Egyptian “Experts”: unjustified statement on GERD.

Recently, the Group of Nile Basin (GNB) of Cairo University, composed of professors who include members of a committee established to assess the impact of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) to the downstream riparian states, have issued statements about the GERD. These try to claim there are problems over the sufficiency of structural studies for the Dam and a lack of hydrological investigations. They also complain of the absence of an environmental impact assessment for Sudan and Egypt, and allege that the Ethiopian government was not willing to show details of studies pertaining to the reliability of the Dam, claiming it wasn’t clear whether the Dam met the minimum requirements of international standards for its size.

The ongoing construction of the GERD across the Blue Nile in Ethiopia seems to have provided a field day for those “experts” bent on harming the historically friendly relationship between our two countries, forever tied together not only through the Nile but also through history and culture. The “experts”, instead of being faithful to their calling and informing the discussion over the GERD with truth and science, have joined the bandwagon of those who have politicized the issue out of all proportion for short-term expediency. We believe that is not the right way for scientists to show their patriotism. The sincere patriotism expected from solid scientists would have brought out the truth and the facts into the open, to prevent if not to moderate this manipulated hysteria and the frenzy of misinformation and disinformation activity.

Of late, there has been outspoken rhetoric from some senior Egyptian politicians, crossing the boundaries of minimal diplomatic civility and instigating direct attack on the people and government of Ethiopia, on the very people who in an unprecedented gesture of goodwill and in good faith had called upon their Egyptian and Sudanese brothers to jointly study the potential impact of the dam. We don’t know of any single country in the Nile basin that has ever previously invited other riparian countries to study the impact of a dam on riparian countries. Definitely this has never been the experience of Egypt, at least in regards to Ethiopia.! If Ethiopia had chosen to follow historical precedent and indeed the example set by Egypt, there would never have been any consultations on GERD in the first place.

We have had the opportunity to read the recent statements from a group of people from Cairo University who call themselves the GNB (Group of Nile Basin). The statements they offer the Egyptian public at large and the politicians in particular are ill-motivated. It is a fact that over the last 10 years many scientists and consultants knowledgeable about the Nile basin have reiterated that a series of dams on the Blue Nile in Ethiopia would be attractive for the production of cheap, clean hydropower energy of a scale sufficient enough to meet all Ethiopia’s needs and even provide for the export of a sizable proportion to Egypt and Sudan. These experts also confirmed that this was doable in a win-win scenario without significantly affecting the socio-economic interests of the two downstream countries, and, indeed, even generating substantial benefits to them. These include enhanced capacity to buffer the adverse impacts of Climate Change, induced by extreme events such as prolonged droughts or floods, sediment load reduction which would reduce costs incurred for dredging silted channels, and hydropower production which had been curtailed because of siltation as well as water saving and other benefits.

We believe that the peoples of Egypt and Ethiopia are connected by the Nile blood line. We also believe they deserve to know the objective facts about GERD, unobscured by fancy wishes to sustain hydro-hegemony in perpetuity.

Thanks to its ideal geographical location, the US$4.7 billion self-financed Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD), will generate 6,000MW hydropower or 15,860 GWh a year – that is twice the energy generated from the High Aswan Dam (HAD). It is a fact that for Ethiopia to sustain its growth it needs to meet an annual 32% growth in energy demand. It is also a fact that Ethiopia does not have other economically and technically feasible sources of energy such as gas or oil to meet this demand. Hydropower is the most cost-effective and accessible source Ethiopia has at its disposal. It is also glaringly obvious even to the ordinary layperson, let alone to “engineering professors and scientists”, that hydropower generation does not result in water abstraction. Hydropower dams only redistribute what otherwise would be the variable flow of the river so that multiple beneficial uses of the water can be maximized. Given this, avocation of any sort of intervention striving to try to stop Ethiopia from tapping its hydropower potential is the highest form of ill-will toward our long suffering people. It can rightfully be considered as a desire to keep Ethiopians in abject poverty.

Hydropower, of course, does not consume water and in no way causes significant harm for the downstream countries. It is mind-boggling how much energy the media and individuals recently wasted discussing the issue of the river “diversion” during construction of the GERD. The 18 member scientific committee of the Group of Nile basin (GNB) at Cairo University know well that this was in essence a non-event. They know very clearly that it was a basic engineering procedure to enable access to the future dam foundations for investigation and construction. The water follows its natural course only after a few meters. All this must be obvious to the esteemed scientists. Yet, none, not even one, had the moral and scientific courage to come out in the open and challenge the hype of the politicians. Instead they chose to join the chorus!

Given the reality of deliberate misinformation, we believe it is necessary to bypass the scientists of the GNB at Cairo University, and inform the Egyptian public and the world directly with the attached statement which restates obvious truths and relevant facts:

· The GERD neither consumes nor diverts water to another basin: The water is stored behind the dam and passes through the turbines more or less uniformly throughout the year and generates energy. What makes it different from dams in Egypt is that it is dam is not planned for irrigation and will not be used to divert water out of the Nile Basin, as has happened at the lower riaparian dams at Toshka and Sinai.

· The evaporation loss that GERD will incur is significantly lower than the amount of water that the GERD will save from evaporation loss. The difference is positive. The saving will come from preventing flooding during high flood seasons and limiting the seepage or dumping of water into the desert through spillways. The storage will brings over 5 to 10% savings to the system. The then European colonialists well understood this fact and were indeed planning to build dams in the Blue Nile Gorge of the Ethiopian highlands precisely because these highland areas provide ideal storage sites. Their wishes did not materialize because Ethiopia succeeded in keeping its independence. It is worth reminding readers that in the mid 1940s Egypt also came out with its “century storage” plan aiming at building water storage dams in the lakes of the equatorial regions and the Ethiopian highlands.

· The regulated flow produced by the GERD will give multiple benefits to Egypt and Sudan. These include flood protection, irrigation expansion, water use efficiency, sediment load reduction, affordable clean power, energy uplift, improved navigation, and other gains. In a more enlightened neighborhood, where hydro-solidarity instead of hydro-hegemony was the norm, Egypt would have taken initiatives to contribute to the financing of GERD.

· Dam Safety: The dam design, construction and management follows international standards, drawing expertise from many parts of the world. One major point is that the Dam is not being built in an earthquake prone area and it poses no such hazard as some uninformed individuals have claimed. Notwithstanding this, the GERD is designed to meet all possible seismic conditions and any reservoir-induced seismicity due to stored water. Ethiopia should worry more than anybody else about the safety of the Dam as the country and its people are investing billions of hard earned money and as a responsible member of the international community is entirely unwilling to risk the safety of its neighbors. The GERD is being constructed under an Engineering, Procurement and Construction (EPC) contract arrangement following the highest known standards and technology with great professional care, responsibility and detail, as the International Panel of Experts observed during their four visits to the GERD during their one-year investigation.

· Hydrology: the Abay/Blue Nile flow at the border with Sudan has been consistently recorded for more than 93 years. It is also measured again at Eldiem in Sudan. The hydrologic data over the period 1911-2003 includes the wettest years of 1916, 1917, 1929 and 1988 and the driest years of 1913 and 1984. Having such consistent reliable hydrologic data at a dam site is rare. Other key inflow data, provided by the White Nile at Morgen and Atbara at Nile Junction, have been also used to simulate GERD’s impact on the HAD. The evaporation and rainfall estimates over the GERD reservoir have also been fully considered. The spillway design flood, the Probable Maximum Flood and diversion flood estimates fulfil the highest safety requirements that International Commission on Large Dams recommends.

. Flow during the filling stage: The GERD will have 74 billion cubic meter (BCM) storage capacity and about 60 BCM live storage. 14 BCM is reserved to be filled by sediment. The 60 BCM is mostly made up of renewable water sources that will be released every year. If the GERD filling coincides with wet years in sequence there can be no concern for anybody. If, on the other hand, the GERD filling coincides with a dry year sequence (as during the drought of 1984), then the filling strategy will be revised to minimize downstream impact. In any case, there is no reason to worry that farmers in Egypt will be adversely impacted, even in the case of dry years. In the event that the High Aswan Dam (HAD) water level reached an historic minimum, a negative effect could occur during consecutive drought year filling conditions. However, the giant HAD, with over 130 BCM live storage, is designed to sustain two years water needs in Egypt without having any inflow. An evaluation of the risks needs to factor in the HAD’s ameliorating potential. Those people, fear mongering with claims that so many hectares will be affected, that so many farmers will be out of work, are only doing a great disservice to their own people.

The facts are otherwise as detailed above. Ethiopia is a responsible nation, the design of the GERD is adequate and the planned robust filling strategy will not lead to any appreciable harm during the filling period even under a worst case combination of the HAD reaching minimum level and dry year occurrence during filling. The existing storage volume of HAD (twice the annual volume of Nile flow) has the capacity to absorb any potential multi-year shocks caused during the infilling phase of the GERD.

The benefits Ethiopia expects from GERD are self evident and there is no need to reiterate them here. However, we would also like to highlight benefits accruing from GERD to individual downstream countries along with broader regional and global benefits. Benefits to the Sudan:

Flood Risk Avoidance: the GERD will reduce the negative impact of recurrent floods to population and infrastructure in Sudan. In addition to saving the lives of communities, the risk of flood damage running into millions of dollars will be avoided annually all along more than 1,000 km stretch from the Ethiopia-Sudan border to Khartoum and beyond. Sudan was affected by severe floods in 2007 which caused major damage to over 30,000 houses and directly affected more than 365,000 people, with 64 people killed and 335 injured. GERD will even out the maximum monthly Blue Nile flow at the Sudan border by approximately 35 %, and the maximum monthly Nile flow at Khartoum by approximately 25 %.
Controlled and uniform flow: the GERD will offer a regulated flow of water allowing Sudanese irrigation to be expanded with no additional investment in water storage. Existing schemes and all the other potential irrigable land along the Nile’s alluvial strip can be sustainably irrigated with GERD creating a more regulated and therefore reliable flow. Moreover, the downstream dams and spillway structures will be relieved from major flood spilling events. The safety of the dams (Rosieres, Sennar, Merowi, and the High Aswan Dam (HAD)) will be assured.  It might be remembered that the Toshka spillway was designed to save the HAD from overtopping as happened in 1998-2002.
Drought mitigation: the GERD will store 74 billion cubic meters (BCM), with a live storage of about 60BCM. This stored water will be a resource that will benefit Egypt and Sudan during drought periods. A number of recent studies at Addis Ababa University and by ENTRO have shown that during drought years, such as during 1983-1985, irrigation failure in Egypt would significantly decrease due to the additional system storage created by GERD. This indeed will be the most critical advantage of GERD to Egypt.
Water Saving and reduced transmission losses: more constant flows throughout the year will reduce losses from infiltration and evaporation all along the river. This in turns saves water. The GERD will also provide opportunities for saving water through controlled water management.
Sediment control: the GERD will capture sediment, protecting irrigation canals and equipment from damage caused by sedimentation. Roseires, Sennar and Merowe dams’  live storage will extend for at least a century beyond the original design life, as more than 90% of the Abbay/Blue Nile river sediments will be trapped in the GERD reservoir. The costs of reservoir and canal dredging will drop by more than 60% of the irrigation system operation and maintenance costs. Reduction of costs for dredging of canals could save about US$33 million a year for Sudan along, not to speak of the savings in turbine maintenance and replacement costs, ease of gate operation and similar operations.
Energy lifting: overall, the GERD will improve Sudan's dams’ efficiency and optimize water use. In conjunction with the regulated flows, the energy generation of Sudan’s hydropower dams, Roseires, Sennar and Merowe , will be increased by more than 2,657 GWh ayear.
New energy opportunities: the GERD will also provide for new energy potential in the Sudan as a number of run-off river plants could be developed and harnessed. Moreover GERD’s hydropower system will also allow Sudan to put into the grid variable renewable wind and solar energy sources.

Beneficial impacts for Egypt: in complete contrast to the assertion that Egypt will be badly affected by the GERD, there are also numerous benefits for Egypt from the construction of GERD:

Water saving and enhanced water management: the GERD will increase the total storage capacity along the Nile River, all of which is ultimately available to Egypt. This will reduce hydrological variability with sequences of drought and flood years. In the past, Egypt has been compelled to spill excess flood water through spillways to the desert of Toshka valley in order to avoid the overtopping of HAD and the threat of potential disaster for major cities like Cairo. It has been calculated that spillage through the spillways reached 41 BCM during 1998-2002. Overall system storage increases due to GERD will provide storage buffers and new additional source of water above the HAD capacity.
Flood control: with the GERD there will be increased flood control from the upstream Blue Nile catchment areas. The routing capacity (flood storage capacity) of the Nile Basin will also be increased with the implementation of GERD. The increased routing capacity will improve the flood control downstream. The risk of HAD overtopping or spillage will be eliminated.
 Controlled and uniform flow: the GERD will regulate the flow of the Blue Nile and this will support the regularity of the flow arriving at the HAD. HAD inflows will increase from November to June, and decrease from July to October, and will in fact become  more regular. Indeed, flows arriving at HAD will become more constant throughout the year. This will  modify the hydrological regime of the HAD inflows and offer possibilities to optimize water resource management. With a regulated and consistent flow, irrigation schedules can be modified to optimize and improve agricultural productivity. In the event of severe drought, better satisfaction of the irrigation water demand can be achieved with a 0% deficit against a deficit of 0.8% in the case of HAD alone.
Reduced evaporation loss: with GERD operating upstream, average annual HAD evaporation losses will be reduced to 9.5 BCMs a year from about 10.8 BCMs a year.
Sediment control: HAD design life will be extended by more than a century when GERD is operating as more than 50% of the sediment reaching Aswan is estimated to originate from  the Abay/Blue Nile.
Enhanced navigation: with GERD-regulated and increased flows a longer period of navigation on the Nile downstream from the HAD will be possible. This will have important benefits for tourism, extending the present tourist period. It is ironic that currently Egypt is encouraging a new initiative for navigation between Alexandria and Lake Victoria!!
New energy mix will become possible: with the power interconnection linked up, the GERD hydropower system will allow Egypt to put into the grid additional variable energy sources such as wind and solar generated energy.

There are also a number of other benefits that GERD offers for the regional and global perspectives including:

Emission reduction and clean energy production: the annual average energy generated by the GERD project will amount to 15,860 GWh a year. If the same quantity of energy was generated by a thermal mix consisting of 50% coal-fired and 50 % gas-fired combined cycle power plants, some 10.6 M tons of GHG CO2 would be discharged into the atmosphere annually.
Capturing Climate Change-related Opportunities: a number of Global Circulation Models estimate that climate change will increase rainfall in the Ethiopian highlands, in which case the GERD will help to manage the excess water that might result.
Regional economic integration: the energy generated from the GERD will enhance regional and economic integration  through power trading and interconnections and eventually, as trust and confidence is built, encourage full-fledged regional integration.
Power pool and flexibility: GERD will provide significant energy contributions for  the regional East and Northern Africa power pool, part of a continental plan to integrate African energy sources and distribution as an interconnected system. GERD generated hydropower will contribute to the stability of the electrical system by providing flexibility and grid services as spinning turbines can be ramped up more rapidly than any other generation source. GERD can store energy over weeks, months and seasons. It can therefore provide the full range of ancillary services required for the high penetration of variable renewable energy sources, such as wind and solar in the three countries and beyond.
Intangible benefits: overall, GERD is a practical win-win development undertaking contributing to overcoming centuries of mistrust among the Nile Basin countries. It will pioneer a new era of cooperative regional development and improved water management. It will significantly increase the collective resiliency of the Nile Basin nations to the anticipated Climate Change impacts to threaten the Nile Basin. 

In conclusion, contrary to the hysteria generated by some politicians and the GNB, the GERD, as shown above, is a win-win undertaking on which Ethiopia has embarked upon in earnest and for the best of reasons. In a nutshell, Egypt will benefit from this Ethiopian project in multiple ways. We know for certain that the more sane and sensible heads among Egyptian politicians, academicians and the population in general see no harm in Ethiopia’s development of its hydropower potential. They do not wish Ethiopia to be known as a country of famine and starvation, in the midst of plenty of water. They see no harm in Ethiopia generating hydropower to transform its economy, create wealth and improve the livelihood of its population and of the region. We urge the Group of Nile Basin members to develop similar perspectives: the facts really do speak for themselves!

Unless specifically stated, these articles do not necessarily reflect the views of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia

The following reply appeared in the Ethiopian Herald. It has been slightly edited


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