The International Panel of Experts’ Report on the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam


The International Panel of Experts commissioned to report on the impact of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) has handed its findings to the governments of Ethiopia, Sudan and Egypt. It has produced a lengthy, detailed and technical report after seeing all the documentation for the design, construction and related studies, holding six meetings and making four visits to the Dam site. It submitted one single final report with full consensus, signed by all ten members of the Panel.

It was at the initiative of the Government of Ethiopia that the two downstream countries, Egypt and Sudan, were invited to form the Tripartite International Panel of Experts, to investigate in good faith and in a transparent manner, and share all available information and documentation on the construction of the on-going GERD project. The initiative also was intended to address some of the concerns of the two downstream countries. It was an unprecedented step by Ethiopia aimed to foster cooperation and build confidence among the three Eastern Nile Basin Countries. It was also intended to ensure that Sudan and Egypt could understand the potential shared benefits and impact of the GERD. The final report of the Panel indeed put on record the Panel’s appreciation of the initiative taken by the Government of Ethiopia.

The tripartite committee was composed of 10 experts; two each from Ethiopia, Sudan and Egypt. The addition of a further four international experts was also suggested by Ethiopia and accepted by Egypt and Sudan.

The mandate of the International Panel of Experts set the objectives of reviewing the design documents of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam Project; providing transparent information sharing; soliciting understanding of the benefits and costs accruing to each of the three countries; scrutinizing the impacts, if any, of the GERD on the two downstream countries; and building confidence between Ethiopia as an upstream country and the two downstream neighbors. The Panel was also tasked with proposing recommendations to the Governments of the three countries on issues of concern that might be considered in the future.

The final report of the Panel in general made it clear that the on-going GERD project was being undertaken in line with international design criteria and standards. It also specified that the Dam would have significant benefits which would accrue to all the three basin countries as the project would not result in any significant adverse impact on the two downstream countries. Indeed, the report makes no mention of any adverse effects on any of the three countries. It noted that the construction of the GERD did not only benefit Ethiopia in terms of access to energy and jobs, but it would also solve the shortage of power in the region and make it available at significantly less cost. It would solve the problem of siltation in the dams in Sudan and Egypt, a problem that costs millions of dollars in rectification annually, and produce a more constant water flow. The experts were also unanimous in saying that the GERD would solve the problem of the frequent flooding to which the Sudan has been prone. It would reduce evaporation loss, improve water management and enhance rural development in Sudan; and for Egypt it would improve flood control and the flow to the Aswan Dam, reduce evaporation losses by as much as 12%, and by sharply cutting sediment reaching the Aswan Dam, increase its life by up to a hundred years. In general, GERD was identified as producing major benefits overall to the three countries, not least the provision of clean energy for the Nile Basin and the region as a whole. The storage of the GERD will actually bring a new source of water into the system with the effect of its regulation saving significant quantities of water from overbank flow and floodplain loss. All these benefits are detailed in the Panel’s final report.

The Panel also made a number of recommendations. It is now up to the three governments to decide how to carry out these recommendations which are divided into two parts. One set of recommendations are directed to the Government of Ethiopia; the other to the three governments of Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan jointly.

Ethiopia has accepted all the recommendations and suggestions directed to it, and indeed it has already begun to update some of the project documents, and the environmental and social assessment studies. It will continue to update other studies to increase the efficiency and cost effectiveness of the project as suggested. It has already begun to respond to the recommendations of the Panel and deal with the engineering aspects of the Dam, concerned with construction detail. Construction will, of course, continue as it is independent of the activities of the Panel.

As regards the recommendations to the three governments, these include the suggestion of further detailed studies of the water resources and hydrology modeling of the whole Eastern Nile system, taking into account that it is proposed to take 5 to 7 years to fill the Dam in order to ensure minimum effects on the flow of the river. Other recommendations are for the three governments to carry out joint further studies on the environment and social impact and a full trans-boundary environmental impact assessments. Ethiopia has made it quite clear that it is prepared to consider these recommendations but they do need Sudanese and Egyptian co-operation.

Ethiopia has consistently assured the Sudan and Egypt that they have everything to gain and nothing to lose from the construction of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam. The position of the Ethiopian government has been clearly confirmed by the final report of the International Panel of Experts. It underlined that the construction of the Dam as well as Ethiopia’s initiative to invite the two downstream countries to jointly consult and deliberate on the GERD project deserved to be welcomed. The final report of the Panel clearly shows the GERD project is being undertaken with professional competence and with due regard to internationally recognized standards and criteria as well as the concerns of the downstream countries. The necessary studies and designs of the project are being conducted as required at different stages. They are going to be updated to address some of the concerns raised in the Panel’s report as necessary.

Ethiopia’s position is very clear. It has the report and it accepts all the recommendations made by the Panel in good faith. It hopes Egypt will now come and discuss the next stage with Ethiopia and Sudan, to implement the recommendations made by the Panel for the three governments. In the meantime, the construction of the project within the required international standards as the Panel has confirmed, will continue.

Egypt’s scare tactics: futile and unhelpful
In the past few days, Egyptian media has been flooded with fiery rhetoric some of which gives the impression that war between Egypt and Ethiopia is inevitable because of the recent news about the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) and the release of the final report of the International Panel of Experts, set up to study the impact of the Dam and its benefits as well as the harm, if any, on the two downstream countries, Sudan and Egypt.

In fact, the frenzy over the GERD appeared to start when news of the “diversion” of the river was publicized. “Diversion” in this context, of course, is a normal and natural element in the construction of dams. However, to the surprise of viewers, in a live televised national security talk, allegedly televised inadvertently, heavy-weight Egyptian opposition politicians urged the Government of President Morsi, to opt for some violent responses, calling for intelligence and military action, making suggestions of air strikes, of organizing and assisting Ethiopian rebels and even of starting an all-out war. In the long history of the relations between Egypt and Ethiopia, there have been other occasions when Egyptian governments have willfully engaged in war-mongering rhetoric, support for Ethiopia’s enemies and attempts to destabilize Ethiopia. President Morsi did not endorse these comments at the time, but at the beginning of this week in a televised speech he said he would keep “all options” open to defend Egypt’s water supplies from being affected by the GERD, adding “we are not advocates of war, but we will never permit our water security to be threatened.” Prime Minister Qandil told the Shura Council that the issue of access to the Nile water was one of “national security” and “a matter of life and death”.

The outburst of old fashioned war rhetoric and the reaction of the Egyptian government came as a shock to Ethiopia which has been calling for years for cooperation and joint development of the Nile Basin, based on the strong belief, expressed by the late Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, that the Nile is the umbilical cord connecting two great nations. The statements of Egyptian officials and politicians are hardly an acceptable response from any self-respecting government and leadership of a great nation. The attempt to use scare-mongering tactics and intimidation are also misplaced.

What makes the apparently provocative statements from Egypt even more irrelevant was the fact that they were in fact entirely unjustified. Indeed, the absence of a real cause for protest is very apparent to any one who looks at the situation with any care.

To begin with, as already mentioned, the news of the “diversion” of the Nile was given an entirely false ‘spin’ by the media, civic society leaders and politicians. The panic over the news of the “diversion” was however no more than a hoax. The truth is that on May 28th, some days before it was publicized, the flow of the river was diverted by some 500 meters aside from its original bed in order to allow construction of the Dam across the original bed. There was no interruption of any kind to the flow of the river at any point. In other words, what took place on was no more than a mere re-routing of the water, a normal procedure in building a dam and no different from the established norms of the science of dam engineering.

It might be added that this was not a surprise. The three countries which had set up the International Panel of Experts had agreed that the conduct of the Panel’s study would be carried out while the construction of the dam continued. Nor was there any binding obligation on Ethiopia to notify Egypt or any other country of the slight detour in the flow of water which would never have any effect of the amount of water flowing downstream. This sort of brief shifting to allow for construction is something that can occur at any appropriate time during the construction of any dam. The panic that followed the publicity was quite irrational and the outcry that this would mean a reduction in the volume of water reaching Egypt was no more than a complete fiction. The flow of water returns to the old water course after its short detour with the flow unchanged.

Nor did Egypt have any reason to beat war drums over the report of the International Panel of Experts which came out two days after the news of the “diversion”. As any glance at the Panel’s final report makes clear, Egypt should have warmly welcomed the report which finally dispels all concern over potential harm to the downstream countries. As Ethiopia has repeatedly underlined, the establishment of the International Panel of Experts was set up at the initiative of Ethiopia in order to build trust and further consolidate a sense of solidarity among the three countries. As an initiative of the late Prime Minister Meles, the idea behind establishing the Panel was to demonstrate to Egypt and the Sudan the reality of Ethiopia’s commitment to transparency over the GERD. In that sense, the fact that the Panel’s assessment that the Dam will not cause any appreciable harm for downstream countries is a testimony to this commitment. It is also verification of Ethiopia’s repeated assessments showing the GERD’s benefit to all three countries.

The Panel’s final report, as expected, affirmed that the project design met all international standards and offered significant benefits in terms of clean energy, an increase in volume of water from a fall in evaporation, reduced sedimentation reaching the dams of the lower riparian countries and less flooding. More importantly, the report makes it clear that there will be no appreciable harm on the two downstream countries. In these circumstances, it might be expected that the report would have been warmly embraced rather than met with constant attack from Egyptian officials. While Sudan, it might be noted, has fully accepted the report, Egypt has neither made its position clear nor shown any interest in sitting down with the governments of Ethiopia and Sudan to discuss the report as the Panel suggests, in order to conduct further studies in a few areas related to water resources and hydrologic modeling, and otherwise implement its recommendations.

In the final analysis, the only reasonable assessment of the apparent panic in Cairo is that it must be linked to internal domestic political problems. The Egyptian Government has been under fire from a significant part of the population and is apparently trying to use scare tactics to encourage its supporters and keep the growing call for elections at bay. This, however, has the effect of critically undermining its Government’s commitment to equitable utilization of the Nile waters.

Ethiopia has made it very clear that under no circumstances will construction of the GERD be delayed or suspended. If anything, continued efforts at intimidation will only fortify the commitment of the Ethiopian people to the flagship project that they have so warmly embraced.

Indeed, on Wednesday this week, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs issued a statement underlining the Government’s continued commitment to the construction of the GERD. Referring to previous statements on the unhelpful and unnecessary propaganda campaign being carried out by some Egyptian politicians, civil society leaders and political parties about the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD), the Ministry statement noted that “Ethiopia had twice called the Egyptian Ambassador in Addis Ababa to the Foreign Ministry in order to explain the position of his government over these comments, and had indeed requested formal clarification from the Government of Egypt itself. Ethiopia, in turn, made clear its own unshakable belief in friendship, cooperation and mutual benefit as the underlying principles of its relations with all friendly states, including Egypt.

The statement went on “That being said, Ethiopia was deeply frustrated to see further unconstructive propaganda aired about the GERD in the presence of the President, Mohamed Morsi, the Prime Minister, Hisham Qandil, and other high ranking Egyptian officials at the Popular Conference on Egypt’s Rights to Nile Water. Among the baseless allegations aired at the Conference were comments that claimed the Dam posed a danger to the survival of the people of Egypt and malicious suggestions on ways to initiate activities aimed at putting pressure on Ethiopia to halt construction of the GERD. There were, in general, a series of provocative statements attacking both the national interest of Ethiopia and the will of its people to escape poverty. Indeed, a barrage of inaccurate and ill-advised comments, aimed at undermining the report of the International Panel of Experts, were also aired during the Forum. The proposed suggestions of any resort to war or other forms of sabotage are unacceptable and have no place in the 21st century. In this context, Ethiopia would like to make it clear that it expects the Government of Egypt to refrain from all such unacceptable forms of behavior or engagement and work towards greater cooperation between the two countries.”

The statement continued: “Ethiopia affirms that it will not be discouraged by this violent rhetoric. It reiterates in the strongest possible terms that it will not accept any proposal, from Egypt, to halt or delay the construction of the GERD. This apparent attempt to use alleged protests against the GERD as an element of internal domestic politics is against the interests of the people of Egypt. Ethiopia would like to take this opportunity to extend its warmest appreciation to the Government of Sudan for the positive statements it has made about the benefits of the GERD as detailed in the report of the International Panel of Experts. It would hope that others could learn much from the strong stance taken by Sudan in this regard. Ethiopia would like to remind the Government of Egypt that as the report of the International Panel of Experts made very clear; the GERD offers major benefits to Egypt. Ethiopia remains firm in its genuine desire to cooperate with Egypt and foster greater friendship between the two countries.”

As Ethiopia has said again and again, scare tactics are futile. Ethiopia will not bow to such pressure and it will not halt or delay the construction of the GERD. The only way to peace and development for the peoples of the Nile Basin is cooperation; and Ethiopia has repeatedly affirmed its commitment to greater cooperation and dialogued in all matters connected with the Nile Basin, including the GERD.

It is worth noting that the three riparian nations of the Nile account for a gross domestic product (GDP) of 721.3 billion dollars. A large portion (537.8 billion dollars) is contributed by Egypt, while Sudan and Ethiopia run economies with 80.4 billion dollars and 103.1 billion dollars, respectively, but structurally, their economies are largely complementary. The Egyptian economy is driven by a service sector, with a share of GDP ratio of 47.9%, followed by industry (37.4%) and agriculture (14.7%). Ethiopia’s GDP is based on agriculture (46.6%), with services (38.8%) and industry (14.6%). Sudan services provide 43% of GDP, with agriculture (32%) and industry (25%). The Egyptian economy recorded only 2% growth 2011/12 and Sudan saw a fall, while the Ethiopian economy has been at an average of over 10% over the last nine years. There is enough in these economies to create a functional regional economic block and the Nile could serve as a natural link for economic cooperation, based on their respective comparative economic advantages.