The Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) and some Egyptian “Experts’ ” Hyperbole
A Rebuttal of Statement made by Group of the Nile Basin (GNB) of Cairo University, June 2013
The ongoing construction of the GERD across the Blue Nile in Ethiopia seems to have provided a field day for those “experts” bent on harming the historical friendly relationship between our two countries that have been forever tied together not only through the Nile, but also through history and culture as well . The “experts”, instead of being faithful to their calling and informing truth and science into the discussion over the GERD, have sadly joined the bandwagon of those who have politicized the issue out of proportions for short-term expediency.
We believe that is not the right way for scientists to show their patriotism. Sincere patriotism expected from solid scientists would have been putting out truth and facts in the open to prevent if not moderate manipulated hysteria and a frenzy of misinformation and disinformation activities.
As of recent, there has been strong rhetoric from senior Egyptian politicians who have crossed the boundaries of minimal diplomatic civility and instigated direct attack on the people and government of Ethiopia, the very people who, in unprecedented gesture of goodwill and in good faith stretched their hands and called upon Egyptian and Sudanese brothers to jointly study potential impacts of the dam.
We don’t know of any single country in the Nile basin that has ever invited riparian countries to study the impacts of its dam on riparian countries. This definitely has never been the experience of Egypt, at least as regards Ethiopia!! If Ethiopia had chosen to follow historical precedents and the example Egypt had set for us, there would never have been any consultations on GERD in the first place!
We have had the opportunity to read recent statements from a group of people from Cairo University who call themselves GNB (Group of Nile Basin). Their statements are testaments to the ill-motivated advise these people are offering the Egyptian public at large and the politicians in particular.
It is a fact that over the last 10 years many scientists and consultants knowledgeable about the Nile basin have reiterated that a series of dams over the Blue Nile in Ethiopia are attractive for the production of cheap, clean hydropower energy of such a scale sufficient enough to meet Ethiopia’s needs and even be able to export a sizable proportion to Egypt and Sudan.
These experts also have confirmed that this is doable in a win-win orientation, without significantly affecting the socio-economic interests of the two downstream countries, even generating benefits to them — in the form of enhanced capacity to buffer the adverse impacts of Climate Change induced extreme events (such as prolonged droughts or floods), sediment load reduction (and thus reducing costs incurred for dredging silted channels, and hydropower production foregone due to siltation), water saving and etc.
We believe that the People of Egypt and Ethiopia are connected by the Nile blood line. We also believe they deserve to know the objective facts about GERD un-obscured by fancy wishes to sustain hydro-hegemony in perpetuity.
Thanks to its ideal geographical location, the USD 4.7 billion self-financed Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD), will generate 6,000MW hydropower or 15,860 GWh/year – that is twice the energy generated from the High Aswan Dam (HAD).It is a fact that for Ethiopia to sustain its growth it needs to meet an annual 32% growth in energy demand. It is also a fact that Ethiopia does not have other economically and technically feasible source of energy such as gas or oil to meet this demand. Hydropower is the most cost-effective and accessible source Ethiopia has at its disposal. It is also glaringly obvious even to the lay person, leave alone to “engineering professors and scientists”, that Hydropower generation does not result in water abstraction. Hydropower dams only redistribute what otherwise would be variable flow in the river so that multiple beneficial uses of the water could be maximized. Given the above, advocating for any sort of intervention which in any form and manner strives to stop Ethiopia from tapping its hydropower potential is the highest form of ill-will toward our long suffering people – and can rightfully be considered as a desire to keep Ethiopians in abject poverty.
Hydropower does not consume water and in no way causes significant harm for the downstream countries. For example, it is mind-boggling how much energy the media and individuals wasted on the river diversion during construction of the GERD. The honored 18- member scientific committee of GNB at Cairo University knows well that this is in essence a non- event. They know very clearly this is pretty basic engineering procedure to enable access to the dam foundation for detail investigation and construction. The water follows its natural course only after few meters. All this is obvious to the esteemed scientists. And yet, not even one of them had the moral and scientific courage to come out in the open and challenge the hype politicians were making. Instead they chose to join the chorus!!
Given the reality of deliberate misinformation, we are compelled to bypass the esteemed scientists of GNB at Cairo University and inform the Egyptian public and the world directly with this statement restating obvious truths and facts:
The GERD neither consumes nor diverts water to another basin: The water is stored behind the dam and passes through the turbine more or less uniformly throughout the year and generates energy. What makes it different from the dams in the Egypt is that the dam is not planned for irrigation and is not used to divert water out of the Nile Basin, as in Toshka and Sinai.
The evaporation loss GERD incurs is significantly lower than the amount of water that the GERD saves from evaporation loss. The difference is positive. The saving comes from preventing flooding during high flood seasons, seepage or dumping water to the desert through spillways. The storage brings over 5 to 10% saving of water in the system. The then European colonialists well understood this fact and were planning to build dams in the Blue Nile Gorge of the Ethiopian highlands, precisely because these highlands provide ideal storage sites. But their wishes did not materialize since Ethiopia succeeded to keep its independence. It is also worth to remind readers that in the mid 1940s Egypt also had put forth its “century storage” plan aiming at building storage dams in the equatorial lakes and the Ethiopian highlands.
The GERD regulated flow brings forth multiple benefits no less to Egypt and Sudan (flood protection, irrigation expansion; water use efficiency; sediment load reduction, affordable clean power trade, energy uplift; navigation, etc.,). In a far more enlightened neighborhood where hydro-solidarity instead of hydro-hegemony was the norm, Egypt would have therefore taken initiatives to contribute to its financing.
Dam Safety: The dam design, construction, management follows international standards, drawing expertise from many parts of the world. Primarily, the dam is not being built in earthquake prone area, and there is no such hazard as some uninformed individuals claim. This notwithstanding GERD is designed to meet seismic conditions and reservoir induced seismicity due to stored water. Ethiopia should worry more than anybody else about the safety of the dam as the country and its people are investing billions of hard earned money and also is a responsible member of the international community least willing to be liable to risk the safety of its neighbors. GERD is being constructed under Engineering, Procurement and Construction (EPC) contract arrangement following the highest standards and technology known to date with great professional care, responsibility and detail as observed by the International experts visiting the GERD sight four times during their one-year tenure.
Hydrology: Abbay/Blue Nile flow at the Border with Sudan has been consistently recorded for more than 93 years. It is also again measured at Eldiem in Sudan. The hydrologic data over the period 1911-2003 includes the wettest years of 1916, 1917, 1929 and 1988 and the driest years of 1913 and 1984. Having such consistent reliable hydrologic data at a dam site is often rare. Other key inflow data are White Nile at Morgen and Atbara at Nile Junction have been also used to simulate GERD impact on HAD. The evaporation and rainfall estimates over the GERD reservoir are also within the correct order. The spillway design flood, Probable Maximum Flood (PMF) and diversion flood estimates have fulfilled the highest safety requirement that International Commission on Large Dams (ICOLD) is recommending.
Flow during the filling stage: The GERD has 74 billion cubic meter (BCM) storage capacity and about 60 BCM live storage. The 14 BCM is reserved to be filled by the sediment. The 60 BCM is mostly renewable water source that will be released every year. If GERD filling coincides with wet years in sequence there is no concern for anybody. If, on the other hand, the GERD filling coincides with dry years sequence (like the drought of 1984), then the filling strategy will be revised to minimize downstream impacts. In any case, there is no reason to worry that farmers in Egypt will be adversely impacted, even in dry year instance. Indeed negative effect could have occurred during consecutive drought year filling conditions, in the event the large High Aswan Dam (HAD) water level had reached historic minimum. The giant HAD, with over 130 BCM live storage, is designed to sustain two years water needs in Egypt without having any inflow!! When evaluating risk we need to factor in the HAD’s ameliorating potential.
Those people who are fear mongering with claims that so many hectares will be affected, so many farmers will be out of work are only doing great disservice to their own people. The facts are otherwise, as shown above. Ethiopia is a responsible nation and the design is adequate and has robust filling strategy that does not lead to any appreciable harm during filling period in the worst case combination that HAD reached minimum level and dry year occurs during filling. Again, the existing storage volume of HAD (twice the annual volume of Nile flow) has the capacity to absorb any potential multi-year shocks caused during the infilling phase of the GERD.
The benefits Ethiopia expects from GERD are self evident and there is no need to reiterate them here. However, we would like to highlight benefits accruing from GERD to individual downstream countries along with broader regional and global benefits. :
Benefits to the Sudan
There are wide arrays of benefits GERD will offer to Sudan that are well understood and appreciated by the Sudanese Experts. The major ones include the following:
Flood Risk Avoidance: The GERD will reduce negative impacts recurrent floods cause on population and infrastructures in Sudan. In addition to saving the lives of communities, flood damage risk in millions of dollar will be avoided annually all along more than 1,000 km stretch from Ethiopia-Sudan border to Khartoum City and beyond. For example, it is important to remember that Sudan had been affected by severe floods in 2007 which caused severe damages to over 30,000 houses and directly affected more than 365,000 people, with 64 dead and 335 injured. GERD will even out the maximum monthly Blue Nile flow at Sudan border by approximately 35 %, and the maximum monthly Nile flow at Khartoum by approximately 25 %.
Controlled and uniform flow: The GERD will offer regulated flow. Sudan irrigation can be expanded with no additional investment on water storage. Existing schemes and all the potential irrigable Nile alluvial strip can be sustainably irrigated as GERD creates more regulated and therefore reliable flow. Moreover, the downstream dams (Rosieres, Sennar, Merowi, HAD) spillway structures will be relieved from spilling major flood events and thus the dams safety will be ensured. It is important to note that Toshka spillway was designed to save the HAD from overtopping as experienced in 1998-2002 with a spill amounting to 41 Billion m3.
Drought mitigation: The GERD will store 74 BMC, with a live storage of about 60Billion Meter Cube. This stored water will be a resource that will benefit Egypt and Sudan during drought periods. A number of recent studies at Addis Ababa University and ENTRO have shown that during drought years such as happened in 1983-1985) irrigation failure in Egypt will decrease due to the additional system storage GERD creates. This is the most critical advantage of GERD to Egypt.
Water Saving and reduced transmission losses: More constant flows all over the year will reduce losses by infiltration and evaporation along the river, which in turn saves water. The GERD will also provide opportunity for saving water through controlled water management.
Sediment control: The GERD will capture sediment, protecting irrigation canals and equipment from damages caused by sedimentation. Roseires, Sennar and Merowe dam live storage will extend for at least a century over the design life, as more than 90% of Abbay/Blue Nile river sediment is trapped in GERD reservoir. Cost of reservoir and canal dredging can go down by more than 60% of the irrigation system operation and maintenance cost. Reduction of costs for dredging of canals could save about USD 33 million /year only for Sudan, not to speak of saving in turbine maintenance and replacement costs, ease of gate operation, etc.
Energy lifting: The GERD will improve Sudan’s dams efficiency and optimizes water use. Combined with regulated flows, Sudan hydropower dams namely Roseires, Sennar and Merowe energy generation will be lifted up by more than 2,657 GWh/year.
New energy opportunity: The GERD also provides new energy potential in the Sudan as a number of Run-off River plants could be developed and harnessed. Moreover GERD hydropower system will allow Sudan to put into the grid variable renewable wind and solar energy sources.
Beneficial Impacts for Egypt
Unlike the assertion that Egypt will be affected, there are numerous benefits accruing to Egypt from GERD. The benefits include:
Water saving and enhanced water management: GERD will increase the total storage capacity along the Nile River which is ultimately available for Egypt. This will reduce hydrological variability with sequences of drought and flood years. In the past, Egypt was compelled to spill excess flood water through spillway (crest 178 masl) to the desert of Toshka valley in order to avoid overtopping of HAD and potential disaster for major cities like Cairo. It has been, for example, indicated that spillage through the spillways reached41 BCM over 1998-2001. System storage increase due to GERD will provide buffer storage and new additional source of water above the HAD capacity.
Flood control: With GERD there will be increased flood control from the upstream part of the Blue Nile catchment. The routing capacity (flood storage capacity) of the Nile Basin will also be increased with the implementation of GERD. Such a routing capacity will improve the flood control downstream HAD and Risk of HAD overtopping or spillage will be eliminated.
Controlled and uniform flow: The GERD will regulate the flows of the Blue Nile and this will support flows arriving at HAD. HAD inflows will increase from November to June, and decrease from July to October, and will be more regular. Arriving flows at HAD will be more constant all over the year which will modify HAD inflows hydrological regime and will offer possibilities to optimize the water resources management. Due to regulated and consistent flow, irrigation schedule may be modified to optimize and improve agricultural productivity. In the event of severe drought, there will be better satisfaction of the irrigation water demand with a 0% deficit against a deficit of 0.8% in the case of HAD alone.
Reduced evaporation loss: With GERD operating upstream, average annual HAD losses will be reduced to 9.5 BCM/year from about 10.8 BCM/year in case of HAD alone.
Sediment control: HAD design life will extend by more than a century due to GERD as more than 50% of the sediment at Aswan is estimated to originate from Abbay/Blue Nile river.
Enhanced navigation: Due to GERD-regulated and increased flows a longer period of navigation on the Nile River downstream HAD will be possible. This will have important benefits for the tourism sector by extending the present tourist period. How ironic that currently Egypt is putting forth a new initiative of navigation between Alexandria and Lake Victoria!
New Energy Mix made possible: Upon power interconnection, GERD hydropower system will allow Egypt to put into the grid variable energy sources such as wind and solar generated energy.
Regional and Global Benefits
Seen also from the regional and global perspectives, GERD offers a number of benefits including:
Emission reduction and clean energy: The annual average energy to be generated by the GERD project would amount to 15,860 GWh/yr. If the same quantity of energy were to be generated by a thermal mix consisting of 50 per cent coal-fired and 50 per cent gas-fired combined cycle power plants, for example, some 10.6 M tons of GHG CO2 would be discharged to the atmosphere annually.
Capturing Climate Change related Opportunities: A number of Global Circulation Models (GCM) estimate that climate change will increase rainfall in the Ethiopian highlands, in which case the GERD will help to manage the excess water that might emerge as a result.
Regional economic integration: The energy generated from the GERD will enhance regional and economic integration first through power trade and interconnection and eventually as trust and confidence is built to full fledged regional integration.
Power pool and flexibility: GERD will provide significant energy contribution to the regional East and Northern Africa power pool, part of a continental plan to integrate African energy source and distribution as interconnected system. GERD generated hydropower contributes to the stability of the electrical system by providing flexibility and grid services as spinning turbines can be ramped up more rapidly than any other generation source. GERD can store energy over weeks, months and seasons. It can therefore provide the full range of ancillary services required for the high penetration of variable renewable energy sources, such as wind and solar in the three countries and beyond.
Intangible benefits: GERD is a practical way of win-win development undertaking contributing to overcoming centuries of mistrust among Nile Basin countries. GERD will pioneer a new era of cooperative regional development and improved water management and increasing the collective resiliency of Nile Basin nations to the anticipated Climate Change impact to threaten the basin.
Contrary to the hysteria politicians generated, which the GNB seems established and is intent to catalyze, the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD), as shown above, is a win-win undertaking which Ethiopia has earnestly embarked upon. Egypt in a nutshell benefits from this Ethiopian project in multiple ways.
We also know for certain that saner and fairer heads among Egyptian politicians, academicians and the population in general do not see any harm in Ethiopia developing its hydropower potential. They do not wish Ethiopia to be known as a country of famine and starvation – in the midst of plenty of water. They see no harm in Ethiopia generating hydropower to transform its economy, create wealth and improve the livelihood of its population. We urge the esteemed GNB members to develop similar perspectives. The facts speak for themselves!!
By Ethiopian National Panel of Experts
Addis Ababa, June 24, 2013.