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Ethiopia: Dams Won’t Cause Harm – Ex-EPA Head

Addis Ababa — The former head of the Ethiopian Environmental Protection Authority (EPA), now an advisor to the country’s new environment minister, has told Thomson Reuters Foundation that major dam projects will not cut off water supplies downstream nor worsen living conditions for local people.

The EPA was Ethiopia’s main body for environmental regulation and monitoring for nearly two decades after it was established in 1994. The agency – responsible for developing environmental laws and standards – was upgraded last month to become the Ministry of Environmental Protection and Forestry, with a new minister, Belete Tesfa.

E.G. Woldegebriel spoke with Dr. Tewoldebirhan Gebregzabher, the EPA’s former director-general, about its work, as well as his views on cutting emissions, deforestation and controversies surrounding the country’s hydro-electric dam projects.

Ethiopia plans to have grid electricity by 2014 that will be produced without using fossil fuels. How will it reach that target?

In 2014, when the 1,870 megawatt Gibe III hydro-electric dam starts to generate power, the electricity in the grid system will be entirely from renewable energy. That is from hydro-power primarily, but also from wind power and some geothermal power.

How would you respond to critics of the Gibe III project who say it endangers the existence of Lake Turkana and will displace thousands of people in southern Ethiopia and northeastern Kenya?

Gibe III is for generating electricity – after it generates electricity, the water will flow to Lake Turkana. I don’t see how it will dry up Lake Turkana. I think it’s either people who mistake hydropower generation with irrigation, or some mischievous individuals who want to cause problems that have been exaggerating.

It’s true that during the filling-up period of the dam, if water was completely stopped, it would prevent water flowing into Lake Turkana from the areas upstream of Gibe III. But that’s not going to happen, because as part of the environmental impact measures, water will continue to flow down and enter into the lake. Therefore, I don’t think there will be any harm.

With regard to displaced people, I think the number is around 100 families. When you consider the employment opportunities it gives – including to them – and the fact that they are being given land and money to resettle, it’s not an issue.

There is no development that doesn’t have a negative impact; only a country must be cautious and correct (in its response to) those negative impacts, and (in this case) those negative impacts of displacement are being taken care of.

Ethiopia contributes about 86 percent of the waters of the River Nile. What is the Ethiopian government doing with its counterparts in downstream Nile Basin countries to assess the impact of the 6000 MW Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) project, and to solve potential misunderstandings?

The governments of Ethiopia, Sudan and Egypt established a technical workforce that evaluated – and again, for the reasons I described for Gibe III – that the Renaissance Dam isn’t going to stop water from flowing. The water will generate electricity and continue to flow. The technical team who examined it have all agreed that its impact is going to be positive in both Sudan and Egypt.

The reason is that, in summer time, in the heavy rainfall, especially Khartoum (Sudan’s capital) suffers from flooding and this will no longer be the case, because the same water will continue to flow but it will be regulated by the dam.

The dam makes sure that the water doesn’t go in one burst, and that it will flow continually throughout the year. Sudan and Egypt will continue getting the water that they have always been getting.

Do you think Ethiopia will be able to achieve its vision of becoming a carbon-neutral economy by 2025?

The indications so far are that it will, and I have no reason to think we will slip back, but of course we can only be certain when it happens. I also expect Ethiopia to be the first carbon-neutral economy in Africa – however this isn’t a very easy thing to define in the sense that there are many countries with big forests that existed before and are not considered as valued sinks for carbon. But I think that’s wrong and therefore the forested countries like Democratic Republic of Congo… I believe (are) already carbon neutral.

Ethiopia’s forest cover is estimated to have fallen to below 3 percent from around 40 percent about a century ago. What is the trend in deforestation?

(The percentage of Ethiopia’s land area covered by forests) was 20 percent 100 years ago… Ethiopia has been an agricultural country for at least the last 5,000 years, and most of its closed (contiguous) forest areas were cleared for crop cultivation… .The 40 percent (figure) is only the potential area of the country that could have had (contiguous) forest.

It’s true (that) in the 19th century the forest cover started coming down, and the estimate was that it went down to about 3 percent. But recent estimates show that reforestation programs have been successful and it has been rising. We are planning to make a much more precise measurement soon, but at the moment I wouldn’t be very happy to put a figure on the present forest cover. However I’m absolutely certain it’s more than the 3 percent it had dwindled to.

What were the main challenges for Ethiopia’s EPA?

The most important was that of capacity – we had more government support than I had expected, but we did not have enough trained staff to meet the demands of the work at hand. And of course, Ethiopia is a poor country, and finance comes next.

What did Ethiopia take away from the 2012 U.N. climate talks in Doha?

The aspiration that there will be a new legally binding international protocol negotiated by 2015, which will come into force in 2020. It’s so that the whole world can unite and curb climate change – that’s the biggest issue in my view.

How do you see the likelihood of Ethiopia being able to access climate finance from the fledgling U.N. Green Climate Fund?

The fund has been established, the secretariat is in existence – hopefully then the rich countries will provide the funding they have promised. But we can’t as yet accuse of them of not having provided (money) since the fund has only just started.

What’s the status of carbon credit schemes that have already been started in some parts of Ethiopia?

The first one was in the Rift Valley region regarding a community forest… there are also others in areas like Bale in southeastern Ethiopia and Welayta in southern Ethiopia. A number of others are in the process. But really in carbon financing, Ethiopia – as the rest of Africa – is a late starter.

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Ethiopia: Dams Won’t Cause Harm – Ex-EPA Head
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Creative measures improve sanitation programmes in eight African countries

Sapling handwashing, Malawi.

Sapling handwashing, Malawi. Photo: Plan Malawi

Eight African countries are creatively achieving the goals of community led total sanitation programmes (CLTS) including one idea in Malawi where handwashing is monitored according to the health of tree seedlings planted beneath water outlets.

In Zambia several schools have established vegetable gardens to reduce malnutrition and improve school attendance. Some of the harvests have been sold raising funds for school activities.

In Sierra Leone men have traditionally been the community leaders but women are now being encouraged to play a major part in village committees and networks of natural leaders.  To support CLTS women conduct house-to-house monitoring, giving health talks and reporting diseases –- many of them overcoming challenges such as illiteracy to maintain the programme.

Plan International’s five year Pan African CLTS (PAC) programme which ends in December, 2014, is operating in the eight countries of Sierra Leone, Ethiopia, Uganda, Kenya, Zambia and Malawi, Ghana and Niger. With the backing of the Dutch government the project was designed to promote and scale up sanitation in communities and schools.

A mid-term programme review by Plan Netherlands, the Plan International Regional Office for Eastern and Southern Africa (RESA) and their programme partners which include the IRC International Water and Sanitation Centre (IRC) and the Institute of Development Studies, University of Sussex (IDS) shows that Ethiopia has made the most progress. One of its achievements is the introduction of local bylaws on sanitation.

By the end of 2012 the country’s 103 kebeles (small neighbourhoods) with 117.024 households and one or more schools had safe sanitation and hygiene services and reached ODF status (no open defecation).

With schools a focus of CLTS in Ethiopia ODF status schools need a water supply system to clean latrines and for washing hands. As there is no toilet subsidy or financial reward when the community reaches 100 % ODF, planning these systems for schools and communities helps communities and schools climb the sanitation and hygiene ladder.

The Plan Ethiopia review found those involved in constructing sanitation facilities were women and children with in kind support from wealthy and poor households. The review noted that benefits for women included being able to avoid open defecation at night, avoiding security issues and easier care of children.

Costs were lower than anticipated for the Ethiopia project, with the total cost per person in an ODF community at less than $US 1 and total cost a new household latrine at $US 3 – compared to usual programme costs of $US 5-15 per household.

Village Health Teams (VHTs) monitoring sanitation in Uganda. Photo: Plan Uganda

Village Health Teams (VHTs) monitoring sanitation in Uganda. Photo: Plan Uganda

In Uganda local governments and communities monitor CTLS so district health inspectors can share the data with ministries and national government. Plan helps develop local staff who in turn train community groups. The Uganda report found that women were important natural leaders and that few CLTS processes or constraints were gender related – most were generic, technical or institutional problems.

In Kenya chiefs, assistant chiefs and community health workers were trained to encourage communities to become ODF. This resulted in locations being selected for toilets in many communities.  In another example leaders asked the City Council of Nairobi to remove a dump site from their community.

Many women in Zambian villages are members of a sanitation action group. They have highlighted how inadequate sanitation causes diarrhoea and that using a toilet is much healthier, hoping their successful efforts will motivate neighbouring villages to be as vigilant.

Malawi had the strongest engagement with local government. Natural community leaders spotlighted activities to attain ODF status. Leaders reported bi-monthly on progress on such issues as the use of handwashing facilities, and the availability of drop-hole covers in latrines.

Leaders’ networks have helped in information exchanges especially between successful ODF villages and those who struggle to attain the ODF status. The leaders also conduct meetings on faecal oral transmission. Many villages have adopted effective sanitation and hygiene practices because of their efforts.  To ensure cross checking of correct data the leaders alternate their monitoring in different villages.

The network meetings are not funded apart from those organised by the district coordinating team. Successful villages can start Village Savings & Loans activities which increases their status in adequate sanitation.

Plan Malawi has had a marked increase in villages attaining ODF (7 from 2010-2011 to 63 villages between 2011 and 2012). To guarantee that handwashing facilities are not just being erected ceremoniously but effectively used, members of the village devised an innovative idea of planting a seedling of a tree under the facility.

During spot checks government health extension workers, natural leaders and health committee members pay special attention to the status of the seedling; a dead seedling or one that has withered or is not growing as it should is a clear sign that the handwashing facility is not being used

Niger enjoyed growing local support for CLTS. It built adobe (clay) desks in schools, repaired boreholes following long-term malfunction and transformed old defecation sites into vegetable gardens. Tannin seeds were used to strengthen earthen latrine construction and a tobacco solution used to protect latrine timbers against termites.

The Niger report also highlighted the concerns of some stakeholders that sustainable sanitation improvement will not be possible without hardware subsidies. The country had also experienced severe flooding which destroyed newly constructed latrines. Food shortages are another problem which is hampering progress on CLTS in the country.

Read more about Pan-Africa Programme on the websites of IRC and  IDS – Community-Led Total Sanitation.

See also the papers presented at IRC’s 2013 Symposium on:

Marielle Snel, Programme Officer, Africa Team, IRC International Water and Sanitation Centre

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Ethiopia: Ethiopia Dam Construction Continues

Ethiopia and Egypt have been in a diplomatic dispute for weeks over the construction of what will be Africa’s largest hydro-electric dam – impacting the waters of the Nile River. But with Egypt facing political turmoil at home, attention has also been diverted from this controversial project.

The massive construction of the Great Ethiopian Renaissance Dam continues despite sometimes angry protests from Egypt.

At issue is – diverting part of the Blue Nile since May.

The recently ousted Egyptian government feared the diversion would impact the Nile River flow – on which it is heavily dependent.

All of this will be a reservoir with 74 billion cubic meters of Nile waters. Ethiopia said it will gradually fill the reservoir in the coming years, leaving Egypt questioning how the reservoir can be filled without affecting the water flow, especially during periods of drought.

Simegnew Bekele, one of the dam’s project managers, said better water management by both Egypt and Ethiopia will be the key. “The water will flow through these culverts permanently. That culverts will be part of the dam, which will be embedded, which will have gates and during any low flow the water will pass through the culverts because it will be installed at the normal riverbed level. We cannot change the normal riverbed level,” he explained.

Ethiopia is proceeding with construction even as environmental experts and diplomats continue to work out Nile River resource management among affected countries.

The Great Ethiopian Renaissance Dam will make Ethiopia Africa’s biggest power exporter in the next four years – producing 6000 megawatts of hydroelectric power. The dam will be 1708 meters long, 145 meters high and will be equipped with two powerhouses. Potential buyers of the electricity include Somalia, Uganda and even possibly Egypt.

The dam will be competed in 2017 at a cost of close to $5 billion.

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East Africa: The Struggle to Control the Nile’s Water

Strong emotions rise to the surface when discussions turn to the Nile, the world’s longest river. Most debate swirls around control of its basin which is shared by 11 African nations. Politicians and others have pondered the chances of a war over its life-giving waters: slim but increasing given the escalating tensions over Ethiopia’s plan to build a massive hydropower dam on the river.

“For Egypt the Nile equals life,” affirms Mohamed Edrees, Egypt’s ambassador to Ethiopia. “It is almost the only source of water for Egypt and that means that it is the only source of life. So it’s obvious that this issue, for Egyptians, is of vital importance and of high sensitivity. It is an issue of existence.”

The Nile basin covers almost 10% of Africa’s landmass (3.1m km2) and supports over 200m people, more than half living below the poverty line and dependent on rainfed agriculture for their survival.

The twin pressures of energy and food security—through hydroelectric generation and irrigation schemes—are placing ever-greater demands on the Nile. In addition, land degradation, rising temperatures and possible changes in rainfall patterns, as a result of climate change, are threatening to alter the river’s flow.

Egypt is implementing large new irrigation projects that will draw additional water from the Nile. It is especially anxious about increased usage by the other ten Nile basin states south of its border: Burundi, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Ethiopia, Eritrea, Kenya, Rwanda, South Sudan, Sudan, Tanzania and Uganda.

The Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam, a massive hydroelectric installation 40km east of Sudan, is one of the new projects worrying the downstream nations of Egypt and Sudan. Standing at 145m high and 1,800m long with a reservoir holding 63 billion cubic metres of water, this dam will be one of Africa’s largest. It has the potential to generate 6,000 megawatts of electricity—three times Ethiopia’s existing capacity—and is expected to turn the country into a regional power hub.

Hostility has been building since Ethiopia diverted the course of the river on May 28th to begin vital civil engineering work. Although Egypt’s President Mohammed Morsi emphasised that he was not “calling for war”, he said, “Egypt’s water security cannot be violated at all,” and added that “all options are open,” according to a BBC report. A few days earlier, Egyptian politicians were unwittingly heard proposing military action over the dam on live TV. The Ethiopian government, for its part, says that the project will go ahead come what may.

The Nile has two main tributaries, the Blue Nile and the White Nile, named after their colour where they meet at Khartoum, Sudan’s capital. The Blue Nile, which rises in the Ethiopian highlands, is by far the greatest contributor to the river’s overall flow, supplying around 85% of the 84 billion cubic metres of water measured in Egypt’s Aswan dam.

Egypt’s main concern is disruption to the river’s flow and the detrimental impact this will have on agricultural irrigation, the waterway’s salinity, its navigability and the country’s power generation, according to a European engineer based in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia’s capital, who asked to remain anonymous.

The Nile’s flow into Egypt could be reduced by as much as 25% during the seven years it could take to fill the Renaissance dam’s reservoir, according to International Rivers, an environmental rights group. There is also unease about the seismic activity in the area near the dam.

“Both parties are exaggerating. Ethiopia puts its focus on the possible benefits—the management of siltation, cheap energy and the control of floods during periods of peak flow—while Egypt puts an accent on the negative,” he says. Experts from Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan are expected to release research on the dam’s effect on the Nile’s flow in coming weeks.

The Renaissance dam’s construction began in April 2011 after the Arab spring uprising that destabilised and distracted Egypt. The debate boils down to a dispute over the Nile’s governance. Ethiopia adheres to the Harmon Doctrine, an international resources law that holds that a country has absolute sovereignty over the water that flows through its territory regardless of this impact on other riparian states. Egypt, on the other hand, clings to its historical usage rights and treaties that the majority of Nile basin nations never signed.

The River Nile rises in the Great Lakes in Central Africa and 11 countries share its basin. Though Egypt is at the mouth of this 6,700km watercourse, it is the principal consumer of the river’s water. For much of the 20th century it was the main beneficiary of a series of accords concluded under colonialism and in the immediate post-independence period. A treaty signed in 1959 that apportioned specific volumes of water for use annually by Egypt and Sudan (55.5 and 18.5 billion cubic metres respectively) but not the remaining riparian states, was until recently the main way of deciding control over the Nile.

Strong power asymmetries have given Egypt the edge over the upstream countries, according to Ana Cascão of the Stockholm International Water Institution, a policy group. Egypt surpasses the other riparian states in GDP, economic diversification and external political support, giving it an advantage in legal negotiations and a greater capacity to influence the regional and global political agenda. However, “the centres of power are definitely changing,” she adds.

During the late 1990s, the establishment of the Nile Basin Initiative, an intergovernmental organisation that fosters cooperation and promotes the river’s sustainable development, led to the drafting of the Cooperative Framework Agreement (CFA). “It defines the rights [of the riparian states], the protection of the environment, [the principles of] equitable utilisation and no harm—which means that Egypt would have its own position protected,” Ms Cascão says.

Six of the 11 Nile basin countries have signed the CFA (Burundi, Ethiopia, Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania and Uganda). Newly-independent South Sudan has indicated that it will do the same. The treaty now has enough signatories to come into force as soon as it is ratified in the various parliaments—Ethiopia is not far off becoming the first to do so.

Unsurprisingly, Egypt and Sudan have refused to sign the CFA. They maintain that all Nile countries must recognise the 1959 treaty before any new agreements are implemented. The key stumbling block is deciding which principle takes precedence: equitable utilisation or no-harm, which obliges upstream countries to prevent significant harm to other basin states. The two factions have failed to reach a compromise.

While these countries tack and trim their political sails, Ms Cascão maintains that it is difficult to say who governs the Nile because so many people use it, especially farmers. No one knows how much water is pumped out or diverted illegally, she explains.

Internationally-supported, multilateral political processes like the Nile Basin Initiative and the CFA are important, but everyday users of the Nile’s waters and national level officials will determine the river’s future protection.

Simon Langan, head of the International Water Management Institute, a nonprofit research group in Addis Ababa, believes that land management is key. “Quite often we talk about rivers or lakes but actually it’s the land—most rain falls on the land and then is routed into the river. And the biggest issue for the Nile is making sure that land-use management decisions are right,” he says.

In the catchment areas of the Blue Nile, for example, the fast-growing population living in the rugged, hilly landscape of the Ethiopia highlands is cutting down trees for firewood and cooking. No longer held in place by trees, the soil is eroding, impoverishing these agricultural fields and blocking up and reducing the efficiency of irrigation systems downstream.

The Ethiopian government has a sustainable land management project, which promotes soil water conservation such as planting trees and other practices that slow down erosion. This programme has been very effective in areas like Tigray in northern Ethiopia, Mr Langan says.

Mr Langan and Ms Cascão say they believe that there is enough water for everybody so long as it is managed effectively and efficiently. But this requires building trust and cooperation, locally, nationally and internationally.

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East Africa: The Struggle to Control the Nile’s Water
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Egypt: Egypt, Ethiopia Square Off Over New Nile River Dam

Photo: Giustino

Egypt and Ethiopia are doing their best to lower tensions after weeks of increasingly heated rhetoric over a giant Ethiopian dam project that Cairo believes will reduce the flow of water in the Nile River.

The foreign ministers of the two countries met at the beginning of the week in Addis Ababa and agreed to hold further talks and review the recommendations from a panel of experts on what’s being called the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam, or GERD.

Construction on the dam started two years ago on Ethiopia’s Abbai, or Blue Nile, river, whose basin accounts for about 75 percent of the water flowing into the lower Nile River. The project is about 20 percent complete and Egyptian officials worry that when it’s finished in 2017, it will severely reduce the flow of water through the lower Nile channel and turn the arable parts of their country back into a desert.

A day after Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi visited Addis Ababa earlier this month, Ethiopia diverted the Abbai River’s flow temporarily to carry out the next stage of dam construction. Even though the water diversion was a brief, news of the interruption touched off a furor in Cairo.

Morsi said Egypt would not tolerate losing “one drop” of Nile water and made thinly veiled threats of military action by saying “all options are open.”

The Ethiopians, apparently, were not intimidated.

“I don’t think they will take that option unless they go mad,” said Ethiopia’s president, Haile Mariam Desalegn. The foreign ministry in Addis Ababa said construction on the dam would not stop “for a second.”

An expensive project

The GERD project includes a 170-meter high concrete dam and a 6,000-megawatt hydroelectric power plant and will make Ethiopia one of Africa’s top electrical energy producing nations when it is completed. Its total cost is estimated at between $4.2 billion and $5 billion.

Ethiopia has said all along that once completed, the dam would not reduce Egypt’s water resources, but Egypt wants proof. It also wants assurances that Ethiopia will not use the Abbai waters to irrigate Ethiopian farmlands.

Egypt is also concerned about additional problems as Ethiopia begins filling a massive water reservoir twice the size of the country’s largest lake.

“Ethiopia is always saying ‘no impact’,” said Mahmoud Abu-Zeid, who was Egypt’s minister of water and irrigation for 12 years and is now president of the Arab Water Council.

But Abu-Zeid cited studies predicting that during the three to five years it will take to fill the reservoir behind the dam, “there would be a reduction of 14 billion instead of the regular 55.5 billion cubic meters.

“It’s time to go back to the negotiating table,” Abu-Zeid concluded.

Other experts doubt the reduction would be that much. One of them is Paul Block, a civil engineer who has been consulting on Ethiopian water projects for the U.S. Agency for International Development and the World Bank.

During the years it takes to fill the reservoir behind the GERD, Block says the loss of water flow into the Nile could be minimal. It all depends, he explains, on the amount of rainfall in the region.

“Eastern Africa may experience a slight increase in precipitation,” Block said. “However there are models that range from a modest decrease [in rainfall] to a very significant increase.”

It’s not just about the dam

Ethiopia’s new dam project is only the beginning of Egypt’s concerns about its neighbors upstream in the Nile basin.

During the last century, the British crafted agreements guaranteeing exclusive water rights from the Nile basin to Egypt and Sudan, shutting out countries further upstream at the Nile’s several sources.

But now, seven upstream countries have signed the new Nile Basin Initiative on equal water rights: Ethiopia, Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania, Uganda, Burundi and newly independent South Sudan. Any of these nations could potentially begin projects that would reduce the flow of Nile water through Egypt.

Now Egypt may have to come to grips with the fact that it no longer has a guaranteed lock on the Nile, source of 98 percent of its water.

The response from Cairo

The water resource challenge comes as Egypt is still struggling to recover from two years of political turmoil and social upheaval brought on by the Arab Spring uprisings. It’s only just recently, experts say, that the Egyptian government turned its attention to what was happening at the Nile’s source.

“The problem is Morsi has handled this problem very poorly,” said Eric Trager of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. “Rather than engage with Ethiopia, he looked internally and pulled a national unity dialogue because he is … primarily concerned about his own domestic standing. He is not appreciating yet the magnitude of foreign policy.”

While some Egyptian politicians have been calling for military solutions, Trager said, “the military gave a very clear signal it would not tolerate that.” The generals, he said, are “not prepared to fight a war right now.”

“The question is whether President Morsi is wise enough to know how to work foreign diplomacy when faced with a challenge,” Trager added. “Unfortunately, he has not shown the ability to do that.”

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Egypt: Egypt, Ethiopia Square Off Over New Nile River Dam
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Egypt: Mursi Tells EU Representative Nation Will Not Compromise Water Security

Egypt will not compromise its water safety, President Mohamed Mursi told European Union representative Catherine Ashton on Wednesday.

Commenting on Ethiopia’s dam project, the president said Egypt does not object to developmental projects in Africa.

The president met with Ashton to discuss ties between Egypt and the European Union as well as several regional issues.

Mursi affirmed Egypt’s commitment to provide support for non-governmental organisations (NGOs) in the country and emphasised the cabinet’s full respect for the judiciary’s rulings.

He urged the international community to carry out its ethical responsibilities towards the Syrian people in order to put an end to the brutalities committed against them.

Ashton praised the presidency’s proposed amendments in the NGOs’ draft law.

She also commended Egypt’s keenness on benefiting from international expertise in that regard.

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Egypt: Sudan Envoy in Cairo Calls for Cooperation Over Dam Crisis

Sudanese Ambassador to Cairo Kamal Hassan Aly said on Saturday that the spirit of cooperation between Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia may lead to an end to the crisis over a dam that Ethiopia plans to build on the Nile River.

Aly told a satellite channel on Saturday that Sudan and Egypt are working together to come up with a strategy to deal with the issue, with the help of reports prepared by the committee of experts.

He insisted that the old ties between the three African countries may play a powerful role in solving the problem, reported the Middle East News Agency.

Aly accused the media in Egypt of blowing the issue out of proportion and influencing public opinion in Khartoum.

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Egypt: War of Words Between Egypt and Ethiopia Over Dam Project

The row between Egypt and Ethiopia over water from the River Nile goes back many years. Now it is escalating as Ethiopia forges ahead with the construction of a huge dam. But there is more to the dispute than just water.

For decades Egypt and Ethiopia have been at loggerheads over the question of water rights and the River Nile. Ousted President Mubarak made it plain that any attempt by Ethiopia to restrict Egyptian access to the Nile would leave his country with no alternative to “confrontation, in order to defend our rights and our lives.”

Mubarak’s successor Mohammed Morsi is no less emphatic. “We do not want a war, but we are keeping all options open,” he said.

The response from the late Ethiopian prime minister Meles Zenawi was succinct. “If Egypt wants to prevent Ethiopia from using water from the Nile, then it must occupy our territory – and that’s something no country in the world has ever done.”

Ethiopian Prime Minister Desalegn says dam construction will go ahead

His successor Hailemariam Desalegn added recently that “nothing and no one” would stop construction of the dam.

Prestige project

At the center of the dispute is “The Grand Renaissance Dam” project, currently under construction on Ethiopia’s upper stretch of the Blue Nile, close to the border with Sudan. The dam is a source of anger to Egypt which fears the amount of water flowing into its territory will be reduced. By virtue of its sheer size and capacity, the Great Renaissance Dam dwarfs all previous dam and irrigation projects. Construction costs are put at $4.2 billion (3.2 billion euros).

When it is completed, the turbines will generate 6,000 megawatts of electricity, making Ethiopia the biggest energy-producer on the African continent. The project is as important for the government in Addis Ababa as the Three Gorges Dam is for China. It is a highly political prestige project, partly financed by deductions to the salaries of state employees.

The government insists that the gigantic dam can be built without financial aid from abroad. However it has accepted credit from China of more than a billion US dollars for power cables.

Bumper harvests in Egypt, starvation in Ethiopia

The dispute between Egypt and Ethiopia goes back to two agreements from 1929 and 1959. Colonial power Great Britain accorded the water of the Nile in its entirety to Egypt and Sudan for agricultural use. In addition, Egypt was given the right to veto any upriver construction projects.

This left Ethiopia literally high and dry. The source of the Blue Nile is located in Ethiopia but it flows mainly through the highlands and can only irrigate fields to a limited degree. Lower down, the combined water masses of the White and Blue Nile flow through Egypt, irrigating fields and ensuring good harvests, while in Ethiopia millions of people are starving.

One fifth of the Renaissance Dam is now complete. In May 2013 alarm bells began ringing in Cairo when the Ethiopians began to divert the Nile into a new course, so that the dam walls could be built. However, a ten-member committee of experts had previously come to the conclusion that Egypt need not fear any longterm consequences for its water supplies.

Will there be a water war?

Despite the experts’ assurances that there is nothing to fear, the row is escalating. On Egyptian TV politicans were recently seen discussing radical measures such as blowing up the dam or supporting Ethiopian rebel groups. Later they claimed they had not known the cameras were on.

For neutral observers, the feeling is growing that the dispute is not so much about the Nile as about the problems of both leaders, Morsi and Desalegn. Both are unpopular in their respective countries, particularly among the young.

Most Egyptians are not willing to give up a drop of water from the Nile

Both seem to be trying to score points with nationalistic speeches and verbal sabre-rattling. Experts see no real risk of the two going to war.

But if that were to happen, the Egyptian military would face a highly disciplined Ethiopian army. There would also be logistical problems, not least the fact that the two countries do not share a border. “Threats from Cairo to sabotage the dams have aways turned out to be bluffs in the past,” says conflict researcher Ashok Swain from Uppsala University in Sweden.

Ethiopia ‘not intimidated’

An offer to mediate by the African Union was brusquely rejected by Ethiopia. The Egyptian foreign minister is now expected in Addis Ababa in the next few days. Ahead of his visit, a spokesman for the Ethiopian government said that Ethiopia was “not intimidated by Egypt’s psychological warfare” and would not delay dam construction “by one second.”

To underline this further, on Thursday (13.06.2013) the Ethiopian parliament unanimously passed the Entebbe Agreement of 2010 which is intended to replace the disputed agreements from the colonial era. And Ethiopia is not alone. Other Nile states, Rwanda, Tanzania, Uganda, Kenya and Burundi, have ratified the new agreement. The Democratic Republic of Congo and South Sudan have indicated their intention to follow suit. Eritrea has observer status. All in all, the prospects for Egypt do not look good.

There is a practical solution which was first made some time ago. Egypt could make more efficient use of the water from the River Nile. At the moment the water flows through ancient irrigation systems. If Ethiopia’s dam were to cause any reduction in the amount of water, the Egyptians could compensate for this by modernizing their equipment. But such a proposal would probably not be well received by the Egyptian electorate.

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South Sudan: Govt Urges Egypt, Ethiopia to Cooperate On Nile

The construction of Ethiopia’s dam on the Blue Nile River will benefit current and future generations of Egypt, Sudan, and Ethiopia, Pagan Amum, Chief Negotiator of South Sudan, has said.

The construction of the dam in Ethiopia would not affect adversely the interest of the other countries like Egypt or Sudan, said the official.

Amum told reporters on Thursday in Addis Ababa that South Sudan has followed with concern the development and statement from Egypt in relation to the construction of the dam in Ethiopia.

He said that countries in the Nile basin should cooperate on the management of the Nile waters to benefit their current and future generations, according to xinhua.

“Ethiopia has the right to use the Nile waters in terms of generation of electricity, in terms of irrigation, and the way we see this development is that it is not affecting the interest of Sudan or Egypt,” Amum said.

“We call on the government of Egypt and the government of Ethiopia to engage and cooperate in all the developments that are going to be to the benefit all the people,” he added.

Stating that South Sudan is a new state and member of the Nile Basin Countries, Amum said his country would work with governments and states in the Nile basin to reach agreement on the use and sustainable management of the Nile waters for the benefit of the people in the Nile basin.

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Ethiopia: Museveni – Africa Won’t Let Egyptians Bully Ethiopia

President Yoweri Museveni has sternly warned the Egyptian “government and other groups” against making “chauvinist and irrational statements” in the wake of Ethiopia’s decision to construct a multi-billion dollar electricity dam, Chimp Corps report.

“I have seen in the print media statements coming out of Egypt regarding the commendable work of the Government of Ethiopia of building dams for electricity in that country,” said Museveni.

“This is what the whole of Africa needs to do. That is one reason the economy of Ethiopia has been growing in double digits. It is, therefore, advisable that the new Government of Egypt and some chauvinistic groups inside Egypt should not repeat the mistakes of the past Egyptian Governments,” he added.

Museveni said leaders of Egypt should not be victims of the “misguided policies of past leaders.”

He further stressed that threat of the Nile is not the construction of dams but the “lack of electricity and underdevelopment in the tropics.”

“The biggest threat to the Nile is continued under-development in the tropics i.e. lack of electricity and lack of industrialization. On account of these two, peasants cut the bio-mass for fuel (firewood – enku) and invade the forests to expand primitive agriculture.

Here in Uganda, the peasants destroy 40 billion cubic metres of wood per annum for firewood. They also invade the wetlands (ebisaalu, ebitoogo, entobazi, ebifuunjo, ebisharara) to grow rice,” he noted.

“This interferes with the transpiration that is crucial for rain formation. Our experts have told me that 40 percent of our rain comes from local moisture – meaning from our lakes and wetlands,” said Museveni, adding, “That is why, for instance, West Nile and West Acholi have got more rain than Karamoja being on the same latitude notwithstanding. It is, apparently, on account of the huge wetlands in South Sudan, the forest in Congo and the wetlands in Uganda.”

Ironically, said Museveni, the Egyptians wanted to drain the wetlands in South Sudan through the Jonglei canal.

“It was one of the causes for the people of South Sudan to wage war against Khartoum, which was collaborating with the Egyptian Government’s misguided and dangerous policies of that time,” he added.

Therefore, said Museveni, the threat to the Nile is lack of electricity in the tropics and lack of industrialization thereof.

“Electrification so that people stop using wood fuel and industrialization so that people shift from agriculture to industry and services is the correct way.”

Museveni also pointed to unknown diplomatic efforts aimed at persuading Egypt not to pursue the path of war.

“I have given these views to the past Egyptian Governments and to the present one. Therefore, it is advisable that those chauvinistic statements coming out of Egypt are restrained and through the Nile Valley Organization rational (not emotional and informed statements) discussions take place.”

“No African wants to hurt Egypt; however, Egypt cannot continue to hurt black Africa and the countries of the tropics of Africa,” he concluded his speech.

Ethiopia boasts one of the most advanced and deadliest armies on the continent.

The battle-hardened army derives its unwavering determination to protect its strategic interests right from the late 1980s when it resisted the wave of colonialism that swept Africa.

Responding to Morsi’s threats recently, Ethiopia’s premier, Hailemariam Desalegn, the construction of the Grand Renaissance Dam would was “unstoppable.”

“All options include a war. I don’t think they will take that option unless they go mad,” warned Hailemariam, adding, “I urge them to abandon such an unhelpful approach and return to dialogue and discussion.”

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