By: Doaa El-Bey
The third filling of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam will not pose a threat to Egypt’s water security this year, reports Doaa El-Bey
While experts rule out that a third filling of the Grand Egyptian Renaissance Dam (GERD) will pose a threat to Egypt’s water supply this year, they agree that Addis Ababa’s announcement that the third filling will start in August constitutes yet another contravention of the regulations governing international rivers.
On Friday, GERD project manager Kifle Horo told the media that Ethiopia will complete the third filling of the GERD reservoir in August and September.
Horo’s announcement came during the launch of the first phase of electricity generation at the dam, a ceremony attended by Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed and senior officials.
“It is obvious that this kind of announcement is for local public consumption and aims to improve the image of the Ethiopian government,” said an Egyptian official speaking on condition of anonymity. An announcement of deforestation of the area around GERD as part of engineering works for the third filling was made earlier this year during a meeting that included the Ethiopian Minister of Irrigation together and other senior officials.
Former assistant to Egypt’s foreign minister Mohamed Hegazi also believes the announcing of a third filling was purely for domestic consumption, but given that it represents yet another unilateral act it may prompt to refer the file to the UN Security Council once again.
Egypt could easily opt to repeat the demand Minister of Foreign Affairs Sameh Shoukri included in his address to the Security Council in July — “to unequivocally call upon the parties to reach an equitable agreement on the GERD, within a defined timeline, and to encourage them to work diligently and with earnestness to achieve that objective forthwith” — according to Hegazi.
On Friday, Horo insisted the filling of the dam was an “automatic process” that cannot be stopped and that any talk about the dangers GERD constituted was ill informed and inconsequential.
GERD’s first turbine, which is supposed to generate 375 megawatts of power, started partial operation in February and a second electricity —generating turbine will be tested “within weeks”, according to Ethiopian officials.
Sudan’s Foreign Ministry denounced Horo’s statement as “irresponsible” and reiterated position that Addis Ababa should not take any unilateral steps until a fair and legally binding agreement is reached.
“The Foreign Ministry underlines its commitment to the present negotiating process that preserves the rights of the three concerned parties and aims to reach a comprehensive settlement so that the dam becomes a blessing and not become a curse,” read the Sudanese Foreign Ministry’s statement.
Meanwhile, on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum (WEF) meeting in Davos last week, Shoukri said Cairo is always ready for dialogue on the dam issue and described the GERD file as an existential issue and a matter of national security for Egypt.
Abbas Sharaki, a professor of geology and water resources at Cairo University, described Horo’s announcement as irresponsible on the diplomatic as well as technical level, and that claiming Ethiopia is not concerned about Egypt and Sudan’s statements on the dangers of the dam was openly provocative.
“It would have been more convincing if he had said that we conducted the necessary technical studies and called for resuming negotiations to show Egypt and Sudan the results and remove any concerns about GERD,” Sharaki said.
On the technical level, Sharaki said it remains unclear how high the middle corridor of the dam will be. Construction work on the corridor will continue until the last moment before the flood season, with Addis Ababa seemingly determined to complete the construction work necessary to facilitate the storage 10 billion cubic metres (bcm).
“If we say that on average each extra metre in the wall height means 0.5 bcm of stored water, then if they manage to build 20 metres they will be able to meet their target. However, the best estimates put what can be stored in the third filling are between 3 bcm to 5 bcm,” he said.
According to Sharaki, the third filling may not pose a great danger to Egypt’s water supply this year given the projects Egypt has already undertaken to save water but “it does present a fait accompli for the third year in a row”.
Ethiopia’s aim is to add an additional 10 bcm of water annually until the target of 74 bcm is reached. Its original plan was to store 18.5 bcm in the first filling, but only 5 bcm was stored in the first year, and 3 bcm in the second.
Cairo and Khartoum have repeatedly rejected Ethiopia’s unilateral filling of the dam before a binding agreement on GERD’s filling and operation is reached.
Tripartite negotiations on GERD stopped in April last year after Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia failed to reach an agreement ahead of the second filling of the dam. When the UNSC met in July to discuss the issue Tunisia, the only Arab (non-permanent) member of the council, submitted a draft resolution calling on Ethiopia to negotiate in good faith and setting a timetable of six months for reaching an agreement, under the umbrella of the African Union (AU), but the session concluded without a vote on the draft resolution. The UNSC did, however, issue a presidential statement two months later urging Ethiopia, Sudan, and Egypt to resume negotiations, under the auspices of the AU, and “finalise the text of a mutually acceptable agreement on filling and operating the dam within a reasonable time frame”.