A source of mutual public benefit across the Nile Basin
30th march, 2011
The Ethiopian Government Growth and Transformation Plan (GTP), includes quintupling the country’s hydro-electric power supply by raising the present capacity to 10,000 MW in the coming five-year period. The bulk of this five-fold increase is expected to enter the national grid from the great Nile dam whose construction is scheduled to commence presently at a project site near the Ethio-Sudan border. From this dam alone, Ethiopia expects to generate 5,250 MW. While the Dam’s chief advantage to Ethiopia is ensuring a dependable power supply, the project accrues vital benefits to downstream countries - Sudan and Egypt- as well. The Dam will augment these countries’ access to clean power supply at a competitive import tariff. In addition, Egypt and Sudan will benefit from the parallel advantages of the project in the form of decreased siltation in their irrigation dams, decline in the frequency of flooding and thereby in reduction of water-resource wastage. Hence, seen from the aggregate vantage point of the size of the dam, its water-holding and power generating capacity as well as its impact on ensuring the Nile’s steady and uninterrupted downward flow, the project has no equal. Indeed it can be said that no other project promises as this dam does in terms of yielding new and mutual benefits to all the three countries involved.
Hitherto only known as project X, it is now to be named --- Millennium Dam-- and is slated to be built in Benishangule region 20-40 km east of the Sudanese border. After completion, the dam’ is expected to hold 62 Billion m3 of water. This is almost as twice as Lake Tana. Naturally, it would take a few years before the dam reaches its maximum water intake capacity. Though a small portion will be diverted for the limited irrigable land in Ethiopia, the biggest beneficiary in terms of irrigation is Sudan, and to a lesser extent Egypt. But more importantly, since the dam site is a very narrow and deep gorge, minimal water evaporation is expected. A much lower level, in fact, compared to both the Jebel Awlia dam in the Sudan, and the Aswan Dam, which lies in the scorching desert heat of Egypt.
Although Ethiopia is not the only beneficiary, but all the downstream countries, the cost nonetheless is entirely covered by the Ethiopian Government. Ethiopia is forced to shoulder the financial burden of this huge project due to Egypt’s long standing uncooperative stance. The leadership has always operated on an untenable assumption, predicted on zero-sum logic where any development on the Nile River ipso facto is deemed detrimental to Egypt. Yet, using its standing in multilateral financial institutions and the donor community, the Egyptian leadership constantly campaigns to block any provision of loans and grants to Ethiopia intended to development projects cantered on the Nile. Partly as a scheme to divert attention from its internal weaknesses, the leadership creates commotion whenever the issue of water resource development is raised. It is in consequence of such underhanded machination why the Ethiopian government alone bears the cost of the Nile hydroelectric project, despite the well-known fact that ultimately the project benefits both the Sudan and Egypt.
In its bid to prevent Ethiopia from exercising her rights over the Nile waters, the Egyptian government repeatedly advances an erroneous argument. The most common is that any upstream development activity adversely impacts the people of Egypt by decreasing the country’s share of the Nile waters. Nevertheless the study conducted by a foreign consultant team of experts, hired by the Ethiopian government to explore ways of an equitable and shared usage of the Nile River, has come up with a different finding. For instance, with only a slight reduction in the water levels of the Aswan Dam, more than 7.5 billion m3 of water could be saved from evaporation. Moreover, through the implementation of Egypt’s own efficient-and-effective utilization of the Nile River project, up to 8 billion m3 of water could be saved. Likewise a huge amount of water wastage through evaporation would have been prevented if the Jebel Awlia dam, which only supplies Sudan only 17 MW, were to be replaced by Ethiopia’s new dam. In addition both the Sudan and Egypt could also vastly increase the areas of lands under irrigation. Thus, when viewed from the perspective of these realities, the Ethiopian dam under construction will doubtlessly benefit all the riparian countries involved with disadvantage to none.
The Ethiopian Government believes damming the Nile River is vital to meet Ethiopia’s electricity needs just as it is bound to benefit the downstream countries. It has to, therefore, be pointed out that, certain forces that have historically been adverse to Ethiopia’s efforts to develop its water resources, aught to abandon their counterproductive policy. And instead collaborate in the development effort not only in ripping its benefits but also in shouldering the burden that come with such advantage. Such an attitudinal change would certainly go a long way in forging a lasting alliance between the countries and their peoples. Even if for some inexplicable reason these forces are unable to adopt a positive stance, if only they were to desist from placing obstacles, it would have been possible to derive greater mutual benefits. However, narrowly focused as they are on preserving their hold on power, those bent on deterring the development of the Nile have not yet changed their obstructionist ways. The only change in this equation is Ethiopia’s determination to develop and utilize her water resources. Alas, Ethiopia’s resolve has now reached a point of no return.
Indeed, whilst continuing its efforts to secure international cooperation to build the Millennium dam, the Ethiopian government is ready and determined to complete the project – with or without-- foreign grant or loans. The estimated total construction cost of the dam is around 70 to 80 billion birr. Given the possibility of additional cost, it may appear to be an enormous challenge to mobilize and invest such a huge amount of resource in so short a time – but it is not impossible. Through the collaboration of all our citizens, the private sector, including those who live abroad, it is possible to do even more.
With this in mind, the Ethiopia government has availed government bonds for sale. The government calls on all Ethiopians to leave their mark on Ethiopia’s transformative development by purchasing these government bonds to enable the country and the people make full use of their natural resources.
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