Grand Renaissance Dam (GERD) that Ethiopia is currently constructing on the Blue Nile has been a major cause of tensions and disputes between Ethiopia on the one hand, and Egypt and Sudan on the other hand. The paper will discuss the history and current status of the GERD and the ensuing dispute, and the attempts to resolve the dispute. The paper will conclude with observations regarding the challenges posed by the GERD, as well as the opportunities it has generated for cooperation among the three states, and the entire group of the Nile basin countries.
The paper will be based on data available in the public domain, particularly official reports, joint statements by the three parties, and published materials by authoritative and credible sources, both in English and Arabic. Results and Discussion In March 2011, Ethiopia announced that it plans to build the GERD on the Blue Nile, 20 kilometers from the Sudanese borders, and actual work on the dam started in April 2011. The GERD will be about 180 meters high, and its reservoir will hold 74 Billion Cubic Meters (BCM) of water. It is intended to generate 6,000 megawatts of electricity upon completion in 2017, and will cost close to five billion dollars.
Ethiopia announced that it plans to finance the GERD from its own resources. When completed, it will be the largest dam in Africa, and the tenth largest in the world. Egypt and Sudan objected to the construction of the GERD vehemently, claiming that it will cause major harm to both of them by depriving them of their acquired rights of the Nile waters, and decreasing their irrigated areas, as well as the electricity generated by their dams. They demanded immediate halt of the construction and submission by Ethiopia of all the studies and impact assessments, including the environmental assessment. They also flagged the 1902 and 1959 Nile treaties which they claimed prevent Ethiopia from carrying any project that may harm Egypt and Sudan without their consent. Ethiopia rejected all these demands, but agreed later to the establishment of an international panel of experts, which included two experts from each of Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan, and four international experts.
The objective of the Panel was to study the effects of the GERD on Sudan and Egypt, and to make recommendations on how to address any negative effects. Ethiopia proceeded with construction of the GERD, and diverted the Blue Nile on May 28, 2013, a few days before the international Panel submitted its report on May 31, 2013. The report crticised the completed studies, and recommended carrying out further studies on the impact of the GERD on Sudan and Egypt. Egypt protested the diversion of the Blue Nile before issuance of the report, and threatened to attack the dam; and tensions escalated between the two nations. In October 2013, the three countries agreed to meet in Khartoum to discuss the situation, particularly the report of the International Panel.
The first tripartite meeting took place in November 2013. Egypt demanded an immediate halt to construction of the GERD, and the carrying out of the studies recommended by the international Panel by an international consulting firm. Ethiopia objected to both demands, contending that the Panel did not recommend halting construction of the GERD. Ethiopia indicated that it will carry out the studies through its own staff. The meeting broke down without an agreement on either issue. The second meeting took place in December 2013. By that time Sudan changed its position and announced its support of the GERD. This seemed to be prompted by the delivery by Ethiopia of one hundred megawatts of electricity that Sudan purchased from Ethiopia, and delivered through the newly completed transmission lines connecting the two countries. Ethiopia proposed at the beginning of the December meeting the carrying out of the proposed studies by an expert team from the three countries. Egypt turned down that suggestion and insisted on halting of construction, and the carrying out of the studies by an international firm. The meeting ended in disagreement. The third tripartite meeting took place in January 2014, but no agreement was reached, and the parties stopped meeting after that. However, the situation changed after election of President Sisi in Egypt. He met the Ethiopian Prime Minister during the 23rd African Union summit in Malabao, Equatorial Guinea, in June 2014. An agreement for cooperation on the Nile issues, including the GERD, as well as on trade and investments was reached. Consequently, the fourth tripartite meeting took place in Khartoum in August 2014. At that meeting, as a follow-up to the Malabo Agreement, Egypt dropped its demand for halt in construction of the GERD, and Ethiopia agreed to the carrying out of the two studies proposed by the international Panel by an international consulting firm, assisted by a team consisting of four experts from each of the three countries. A joint statement by the three parties reflecting this agreement was issued at the end of the fourth tripartite meeting on August 26, 2014. The two studies will be completed within six months.
The fourth tripartite meeting made a major breakthrough in the resolution of the dispute. Egypt finally accepted the GERD as a reality, and Ethiopia agreed to the involvement of an international firm in the impact studies. Although the details of the joint statement, particularly the exact role of the international consulting firm in the studies, is still to be agreed upon, the cooperative spirit that emerged can overcome any differences that may arise. Indeed, if this cooperative spirit prevails, it could open the door for some joint projects and programs between the three countries, and perhaps by the eleven Nile riparian countries. The GERD would turn from a real challenge to the three countries, to an opportunity for cooperative arrangements in all Nile states.