Journey to a Hydro-dollar Nation

It has been five years since the foundation stone of the GERD was laid. The project has reached over 50pc. With the project going with the current speed, it would not take long before Ethiopia becomes a hydro-dollar nation.

Five years have passed since the groundbreaking ceremonious launching of the Great Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) was carried out by the late Prime Minister, Meles Zenawi. Located in the arid zone of Benshangul Gumuz State, the Dam is 40Km from the borders of Sudan.

The fifth anniversary celebration is being carried out in a renewed tone of solidarity and unity of purpose, both in the capital Addis Abeba and in many major towns of the country. There is a louder sound of chanting and hoisting flyers of unity.

A specially organised 10,000 metre long run was among the main programme activities carried out by school children in very colourful attire of yellow and red T-shirts. They were shining along the streets of the metropolis, often known as the Great Run Route.

In the afternoon of the same day, the National Stadium held football matches that were loudly cheered and found to be quite amusing. It was great to see incumbents of different government offices and many youngsters celebrated for their athletic prowess, playing football in celebration of the Dam.

The GERD, which is designed to contain billions of cubic metres of the Nile water, is now over 50pc completed. We can now see it vividly, but there is much more of the project underneath.

Ethiopian money and the brain power of some expatriates have gone into the building of the Dam. The project has cut down to the bedrock, empirically proving that, in unison there is nothing that Ethiopians cannot achieve.

My personal encounter on the Nile project goes back to the years of the Nile 2002 conference. I was given the role of the Secretary of the Subcommittee of the Addis Abeba Water & Sewerage Authority (AAWSA) and Chairperson of the conference. My duties were carried out in the English language.

Managing the stage was really a challenge. With another member of the riparian countries failing to convene the conference due to internal political reasons, Ethiopia was given the responsibility. I had another chance to face the challenge. My deployer was Shiferaw Jarso, who was the then Minister of Water Resources. Over 150 papers were presented in the five-day conference on every subject related to the Nile Basin.

I remembered that the general compromise was that any programme imagined by any member of the riparian countries could only be thought beneficial if it was a comprehensively designed programme to be implemented on a Basin-level. And that would take care of everything, from equitable share to sedimentation, from diseases to floods.

The next stage was the Nile Basin Initiative (NBI), which required the ratification of, and signing by the majority of the riparian countries. This was before the idea of constructing a dam on the Blue Nile River could see the light of day. On the Ethiopian side, it was studied, perhaps as new and stunning information, that Ethiopia being the source of 85pc of the Nile water was not to be involved in the previous 1929 and 1956 sharing arrangements signed between the Sudan and Egypt, the two downstream countries.

Even locally, knowledge of a river crossing the boundary of Ethiopia to be subject to an international concern was news to the average Ethiopian, so to speak. People would say “What does the river Ghion, as it is written in the Holy Bible, have to do with anybody outside our boundary. This is given to us by God.”

But the Egyptians also say that they are the children of the Nile, which is the gift of nature. In fact, they are so taken in by that historical justification that they can see no life without the Nile.

Ethiopia, of course, understands their need. That is why it is not planning to use the waters of the Nile for anything more than generating hydropower. That means the regulated water flow will be flowing down in its normal courses, carrying no silt and alluvial like before.

Many uninformed members of the society may not know this, but the ability to reach common ground and be able to sign an agreement of principles by the tripartite member countries of Ethiopia, the Sudan and Egypt was a huge step forward. That, after all, was an agreement that officially recognised rights and equitable benefits, unlike the two previous agreements signed by the Sudan and Egypt (the legacy of the British colonialism). To me, this signalled the start of a new chapter in the modern history of coexistence of the three riparian countries.

The present drought situation caused by the El-Niño has made Ethiopia selfish even as she is on the brink of hunger and abject poverty. But Ethiopians, regardless of their differences in ethnicity, faith and ideology, always stood their ground together. This has been proved time and again for centuries on end.

The recent stand to defend their territorial integrity and sovereignty as well as freedom cannot be equated to any common interest.

The Nile Basin is one of the longest in the world, originating in central Africa around Lake Victoria. The Blue Nile (Ghion) starts from Lake Tana and flows down to the west of the country carrying some 85pc water content of the total flow. The rest comes from the White Nile, Atbara Baro and other tributaries.

Whenever there is too much water because of rain in Ethiopia, flooding takes place mainly in the Sudan. In addition to threat of flooding, much water evaporates from the Nasser Dam and other water reservoirs.

I once visited Umdruman in the Sudan as a member of the Ethiopian ministerial delegation, representing the Ministry of Information (MoI). We were received warmly by the Sudanese government and were taken to many places of interest.

I was able to see the difference between the White Nile and the Blue Nile. We had a tour on the River in a small motored ferry.

In all natural, social and political senses, then, the GERD is a special project. It could serve as tourist attraction, a source of foreign exchange and fish farming.

Of course, it goes without saying that Ethiopia is going to earn a significant amount of foreign currency from the energy exported across the borders. Perhaps we may proudly say that we could be among the hydrodollar countries. Who knows?


By Girma Feyissa

Published on Apr 05,2016 [ Vol 16 ,No 831]



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