The last futile attempt of Egypt, Sudan to stop Ethiopia

Weekend reading – By Andualem Sisay Gessesse – On Thursday afternoon this week, the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) held a meeting about the Great Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD). The issue was brought to UNSC by the Egypt and Sudan, the downstream countries of the Nile basin. The two countries claimed that GERD has posed security threat to their people who rely on the water flowing from Ethiopia to the Blue Nile.

Ethiopia, which contributes about 85 percent of the water to the Blue Nile, on its part have been saying that it has the right to utilize its natural resources with out causing significant harm to the downstream countries. Ethiopia argued that as GERD is a hydro dam which allows the natural flow of the water to the downstream, the issue shouldn’t be over politicized and referred to UNSC by Egypt and Sudan.

On the contrary, Egypt and Sudan water Ministers who argued at the UNSC meeting claimed that Ethiopia shouldn’t allowed to continue the second-round water filling of its 74 billion cubic meters reservoir of GERD.

The water Minister of Ethiopia Sileshi Bekele on his part indicated that phase by phase filling water to GERD is part of the construction process. He noted that the leaders Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia have signed the agreement in Khartoum in 2015 that allows the construction of GERD to continue as the countries negotiate to reach a win- win mutually beneficiary binding agreement about the operation of GERD.

Supported by the United Sates, especially the former President Trump, Egypt has been warning Ethiopia to take a military measure against Ethiopia unless the country agrees to signed a binding agreement.

A few months before he lost his power President Trump said, “…I gave Ethiopia good deal and they refused to sign…Egypt will blow the dam”. His comment is considered by Ethiopians as a nasty attempt to put pressure on Ethiopia to accept a deal he and Egypt drafted to sustain the monopoly of Egypt and Sudan over the Nile water depriving Ethiopia’s future use of the water for its development.

In his address to the UNSC, Dr. Seleshi indicated that the reason Egypt and Sudan have decided to internationalize the issue is not related to GERD. “This is not about GERD,” he said stating that it is rather an attempt to sustain the colonial deal the two countries have signed in 1959 to split 100 percent of the Nile water between them ignoring Ethiopia, which contributes 86 percent of water to the Nile.

In their comments Egyptian politicians and elites have been claiming that they will not allow Ethiopia to reduce their water share from the Nile. It is reported that the annual average water flowing to the downstream countries of the Blue Nile is about 49 billion cubic meters.

Not to significantly harm the two downstream countries (Egypt and Sudan), Ethiopia has been consulting with the two countries officials sharing its phase-by-phase water filling plans. Based on the finally agreed plan among the three countries, the 74 billion cubic meters reservoir GERD will be filled in 7 years, and the duration may be extended for more years in case of droughts that reduce the amount of eater flowing into the Nile.

Based on that in July 2020 Ethiopia started the first-year filling of GERD’s reservoir securing 4.9 billion cubic meters of water. But there was a lot of noise and opposition by Egypt and Sudan to stop Ethiopia not to start the filling before the three countries ink a binding agreement.

Though the two countries took the issue to the UNSC, the Council referred it to continue the African Union led- negotiation and reach win-win agreement that benefits the people of the three countries.
Meanwhile amid the internationalization of the issue by Egypt and Sudan, Ethiopia proceeded with the plan and completed the first-round filling of the dam.

Repeating similar international campaign against the GERD, Egypt and Sudan have brought the issue to UNSC yesterday (Thursday July 8, 2021), which upset many Ethiopians in the diaspora who protest at the gate of UNSC in New York.

Egypt and Sudan have also managed to influence the Arab League to make a decision opposing Ethiopia’s plan to fill the dam for the second year and urged the UNSC to intervene.

The issue is tabled at the UNSC a few days after Ethiopia informed Sudan and Egypt that it has started the second-round filling of the dam and secure some 13 billion cubic meters of water during the current rainy season (in July and August 2021).

Like it did last year UNSC referred the issue back to the African Union to help the three countries reach mutually beneficial agreement in six months period as proposed by Tunisia, which is a member of the UNSC.

Likely consequences of internationalizing GERD

Addressing the members of parliament on Monday this week, Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed indicated that if his party won the lection, his administration’s priority among others include water conservation and water banking at small holder farmer’s household level in order to help the country feed itself ending food aid and import.

With the aim of putting international pressure on Ethiopia to accept a deal that will not benefit its people, by brining the issue to UNSC for the second year, Egypt and Sudan have upset their neighbor Ethiopia and its millions of people.

Internationalizing the issue instead of negotiating with Ethiopia for a mutually acceptable deal by giving and taking principle, Sudan and Egypt should have known that GERD is a development issue and not a security concern to be brought to UNSC for the second time as if Ethiopia is building a nuclear power.

By doing so, Egypt and Sudan have shown their disrespect for the African Union and relied on the global powers such as the United Sates, which are very far from African continent – where the three countries (Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia), and the Nile is found.

As indicated by Dr. Seleshi, Egypt and Sudan should negotiate with a good faith to reach an agreement that benefits all. They shouldn’t aim to impose a deal that indirectly assures continuation of their 100 percent control over the Blue Nile water. Continuing to force Ethiopia using international pressure to sign a deal that won’t benefit its people has a grave consequence on the future water flow from Ethiopia to both Sudan and Ethiopia.

Even if Ethiopia stops filling water the dam or completely abandons the project though international pressure, rest assure that Sudan and Egypt will not continue to receive the amount of water the two countries used to get from Ethiopia.

Egypt and Sudan should have known that the source of the water, which is the Ethiopian highlands and the rainfall in those areas, and make sure that their actions will not offend the millions of Ethiopians living in abduct poverty while witnessing the water flowing through their gates to feed people in the neighboring countries.

Before deciding to put international pressure on Ethiopia tabling the issue at UNSC, Egypt and Sudan officials should have asked themselves a simple question – what will happen to the two countries if the millions of Ethiopians living around the highlands of Ethiopia one day decided to bank the rain water and begin to use for irrigation in order to feed themselves and end receiving food aid from abroad? Will the UNSC or their powerful allies such as the United Sates come and stop them?

Before internationalizing the issue and trying to put pressure on Ethiopia, which is the source of the water, the politicians and elites of Egypt and Sudan should also have asked themselves about the consequences.

How come Egypt and Sudan officials and scholars didn’t thought about the danger their country may face if one day the angry thousands of Ethiopians in the diaspora and within Ethiopia start to buy and distribute water pumps to these millions of smallholder farmers living around the sources of the Blue Nile water – the Ethiopian highlands?

I think now is high time for the officials and scholars of Egypt and Sudan to seize internationalizing the issue of GERD and trying to put international pressure on Ethiopia. It is time for Egypt and Sudan to recognize with good faith equal rights of their neighbor – Ethiopians – to use the water for its development like the two countries have been for centuries. Afterall, the three countries are connected naturally by this longest river in the world.

Since you can’t select your neighbor, it is better to be wise and have a wisdom to cooperate and live with your neighbor. In my opinion, neither military action nor working to destabilize Ethiopia, will assure Egypt and Sudan the continuous flow of the water in to the Nile from Ethiopia for Egypt and Sudan.

Such miscalculations and ill-approach of officials of Egypt and Sudan against their neighbor Ethiopia is in fact uniting Ethiopians who were divided by ethnicity and politics for the past few decades as witnessed in New York at the gate of UN.

I hope this will be the last futile attempt of Egypt and Sudan to stop Ethiopia from using the water flowing within its territory to lift its 110 million plus population out of poverty and end foreign food aid.

Basics of GERD

Soon to be Africa’s biggest hydropower, Ethiopia launched the construction of GERD in 2011. It is a $5 billion dollar project and financed fully by Ethiopians. Currently 80 percent of the overall construction is completed. By next October and November two turbines are expected to commence test production of electricity.

In addition to lighting some of the 65 million Ethiopians living in the darkness, GERD also helps Ethiopia to boost electricity export earnings by selling energy to the neighboring countries such as, Kenya, Sudan, Djibouti, among others. GERD also is expected to reduce flooding in Sudan by regulating the water flow.

Basics about the Nile Basin

The Nile River basin contains over 10% of Africa’s landmass, in 11 countries: Ethiopia, Sudan, South Sudan, Egypt, Rwanda, Tanzania, Uganda, Burundi, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Eritrea and Kenya. Many of these countries rely almost exclusively on the Nile as their source of freshwater.

To both upstream and downstream countries, the Nile River is crucial for development planning, food, and energy production. Egypt, a major downstream country, depends on the Nile River for its survival more completely than any other country depends on any single waterway.

Yet, the water flowing in the Nile originates from entirely outside of Egypt’s borders. To the 10 other countries, the Nile water is critically needed for energy generation, to assure their own food security, mitigate the disastrous effects of periodic droughts, and assure social-economic development.

With a total flow length of 6850 Km, the Nile is the world’s longest river and the second greatest (after the Amazon) in terms of the watershed area.

Unique among African rivers, the Nile flows from south to north as a confluence of two rivers, the White Nile and the Blue Nile rivers.

Reports show that annually, the average natural water flow in the Nile generates a total runoff estimated at approximately 88 ± 5 BCM/yr. (billion cubic meters) at Aswan High Dam in Egypt.
In general, the Nile basin can be divided into four major sub-basins:
(1) the White Nile Basin (WNB);
(2) the BNB;
(3) the Atbara River Basin; and
(4) the main or trunk stem Nile Basin.

Within the WNB, the Nile takes its rise from the Equatorial Lake system (Lake Victoria water tower in the south). Northward, the river flows into the Sudd wetlands, spreading across nearly 57,000 km2 and markedly slowing down.

As a result, approximately 4 BCM of water is lost to evaporation here, making the Sudd the main water sink region in the WNB. As a result of these losses, the White Nile, which produces 37 BCM/yr. near its source, produces only 33 BCM/yr. or 29% of the total Nile runoff downstream of the Sudd.

The Blue Nile River originates at Lake Tana in the Ethiopian highlands. It generates about 57% (50.6 BCM/yr.) of the total runoff to the Nile. The Atbara River arises in northern Ethiopia. It is a flashy river that is dry for half the year.

The Atbara contributes ~14% (4.4. BCM/yr.) of the total Nile runoff. The Main Nile Basin begins at the confluence of the White and Blue Niles.

It also receives flow from the Atbara River a short way downstream. The Main Nile Basin itself grades from semiarid to arid in the north.

Consequently, the basin experiences little to no surface runoff. It also experiences large evaporation losses due to high temperatures nearly year-round, the Main Nile is the second water sink region in the basin.