The massive hydroelectric dam Ethiopia is building on the Nile River which meant to turn Addis Ababa into Africa’s biggest power exporter, has been the centre of dispute for almost a decade. Egypt fears that the mega Nile dam, which is located near Ethiopia’s border with Sudan, would significantly diminish its water flow from the Nile, the main source of freshwater in the country. After almost 10 years of unsuccessful talks between Egypt, Ethiopia, and Sudan, over the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD), no agreement has been reached yet.
On the course of GERD negotiations saga, unreliable information has been circulating on the media. Daily News Egypt debunks some myths and lists facts about the Ethiopian dam.
Myth: Egypt has abundant water resources
According to the United Nations World Water Development Report 2018, Egypt is facing an annual water deficit of around 7bn cubic metres (cbm) and dramatically heading towards absolute water scarcity (500 cbm per capita).
The current per capita share of water in Egypt is around 570 cbm annually, way below the threshold of water poverty (1,000 cbm/year per capita), according to the World Bank.
Unilateral operation of GERD threatens Egypt’s water resources by increasing the possibility of food and water shortage, as well as public health risks.
On the other hand, according to FAO, Ethiopia has been endowed by divine providence with plentiful water resources, which include an average annual rainfall of almost 936bn cbm of water, of which a mere 5% flow into the Blue Nile, in addition to 11 other river basins, some of which are shared with neighbouring states.
Myth: GERD will end Ethiopia’s electricity deficit
Although the mega Nile dam is designed to produce 6 GW of electricity, this capacity is questionable. According to Asfaw Beyene, Professor of Mechanical Engineering and Director of the Center for Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency at San Diego State University, the peak flow rate of the Blue Nile is 5,663 metre cubed per second (mcs). He cited data from Bashar et al., Water Balance Assessment of the Roseires Reservoir that gives a flow rate of the same range: 6,944 mcs in 1985; 5,208 mcs in 1995; and 5,787 mcs in 2005.
Accordingly, Beyene believes that this average would provide about 3 GW of electricity. He questions why the dam is sized for about 3 GW more. There’s even worse news for downstream countries.
Myth: GERD has no negative impacts
Mega dams, in general, tend to put the environment at risk of great degradation. Zhang Boting, professor of aquatic ecology and microbiology at the University of Massachusetts, says that dams contribute to changes in regional hydrological cycles. That, combined with the more extreme patterns of weather associated with climate change, would result in irregular episodes of flooding, drought, and mudslides. The government of Ethiopia denies any harm will be caused by the Nile dam, but to date, the government has not made public any Environmental and Social Assessment study.
A study in 2011, said that the Nile basin is also going to be severely affected by the impacts of climate change (Swain, 2011). The study indicated that flooding 168,000 hectares will result in decomposition of vegetation, leading to emissions of carbon dioxide and methane gases. These greenhouse gases contribute to climate change.
Myth: GERD carries no harm to Egypt and Sudan
The Ethiopian government keeps saying that the dam will not affect the Nile downstream countries. However, downstream Sudan may experience reduced soil fertility as the dam holds back sediments, affecting the agricultural potential of this Nile-dependent country. Water flows to Egypt, while Ethiopia fills GERD’s reservoir, projected to take 5-7 years, may be affected as well. Other upstream developments may lead to increasing salinisation of farmland around Egypt’s Nile Delta region due to reduced freshwater flows.
The GERD has a clear effect on downstream countries, especially at the end of the irrigation network in the Egyptian Delta, where our case study is located. The GERD affects groundwater levels by reducing surface water levels and changing the crop patterns through cultivating non-voracious crops. Not only the quantities of surface water and groundwater will be affected, but also the soil quality will be damaged over time as a result of salt accumulation. On a large scale, these effects are classified as near economic crises in Egypt.
Myth: Blue Nile (Black Abay) is Ethiopian river
Nile River is not owned by anyone, but rather a joint ownership of several countries. They all are entitled to agree on the construction of the GERD. The Blue Nile basin is a transboundary river.
Myth: Egypt is wasting Nile water
In Egypt, 10% of water used for agricultural purposes comes from recycled drainage water, and that success could be matched in other countries where there is large-scale surface irrigation, a joint report of the WB and the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) in 2019.
According to the report, Egypt set a good example for reusing drainage water. It’s an unusual source of water that could be effective and cheap.
In fact, Egypt’s water resources stand at 60bn cbm, while the country consumes 80bn cbm annually, the 20bn cbm difference comes from reclaimed water.