GERD: Means of cooperation than contention

Our Guest for Today is Yilma Sileshi who is a Hydrologist (Water Engineer), Associate professor at Addis Ababa University. He is also a member of the negotiating team of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam.

The had a short stay with Yilma Sileshi concerning the current development of the GERD and its commencement of partial power generation.Have a nice read.

As a scientist in the areas of water resources and environmental engineering, how do you explain Ethiopia’s approach in utilizing the Abay River?

In any trans-boundary river, the recent legal or politically accepted principle is to use the common river water resource in an equitable and reasonable manner without causing significant harm either in down or upstream countries.

Their use should also be fair. Ethiopia is applying this fundamental principle which is internationally acknowledged. So, it is our resource too, we are using that for the benefit of our people, neighboring countries and at large. This is the approach we are using.

Currently, the GERD project has begun partial power generation. Could you please explain from a professional point of view, what this development tells to the Ethiopian people and to the people of the lower riparian states and the world as well?

This is one of the world’s largest projects currently undergoing. When completed it will be also the largest in Africa and the world in generating electricity. The unique part of it is, all the construction activities are financed by Ethiopian people. Second, the construction is undergoing for the past 1l years under animosity unfortunately from our downstream neighbors Sudan and Egypt.

They could have supported us; they could have shared the construction cost. This did not happen. The success occurred through all these challenges. Of course, it made us stronger to complete this project step by step.

It also creates a dynamic for the Ethiopian economy as the power generation when GERD is completed. It would basically double Ethiopia’s capacity from the current 11,000 to 23-24,000 Gigawatt hours per year consumption. So, industrialization, agro-industry, access to light and cooking purposes especially for rural people and facilitating the service sector to get sufficient electricity for their activity and so on. By and large, it will create a huge dynamic in Ethiopia’s Economy.

This is also one of the major benefits. Once you have a very good start up in the economy, the other activities of development follow suit.

Could you add some points pertaining to the global community and what it means for them? that the dam is generating power.

You see, what we did actually or what we showed in our ceremony is that Ethiopia’s people would start and complete the project and the intention of both the people and government of Ethiopia is to cooperate with the downstream countries.

So, we use GERD in particular for power generation and once it generates electricity, the water flows downstream. This does not mean that the upstream of GERD will not use it for irrigation and water supply.

We are going to have another dam in the river. But in all cases, the water will continue to flow to downstream countries until we make an agreement with them on reasonable sharing of water.

So, our use will also be accounted for by hydropower generation here, water supply needed upstream of GERD, irregable land of 1700km2 that Abbay (Blue Nile) contains.

We have so many industrial water needs here, we have current and future irrigation demand, as we use and they use the Nile water. So, this adjustment will occur. So, there is no reason for Sudan and Egypt to fear as Ethiopia is controlling the flow of water at GERD but we will not use it for politics. It is a reason for collaboration, cooperation and developing together.

This is our point of view and this is what we are doing and actually did. That is the point we show in the commencement of partial power generaion of the project.

The has come up with your profiles that you have been part of the panel of experts on the GERD at some point in time. Could you share with us the role of the panel of experts in the implementation process of the GERD project? That includes your role as well. Since Egypt and Sudan were concerned, they wanted to know the capacity of the dam and the way it was constructed. They make sure that the safety is going well.

The construction is done keeping international standards. They are also eager to know how we fill the dam. The dam size was 74/75million m3; it can hold water in two years flow basically.

If we hold the consequent flow of water within two years, downstream countries will not receive water from the Abbay River (the Blue Nile), so this is a real concern. The Ethiopian government at that time decided to discuss these two important issues. So, basically, we( the panel of experts two from each country and four from international) agreed and signed on and the construction was done following the international standard.

About detail filling, we may discuss later on with the study. After 2013, if you remember, a lot of discussions were carried out about the filling. We basically agreed not to fill within two to three years time but seven years on the average. It may be forwarded from four to five years and if it dries that would go to eight and nine years.

We basically agreed as brotherly countries on this. So, this major concern has been settled. With regard to the dam, their concern is the above two. Their concern is trying to connect the issue of the dam with water allocation which is not acceptable by Ethiopia.

We cannot assure them that they will receive the current flow of water as the upstream is going to use the water for irrigation and potable water supply. We are not use the upstream water for irrigation, water supply, as energy generated from the grand renaissance dam for Ethiopia not to reduce the flow of water they receive. But what we are using is our share. Ethiopia is using its own share of water and this has to be clear.

As we are not talking about their share, giving zero share for Ethiopia is not unacceptable at all. So, we continue as three brotherly countries adjusting all these elements. We start, continue to use, they also use a reasonable share. This was what the panel of experts actually solved.

What is expected from the people of Ethiopia for the successful completion of the GERD?

The next two to three years, the dam will be completed and the additional 12 turbines operational as they go step by step. The most important part is to have a peaceful solution to our internal problems.

Every person near the dam side or far away should maintain the peace considering that whenever civil wars in Ethiopia occur in one place, it directly or indirectly affects the project completion. We know some of the insurgent activities have been supported by external forces to destabilize Ethiopia for so many reasons.

People should be aware of this and live in harmony which is the best alternative. It is important to work on our peaceful coexistence. This is an important issue. We used to contribute to support the dam

financially and logistically. The people should continue to do that until the dam is completed.

The GERD can be considered as a panAfrican project that breaks the long standing mental and actual dependency for the construction of national projects. Tell us some facts from this angle please?

In this world of economics, getting money for such an investment like five billion dollars from external forces, in particular for hydro power dams, is very difficult. You might not have sufficient budget, in terms of foreign currency.

The project requires huge expertise from various sectors. Ethiopia would not have such capital at that time.

But we decided to use a portion of our foreign currency for this important national project –GERD. This is a good example for other developing countries, shortage of resources is not the limiting factor to start an important monumental project that will transfer to posterity.

This is the case. Investing in that is an important aspect and Ethiopia also showed success completing the GERD under all very difficult circumstances be it political, economical and international diplomacy. We sustained and succeeded in completing the GERD. So, for African brothers, this will show the sense of we can invest in hydropower areas or any other project area. We can start, implement and complete an important project for the benefit of our people and in fact at large for our neighbors and Africa.

The contributions of the Ethiopian Diaspora to the GERD since recent years have been considered the highest. What lessons should other African descendants overseas take from the Ethiopian diaspora in order to support such pan-African projects in their respective nations?

People, be it Ethiopians or others are going abroad for some reasons. It may be political, economical or you name it. Ethiopian Diaspora although they are residing outside, their heart is not separated from Ethiopia. They want to see the growth and prosperity of Ethiopia.

They contribute some for the realization of the project and defend sovereignty very critically and we really appreciated that. Contributing some for national projects is not easy for the diaspora, it requires their dedication as they are working in a very busy schedule.

They support GERD not only financing the project but also participating diplomatically and technically through writing many papers, defending nations sovereignty. Politically, they also opposed the previous American government’s decisions on GERD.

They showed their solidarity with Ethiopia. It was very great. However, I am not sure what the diaspora in other countries are doing. Recently, many African intellectuals are supporting our course to defend Ethiopian sovereignty. There is a lesson they should take from Ethiopia. I hope they will learn from the Ethiopian diaspora and from what is happening here.

The GERD is a game changer project in terms of water politics. What is your stand on this?

I am not characterizing it as a game changer. The rule is very clear. There are countries who respect that rule. On the contrary, there are countries that violated the rule. Ethiopia, for instance, respected equitable and reasonable share of water without significant harm to the downstream countries.

I said fair use because Sudan and Egypt was completely utilizing the water without asking the permission of Ethiopia. Permission- in a sense is without considering Ethiopia’s future right. They are telling us you do not have water share. This is not fair.

The current use of water is already unacceptable for Ethiopia because Ethiopian people have been facing many difficulties. You know this year’s drought and many people are suffering and a number of cattle are dying.

Our economy is also going down. So, we have to develop the resources we have. We need to develop water resources for energy generation, irrigation.. We have more than two million hectares of land to be irrigated in Ethiopia’s Nile, our industries need water and our growing population needs potable water supply and so on. If we want to develop all these ,we need to have water.

It is a very important aspect. We will continue to use that as we are generating 83 percent of Blue Nile. The rule is not a game changing. We are talking about our rights guaranteed by the international law which I mentioned before.

They have to accept and acknowledge Ethiopia’s needs. As they are very clear about their needs, they should also understand our needs. As we always said, we will not significantly harm the water, not working to stop the water which they used for drinking or to develop their irrigation area.

There are adjustments they could make to wasteful irrigation raised dramatically to higher technology for most irrigation and so on. We can possibly work through collaboration and cooperation. They could irrigate high water consuming plants in Ethiopia through engaging in the investment sector and they could jointly make irrigation in million hectares.

Recently, the formation of Exim Bank has been ed in the Eastern African region with the purpose of financing grand projects like that of the GERD. What expectation could we have from such developments in the region?

It gives me hope to gain sufficient finance to do such a project. I do not have the details. It is good if the bank will have liberty and decide to support African development.

If the bank resource is fully African that would be a dramatic change. Many projects could be duly supported without no strings bullying around. It is possible, but I have no in-depth information. If it is a hope, that is a good direction.

After the inauguration of the partial power generation of GERD, downstream countries are raising concern as it violates the Declaration of Principles. What do you suggest as an expert?

Well, their point of view is, we have not agreed on the issue of dam operation while we were signing the declaration of principle.

So, they are saying Ethiopia cannot operate the dam. This is in fact contrary as operation means releasing water to downstream countries.

They, in other words, requested Ethiopia not to release water. It is contradictory; they are saying that Ethiopia should maintain the water. They said: Ethiopia cannot operate and fill the dam with water without the consent of downstream countries. As I told you the fundamental point that has been raised by Egypt and Sudan was dam filling and safety that is already settled.

How could Ethiopia agree and sign the binding legal document now unless it knows its water share. It is the issue of water qota. Operation means the number of water released every year.

It has to come with the water sharing agreement among the three countries and with the rest of Nile riparian countries. Operation is not simple as opening the turbine and so on.

So they know the complication. However, Ethiopia cannot sign on such a document where it says the feature development on the upstream of GERD can be done only if Egypt and Sudan allows doing so.

This is what they want. Ethiopia has a full right to the Abbay river share- to drink, irrigate upstream of GERD around Belese Tana, Dedessa and so on. In terms of the negotiation aspect, it will not be solved very soon as water sharing is a very sensitive matter for the three countries (Ethiopia, Egypt and Sudan).

As brotherly countries Ethiopia has no intention to harm Sudan and Egypt. They know this. Harming each other is not all profitable. Whatever the case, we have to address our internal problems in a very peaceful manner. We need to settle the matter in a very peaceful way as the internal conflict has indirect pressures on the project.

As it is a sensitive issue, the three brotherly countries should coexist together.

Finally, please tell us the environmental benefit of the GERD?

It gives clean energy not only for Ethiopia but also to the world at large. If we add more upstream dams, the use of gas for energy, which has a greater impact on the environment, will reduce. On the other hand, people in the rural parts of Ethiopia will not cut trees for cooking foods.

This will be a dramatic shift to Ethiopia’s forest management. Land conservation works will continue. Finally, the afforestation works will change the environment. Thank you.

It’s my pleasure.


The Ethiopian   26 February  2022

Leave a Reply