Water Filling Bill Advances Amidst Tensions

Overriding the Declaration of Principles, the Tripartite National Committee (TNC) of the water ministers of Ethiopia, Sudan and Egypt are drafting a directive to start filling Renaissance Dam’s storage reservoir. The declaration states that the water filling issue should surface after the finalisation of the ongoing studies.

The four-page declaration, signed in March 2015, stated that the assessment should be completed first and get an approval by the Committee. But the Committee was forced to draft a directive over the filling as a result of delays in the study, according to sources close to the case.

Water ministers of the three countries met last week to discuss the performance of the consultancy firms and pending issues from the previous meeting. The 18th session of the TNC  was held on October 18, 2017. The Ministers also paid a field visit to the dam, which is almost ready for water filling.

The two international consultancy firms BRL and its associate Artelia were hired by the three countries to assess the dam’s hydrological simulation model during the filling process of the Great Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD), and environmental and socio-economic impact assessment to the Nile riparian countries. The companies were meant to deliver the study by December 2017.

The consultancy firms came into the scene following the suggestion of the International Panel of Experts (IPoE) to conduct the two studies in September 2014. Initially, the TNC had selected Dutch Deltares and French BRL Ingenierie, consultancy firms, but they failed to work together on the study. Artelia replaced the Dutch company last year after a decision from the previous TNC meeting held in Sudan’s capital, Khartoum.

The assessments were delayed as a result of controversy over its scope, presented during the inception report of the two companies. The study aimed to assess water quality in Sudan and hydrological effects on Aswan Hydrological dam in Egypt. Artelia proposed to extend the water quality assessment to Egypt, but Sudan and Ethiopia refused the proposal.

And amidst this debate, the 18th session was held in Addis Abeba, last week. The time frame for the finalisation of the assessment is yet to be determined, but the consultants have only two more months to finalise the study according to the initial schedule.

Sileshi Bekele (PhD), Ethiopian Minister of Water, Irrigation & Electricity, his Egyptian fellow Mohamed Abdelaati (PhD) and Sudanese counterpart Mutaz Musa, visited the dam travelling to Guba, Benishangul Regional State.

During the visit, Mohamed Abdelaati (PhD), the Egyptian water minister, who was surprised with the progress of the dam, forwarded his concerns on the filling of the GERD and the delay of the studies by the consultants.

“The tripartite committee finally reached an agreement to prepare guidelines which enable the firms to expedite their assignment,” said Meles Alem, a spokesperson of Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MoFA), in response to the media during the press conference two days after the 18th session.

“It is too early to disclose the contents of the guideline because it is in the draft stage,” he said. But sources close to the case told Fortune that the draft directive focuses on the issue of water filling.

In 2011, Ethiopia launched the construction of the GERD and currently, the 4.8 billion dollars dam project has reached 60pc completion. The dam is expected to hold 74 billion cubic metres of water.

The draft directive is expected to be approved by the ministerial committee in their next meeting. In the meantime, Ethiopia is planning to store water from the Grand Renaissance Dam in a reservoir next year.






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