Nile Dams – Egypt, Ethiopia, Look for Safe Ground

Nile River 1

Editor’s note: Much of the reporting in the past week on Ethiopia’s Renaissance Dam, under construction on the Blue Nile, has been inflammatory and misinformed. However, the report below is a balanced report we have seen so far coming out of the Arab world.


By Ziad Khalifeh
June 6, 2013

Nile dams. The Nile River Basin Initiative can provide clean power to 375 million East African citizens.

East Africa population may exceed 760 million people by 2030 (currently it is 375 million) – while Egypt’s population could exceed 140 million by 2030.

Survival in this age necessitates working together for the benefit of all.

Safety of future Nile Dams.

The Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam — Seismic-politics and Renaissance-phobia 

It would be beyond rationality that a 21st Century synthesis, resulting after more than 5000 years of common history and intercultural exchange between the nations of the Nile Basin and East Africa, would finally emerge in backward clash, threat of war, and promote further obstacles to cooperation.

Survival in a “Flat World” which has become based on interrelated and interdependent economies, mutual understanding between its various ethnicities, and alliances between entities — and on joint projects, cannot withstand gaps in this global fabric. Nor can it tolerate new conflicts between Egypt and Ethiopia, dragging the peoples of East Africa into fierce war and concomitant starvation implications.

Survival in this age necessitates working together for the benefit of all

Islamic civilization history was clear from any military confrontations with ‘Habasha’ and it was not until after the Western colonialism intervention, that one or two transient conflict incidents were recorded in the region.

It’s quite ironic that some world powers — formerly the architects of past treaties and border demarcation, and which are still intervening in all aspects of life all around the world, are not contributing proposals, advice nor technical supervision and support concerning such critical situations presently at play in the Nile River basin. Instead, they are watching while their regional proxies and agents deliver speeches and launch rhetorical threats on their behalf.

Obviously, the gradual increase in demand for energy, water, food, industry, security is accelerating – I don’t think that the Nile River would still be the exclusive gift of Egypt, or the only lifeblood tribute to Egypt and East Africa, at the end. New solutions should be found.

East Africa population could exceed 760 million people by 2030 (currently it is 375 million) – while Egypt’s population could exceed 140 million by 2030.

Safety of future Nile Dams

In this present moment, the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam is the center of focus and the core of serious implications which could have devastating implications and would affect the life of generations to come in the future.

No one denies that this project is objectively controversial, and there are real concerns which should be technically and thoroughly reviewed by highly professional experts, the topmost critical hazard: the safety of the Nile dams, chances of seismic activity, and possibility of collapse leading to flooding huge areas with 63 billion tons of reservoir water.

For these worries and reasons, the late Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi suggested the formation of The International Panel of Experts upon which its recommendations, the three involved countries, Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan, would cooperate to fulfill.

The International Panel of Experts was accordingly formed and delivered its report to the three governments concerned on the 1st of June 2013. The IPE is merely a consultancy team, and its recommendations are not obligatory: the responsibility and decision making, technical issues and construction on the ground, and the ethical responsibility towards their peoples, are solely left for these governments.

On The Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam — The IPE Report: between objective findings and subjective politics

Since the “Report” was prepared and delivered to governments, and not to public media, it has become clear that each country has selected from the Report what suits its plans and agendas. But while announcing to the public what have been selected, one can perceive filtered objective conclusions that are most important and have significant assessment value, apart from the sound and fury raged by this person or that political party.

The general impression is that the Dam would not cause significant harm on both of the lower riparian countries.

Of these objective findings are these following official statements:

Ethiopia; “The Panel’s report indicates that the design of the GERD has been based on international standards and principles and that the Dam offers high benefit for all the three countries and would not cause significant harm on both of the lower riparian countries.”

“The panel which appreciated the initiative Ethiopia was taking for its establishment has also suggested extra impact assessment possibilities and proposed ideas with a view to help the three basin countries’ benefit better from the Dam.”

Egypt; “Ethiopian studies do not show quantities specification for neither benefits nor harms. Studies and data delivered by Ethiopia was not enough qualifying for a huge project like this dam. Lack of accurate and advanced simulation.”

“The report recommended  further studies and research concerning the economic, social, dam safety, water revenues, and environmental implications.”

Sudan; “the diversion of the Blue Nile’s course by Ethiopia as part of a grand Dam construction is routine action that will not affect the river flow. Similar action was cited during the construction of the Meroe, Setit and Upper Atbara Dams.”

“the diversion will not impact the river flow.”

“the panel carried out its task as per the terms of reference accepted by the three countries. Consultations between the three governments will continue to follow up on the implementation of the findings of the committee.”

Saudi Arabia; “The Grand Renaissance dam has its capacity of flood waters reaching more than 70 billion cubic meters of water, and is located at an altitude of 700 meters and if it collapsed then Khartoum will drown completely and the impact will even reach the Aswan Dam,” the Saudi deputy defense minister Khalid Bin Sultan said at the meetings of the Arab Water Council in Cairo.”

Of all the above-mentioned, the solutions and alternatives within the context of the inevitable necessity for creating new alternatives facing increasingly growing populations in East Africa, only the issue of dam safety and chances of collapse qualifies as a critical hazard which all countries must work through diligently and thoroughly.

Death by Water

Seismic activity is real threat which has caused dam failure and large scale catastrophic consequences in some countries. The most notable, and still up to this date scientifically argued, is the collapse of Zipingpu dam in China back in 2004.

A massive 7.9 magnitude earthquake occurred near the dam and caused the death of 85,000 people and swept villages away with floodwater. Scientists argue that the earthquake may have been caused by the dam, since there is possibility that the weight of water in the reservoir behind the dam which contained 315,000,000 tons of water, caused seismic activity which escalated to an earthquake. Other dam failures in other countries also occur for various reasons.

As far as the Grand Renaissance Dam (gravity concrete dam) is concerned, the water reservoir will contain 63,000,000,000 cubic meters, which is much more quantity than that of the Zipingpu.

Apparently, the geography in the  Benishangul-Gumuz Region of Ethiopia where the dam is under construction is different from that in China, and the density of inhabitants per kilometre in the area downstream is much more less than that in China; but this hazard opens wide gates from which many claims would simply enter and engage to magnify the debate. The first to enter was the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia with the statement by the Saudi deputy defense minister Khalid Bin Sultan. Many others will follow.

In my view, this is the most essential detail which all parties must evaluate.

  • Is it possible a collapse might occur?
  • If such collapse would occur (God Forbid), what is the actual amount of water which would abruptly flow downstream and what is the area of land and distances that water would cover?
  • A simulation of such disaster should be performed by computers to great precision. Is there possibility to create series of reservoirs with less water content so that any damage would be minimized?

Sometimes, vital needs overcome conservatism. Nuclear plants are good example on this context, the Chernobyl disaster is one of them, and dangers of nuclear plant core meltdown have equal threats, and even greater since released radioactive particles are carried by wind, reach destinations thousands of kilometres away, and remain active for thousands of years to come.

Collective Altruism

When millions of Ethiopian middle income individuals, and other wealthy ones, donate money (birr) from their pockets in order to accomplish this project and see their collective dream come true, after all countries turned their shoulders to their motherland, this becomes a demonstration of heroic and rare, modern example of humanism and accomplishment.

People will be working to diminish poverty, expand agricultural projects, developing industrial projects, raising the standards of living of each and every individual. I don’t think it is either ethical nor acceptable to confront those people, or to place obstacles in their way toward renaissance, as long as no real threats or significant harm on neighboring countries exists.

Egypt and Sudan should pursue other alternative water and energy sources in addition to their future mutually-agreed-upon share of the Nile water. Solar Energy, Nuclear Energy, Gas Energy, water desalination plants, groundwater utilizing (in Al Qantara, and other huge reserves which Dr. Farouk Al Baz has recommended), and other means to insure satisfaction of the needs of the growing population in Egypt.

Escalation, or going to war with Ethiopia, won’t bring progress for any party — ultimately, it is worse than any scenario brought by the dam.

Sudan can take a similar stance, and ultimately, benefit from the Ethiopian projects as well.

The three countries, Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan, along with the other East African countries, in the final analysis, must SUCCEED TOGETHER.

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