Nile Dam Disputes Continue, UN Requested to Intervene
Last week, Egypt reported that it had called on the United Nations Security Council to intervene on talks regarding the construction of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam in the Benishangul-Gumuz region of Ethiopia, on the Blue Nile River.
The $4.6 billion hydroelectric dam is owned by the Ethiopian Electric Power Corporation and is reported to be roughly 75% complete.
Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam
To start from the beginning, the site for the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam was first identified by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation during a survey of the Blue Nile River between 1956 and 1964. Additional surveys were also taken in October 2009 and between July and August 2010.
While design plans were submitted in November of that same year, it wouldn’t be until April 2011 that Ethiopia announced its plans to build four dams along the river. The biggest of the four was the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam, formally known as the Millennium Dam.
That same month, it was also announced that an engineering, procurement and construction contract had been awarded to Italian industrial group Salini Costruttori SpA. According to reports, the Ethiopian government kept the design phase of the project a secret—carried out under the name “Project X”—until one month before crews were expected to lay foundation stone.
At the time of the announcement, reports indicated that the project would be funded by the Ethiopian government and it was initially expected to reach completion by July 2017. Once finished, the infrastructure would serve both Ethiopia, Sudan and Egypt. The reason? Although 85% of river flows occur in Ethiopia, the latter two countries depend on the Nile River for their water supply.
The dam’s construction was expected to create up to 12,000 jobs, with approximately 20,000 people resettled during the course of the project.
In January 2012, a tripartite committee was formed to promote understanding and look into the benefits and impacts the project would have on the three countries. The following year, African energy company, Alstom, signed a 250-million-euro (roughly $283 million) contract with Metals & Engineering Corporation (METEC) to supply turbines, generators and all electromechanical equipment for the hydropower plant.
According to Water Technology, the hydroelectric dam structure would be a roller-compacted concrete gravity-type, comprising of two power stations, three spillways and a saddle dam. The main dam is slated to measure 145 meters (roughly 476 feet) high and 1,780 meters long. The saddle dam supporting the main dam is expected to measure 4,800 meters long and 45 meters high and includes an emergency side spillway.
The two outdoor power stations, with installed capacities of 3,750 MW and 2,250 MW, will be located on either banks of the river. The power houses include 16 generating units of 375 MW each. A 500 kV switchyard was also included in the plans to transmit power from the power stations to the grid.
Water Technology adds that approximately half of the construction work was completed by December 2014, with the 700 MW first stage of the dam slated for operation by 2015.
Once completed and filled, the structure would be able to hold a reservoir with a surface area of 1,680 meters squared (74 billion cubic meters) at full supply level, with six radial gates capable of discharging 2,450 cubic meters per hour of water at maximum flood occurrence.
The infrastructure is expected to generate an expected capacity of 6,000 MW of power annually for over 70 million Ethiopians.
In a push by the government of Sudan, at the beginning of the month, the three key Nile basin countries resumed negotiations about the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam. According to Sudanese officials, Egypt is worried that in following months of deadlock, the infrastructure will further constrict the country’s water supply.
Previously, the countries attempted to host talks back in February. However, those efforts came to a halt after Ethiopia rejected a U.S.-crafted deal and accused the Trump administration of siding with Egypt.
As a result, Sudan's Irrigation Minister Yasser Abbas told reporters that the three countries' irrigation leaders have agreed on "90% or 95%" of the technical issues, but disputes remained over "legal points" in the deal.
Although, in decades-old agreements, Egypt had previously received the bulk of the Nile’s waters. Regardless, the major issue of filling the dam too quickly comes as a threat as the endeavor is expected to reduce Egypt's supply of water by at least 22%. According to David Wolde Giorgis from the International Institute for Security in Addis Ababa, the deadlock is a security risk for the region as well.
Despite these issues, Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed has repeatedly expressed his interest in beginning to fill the dam during the rainy season next month in July. The country expects to collect at least 4.9 billion cubic meters of water throughout July and August, which would be enough water to start the first of two turbines by mid-2021.
However, reports claim it would take an additional seven years before the reservoir is full so that the dam can commission all 16 turbines in 2029—with a five-year delay.
“We don’t want to hurt anyone else, and at the same time it will be difficult for us to accept the notion that we don’t deserve to have electricity,” he said, referring to the country’s ambitions to use the dam to provide badly needed power to 70 million Ethiopians.
“We are tired of begging others while 70% of our population is young,” he said. “This has to change.”
To avoid the possibility of a war over the inability to reach an agreement on the matter, Egypt has called on the United Nations Security Council to intervene on the matter. In a statement, the Egyptian foreign ministry appealed the U.N. Security Council, writing, “to intervene to emphasize the importance that three countries ... continue negotiations in good faith.
"The Arab Republic of Egypt took this decision in light of the stalled negotiations that took place recently on the Renaissance Dam as a result of Ethiopian stances that are not positive.”
While the talks have been reported to be ongoing for years, there is currently no date set for when the stalled talks will resume.