Binding deal on GERD crucial even if filling process completed: Expert

Ahram Online , Monday 11 Sep 2023

Abass Sharaky, professor of geology and water resources at Cairo University, reiterated the importance of reaching an agreement on the disputed Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) even if the filling process is completed.

File Photo: This satellite image shows the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) on the Blue Nile river in the Benishangul-Gumuz region of Ethiopia. AP


On Sunday, Ethiopia officially announced that it had completed the fourth and final filling of the GERD reservoir, which Addis Ababa carried out unilaterally in the absence of an agreement with downstream countries Egypt and Sudan.

Sharaky is not sure whether this filling would be the last. He offered two possibilities; the first of which is that Ethiopia “would satisfy itself” with the 41 billion cubic metres that have been stored so far.

The other possibility, Sharaky added, is that the word "final" in Ethiopia's announcement might be incorrectly translated and Addis Ababa would proceed with filling the dam to reach the previously announced 74-billion-cubic-metre goal.

In support of the latter possibility, he pointed to Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s comment following the filling announcement urging Ethiopians to stand together to continue building the dam.

Even if the filling process is completed, the dam will have to be refilled again each year after water is discharged to generate power, according to Sharaky.

Egypt and Sudan would likely be aware of such a step, he added.

Both Arab countries have been seeking a binding deal on the filling and operation of the megaproject but to no avail.

Egypt, which relies mainly on the Nile for its water needs, fears that the dam will harm the country’s already scarce water supply.

Sharaky emphasized that reaching a deal is "crucial" as it will set a precedent for any future dam built by Addis Ababa or any other upstream nation.

In the latest round in the African Union mediated negotiations to end the decade-old dispute, Egypt and Sudan failed to move Ethiopia toward signing a legally binding agreement in August.

The last round of talks in Cairo was the first since talks sponsored by the African Union collapsed in April 2021. It was held after El-Sisi and Ahmed agreed in a meeting in Egypt in mid-July to resolve the GERD dispute within four months.

However, Egypt said at the time they did not witness any tangible change in the Ethiopian position.

The three countries are scheduled to meet for another round of talks in Addis Ababa in late September.

Sharaky spotlighted the need to include international parties in the negotiations, not merely as observers with no rights to mediate as had been the case in previous rounds, but as active participants with the right to express their opinions and assist in resolving disputes among the three countries.

The Egyptian expert believes that the involvement of international parties in the negotiations is crucial to ensure a minimum level of success and without their presence, the negotiations would likely repeat the same pattern of the past 12 years.

Ethiopia, in its announcement, did not say how much water it retained in this year's filing.

However, Sharaky estimates the figure at 24 billion cubic metres --  nearly half of the amount that reaches Egypt each year.

If Ethiopia turns on the dam's turbines to generate electricity, about half of this amount would be discharged. This would mean that Egypt would lose around 12 billion cubic metres, or a quarter, of its annual share.

However, this will not be confirmed before the end of the year, he explained.

Sharaky pointed to Egypt’s investment in expensive alternatives to the Nile like water recycling and desalination projects as evidence of potential harm that could be caused by the dam.

Egypt’s annual share of water is 560 cubic metres per person, cabinet figures show, placing the country well below the international threshold for water scarcity.

According to the UN, the population faces water scarcity when annual water supplies drop below 1,000 cubic metres per person.

Egypt needs up to 114 billion cubic metres while it receives 60 bcm, on average, coming mostly from the Nile and underground water.


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