Ethiopian group asks for academics’ support in dam dispute

1 July 2021

Members of an advisory council to the Ethiopian government have called on university leaders and academia from all over the world to reject “outdated and unfair colonial treaties” as grounds for settling the dispute over the controversial Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD).

The call was made by scientists, scholars and other professionals who serve on the advisory council to Ethiopia’s Ministry of Science and Higher Education after what they called “misguided, biased and inflammatory statements” made in reference to the GERD by Egyptian and United States officials.

Members of the council, many of whom are in the diaspora, have asked African universities to devote their efforts to “balanced and constructive engagements based on facts” about the Nile. This includes supporting the right of citizens of Nile-basin countries to develop and share the river’s waters to provide water, electricity and food.

Ethiopia contributes more than 86% of the Nile’s water, but the river also flows through 10 other African countries: Burundi, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Egypt, Eritrea, Kenya, Rwanda, South Sudan, Sudan, Tanzania and Uganda.

“We call upon academics, scholars, professionals in particular, and all peace-loving people across the world to join hands in supporting a peaceful resolution and avert unintended consequences that may arise from irresponsible statements,” the group has said.

Equitable use

Despite most of the Nile’s water originating in Ethiopia, almost all of it is allocated to Egypt and Sudan in terms of colonial treaties that date to the Victorian era. This has left Ethiopia and the other Nile-basin countries with limited access to the water, the group pointed out.

While Egypt and Sudan have benefited greatly from this arrangement, other countries have suffered. The group cites access to electricity and drinking water as examples: Egypt provides electricity to 99% of its people, but about 60% (more than 65 million) of Ethiopians remain without electricity. Likewise, Egypt provides access to drinking water to more than 99% of its population while 40% of Ethiopians do not.

The advisory council reacted to statements ascribed to Ahmed Aboul-Gheit, secretary-general of the Arab League, and General Kenneth McKenzie, commander of the US Central Command, and others.

The Egyptian daily newspaper Al-Ahram quoted Aboul-Gheit as saying the international community will not accept any threats to the stability of the Horn of Africa. This was in reaction to Ethiopia’s plan to have a second filling of the GERD’s reservoir next month – before a legally binding agreement is reached.

Egypt and Sudan want the European Union, the US and the UN Security Council to intervene to preserve their existing water rights, but the Ethiopian advisory council has asked in a statement on 25 June that the “sensitive and complex” negotiations continue under the auspices of the African Union “without any interference” from outside.

Downstream damage?

The council also countered concerns that the filling of the GERD reservoir would cause harm to countries downstream through fluctuation of water levels and an increase in seasonal flooding in Egypt and Sudan.

According to the council, a technical committee with Egyptian, Ethiopian, and Sudanese representation has already confirmed that the GERD will, in fact, reduce flooding in Sudan and would ensure the regulated flow of water for Egypt and Sudan with little evaporation loss.

They also want universities in Africa to talk about the fact that the international law governing trans-boundary waters permits Ethiopia to use its own resources; as well as Ethiopia’s unwavering position on equitable use of water resources in the Nile Basin region and its principle of no significant harm to be done to downstream countries.

Aboul-Gheit said the two downstream countries have to decide how much harm they will be caused and they, too, have rights which Ethiopia should respect.

A moratorium on financial assistance to Ethiopia has also been imposed and the council wants this to be lifted as the action only hurts the poor, already traumatised by the COVID-19 pandemic, local conflicts and natural calamities.

While the focus is mostly on Ethiopia and the GERD, South Sudan last week disclosed its own plans to build a hydroelectric generating dam on the Nile.

Deng Dau Deng Malek, South Sudan’s deputy minister of foreign affairs, said his country could afford to build its own dam, which he said is important for South Sudan’s transition from a war-torn to an industry-led economy.

Deng said it would be financed with oil revenue, and that details, including the height of the dam, the volume of water it will hold and the number of turbines to be installed, have already been finalised.

The Nile Basin Initiative secretariat officials based in Kampala did not respond to the ongoing GERD dispute.

Source: University World News