GERD: Fifth filling soon

Doaa El-Bey , Friday 28 Jun 2024

Ethiopia is going ahead with the fifth filling of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam without reaching agreement on its operation with downstream countries, reports Doaa El-Bey

GERD: Fifth filling soon
photo: AFP


The fifth filling of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam’s (GERD) reservoir will start next month.

GERD’s middle passage is expected to be raised from 625 metres to 640 metres, said Abbas Sharaki, professor of geology and water resources at Cairo University, and the quantity of water stored will be around 23 billion cubic metres (bcm), raising the total amount in the dam’s reservoir from 41 bcm to 64 bcm.

Since the first filling, when the height of the middle passage was 565 metres and the quantity of water stored around 5 bcm, work has continued to raise the height of the dam and, consequently, the capacity of the reservoir.

Egypt receives about 55 bcm of Nile water a year and every cubic metre of water retained behind the dam affects Egypt’s water inflows, Sharaki told Amr Adib, the host of Al-Hekaya talk show, ten days ago.

He added that Egypt would not be negatively affected were the reservoir to be filled over a longer period.

Egypt, which is already suffering from a severe water shortage, depends on the Nile for its water supply. Its per capita supply of water stands at 550 cubic metres annually, well below the internationally recognised threshold for water scarcity of 1,000 cubic metres per person.

That Egypt has been able to avoid the worst impacts of earlier filling of the dam, and can also stand the impact of the fifth filling thanks to Lake Nasser, should not prevent the coming government from working overtime to protect Egyptian water rights, said Sharaki.

The fifth, like all previous fillings, will coincide with the rainy season which lasts from July to mid-September.

Ethiopia is also expected to begin installing the dam’s two higher drainage gates. In the last four fillings, explained Sharaki, excess water was released through two lower drainage gates and the gates of the two turbines. This year excess water will be channelled to the two upper drainage gates (300 million cubic metres daily), two lower floodgates (150 million cubic metres daily), and the two turbines (50 million cubic metres daily).

It is useless, Sharaki continued, to fill the reservoir as long as the remaining 11 turbines are uninstalled. With just two turbines, the amount of stored water places a strain on the bodies of the main and saddle dams and water is released without generating electricity.

Addis Ababa’s initial plan was to install 16 turbines, though this was later reduced to 13. Ethiopia began partial operation of the two installed turbines in February 2022.

The Declaration of Principles signed in Khartoum by Egypt, Ethiopia, and Sudan in 2015, stipulated that the dam should not cause significant harm to any of the three countries and that they should reach agreement on GERD’s operation before any filling the dam’s reservoir.

Cairo and Khartoum have consistently opposed fillings in the absence of a binding agreement on GERD’s operation. Cairo fears the process will reduce the flow of Nile water on which Egypt depends while Sudan is worried Ethiopia’s unilateral actions will endanger its own dams.

Tripartite talks to reach an agreement came to an end in April 2021. They were revived last year following a meeting in July between President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi and Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed on the sidelines of Sudan’s Neighbouring Countries Summit in Cairo. The two leaders agreed to finalise an agreement on the filling and operation of GERD within four months.

In December, after four rounds of talks in Cairo and Addis Ababa, the talks ended once again without reaching a binding agreement.

Though Ethiopia insists it fully respects Egypt and Sudan’s water needs, Addis Ababa unilaterally stored 24 bcm of Nile water during the fourth filling of the dam.

* A version of this article appears in print in the 27 June, 2024 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly

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