የኢትዮጵያ ውሀዎች አማካሪ ምክር ቤት
ETHIOPIAN WATERS ADVISORY COUNCIL (ewac)
Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD): Letter to Reverend Jesse Jackson by Dr. Mohamud Abu-Zeid – A Rejoinder
Mersie Ejigu (firstname.lastname@example.org)
(See Dr. Abu-Zeid’s letter at: https://www.zehabesha.com/egypts-reply-to-reverend-jesse-jackson/)
Dear Dr. Abu-Zeid,
As you may recall, I represented IUCN-The World Conservation Union1 at the founding meeting of the World Water Council (WWC) in 1996, Marseilles, France and the First World Water Forum in Marrakech, Morocco a year later.
Permit me to extend my congratulations to you for ably chairing the WWC and your appointment as Honorary President for Life of the Council. You also ably chaired key sessions of the First World Water Forum, which was convened under the theme “Vision for Water, Life and the Environment” and brought together some 500 participants (scientists, educators, policy makers, practitioners, leaders of international organizations and civil society) from wide ranging disciplines to promote understanding about water, the imperatives of water conservation, equitable and sustainable use and chart a way forward. I presented a paper titled: Water and Biodiversity, published in Water, World’s Common Heritage, Proceedings of the First World Forum. Indeed, the scientific thoughts and evidence driven approaches that the WWC laid out at the time have lived with me and inspired me to write this rejoinder and also be a founder of the Ethiopian Water Advisory Council (EWAC).
Let me, first, seize this opportunity to congratulate and thank Reverend Jesse Jackson for drawing global attention to water issues, bringing out the truth, and furthering the ideals of the World Water Council.
It is incumbent on all of us associated with WWC to be the voice of science, reason, sustainability, equity, justice, and cooperation. The pursuit of technical solutions to political problems encountered around the Nile opens ample opportunities and policy options not only to address current issues but new and emerging issues in the years to come. Nevertheless, what you wrote as a reply to the Rev. Jesse Jackson, negates the values, principles and goals promoted by WWC.
1 I was Assistant Director General for Programmes and Policy at the time and left the organization over two decades ago. Opinions in this letter, thus, have nothing to do with IUCN or CEESP. Nor do they have anything to do with the Ethiopian Government, which I left almost thirty years ago.
የኢትዮጵያ ውሀዎች አማካሪ ምክር ቤት
ETHIOPIAN WATERS ADVISORY COUNCIL (ewac)
Let me explain why I made that conclusion:
- Distorted historical facts: You wrote “Ethiopia’s position is…to consecrate unrestrained
and unregulated right to exploit the Nile resources without taking into consideration the
rights of downstream countries.” On the contrary, Ethiopia, Sudan and Egypt have long
and deep history of interconnectedness and interdependence marked by shared
identities, traditions, and mythologies shaped and nurtured by the Nile. At no time in its
history has Ethiopia claimed exclusive control over its transboundary resources.
Generosity, magnanimity, and the pursuit of collective peace and prosperity have been
the defining characteristics of Ethiopians. No wonder, the Greek philosopher, Homer
described Ethiopians as the “blameless people.”
In 613 A.D., Ethiopia, though Christian country at the time, provided shelter to Prophet
Muhammad and followers, when they fled from persecution by rulers in Mecca. Egypt’s
Coptic Christians also fled to Ethiopia in the 13th and 14th century AD upon persecution
by Egyptian rulers. Ethiopia not only welcomed them but embraced them as a member
of the same family. The treaties and cooperation frameworks signed by Emperor Menelik
and subsequent leaders that you mentioned, all show Ethiopia’s commitment to pursuing
her use of water for development while respecting interests of downstream countries
and ensuring no significant harm.
History teaches us that it was, in fact, Egypt, perhaps motivated and emboldened by the
violent colonialism of the 19th century, that started the politicization of the Nile and
confrontational hydro-politics through a policy of aggressive southward expansion
under Muhammad Ali Pasha (r. 1805-1848) rule. The aggression continued with Egypt’s
declaration of war on Ethiopia, ostensibly, to colonize the country and control the Nile in
1875 and 1876 that ended with Egypt’s humiliating defeats.
Since then, Egypt changed its war strategy from national level confrontation to political
destabilization within Ethiopia through fomenting and, at times, manufacturing divisions
inside Ethiopia. Egypt’s decision to bring the GERD issue to the UN Security Council and
Washington and start beating the drums of war to put undue pressure on Ethiopia are
clear testimonies of choosing confrontation over science and cooperation.
- False Claims and Missing Information: In your letter, you falsely claimed that “Egypt
has not sought to bind Ethiopia to which it is not a party” and “Egypt has never exercised
hegemonic power over the Nile.” But glaringly missing in your letter is the 1959 Nile
Treaty that Egypt and Sudan signed without Ethiopia’s participation. This Treaty granted
all the Nile waters – mean annual flow of 84 cu m at Dongola/Aswan for the period 1890-
1995 (FAO, www.fao.org) to Egypt (55.5 bcm) and Sudan (18.5 bcm). More surprising,
the Agreement granted Egypt a veto power over development projects upstream, which
it exercised. What more hegemony would there be?
Indeed, Egypt used its influence to block development financing from the World Bank,
African Development Bank, European Union, and bilateral sources. Suffice it here to
mention a Reuter’s report, “Egypt is widely credited with having blocked a loan from the
African Development Bank for a dam project in Ethiopia in 1990.” (Reuters.com). Located in Choke Mountains,
one of the two Blue Nile water towers, this project was studied over 30 years ago at the time, when I was
Minister of Planning and Development of Ethiopia. It was designed to improve the lives of these people shown and
had extremely high rates of economic return and socioenvironmental benefits. When I went there ten years
ago, two decades after Egypt’s blockage of the project, I found people languishing under conditions of abject
poverty (wearing the same blanket day and night) and a highly degraded environment. Egypt should take
responsibility for keeping these people where they are today.
Egypt’s actions did harm, not only to people, but also to the very sources of the Blue Nile,
which accounts for 85 percent of the overall flow of the river. Today, the two water
towers of the Nile, the Guna and Choke mountains are severely degraded, water table
sinking, feeder rivers drying and volume of the Blue Nile waters visibly diminishing.
- Evading the truth: We all know that Nile is the only major river in the world without a
treaty among riparian states. What you mentioned as the 1902 Treaty signed by Emperor
Menelik “not to construct or allow to be constructed …that would arrest the flow of
waters into the Nile” was a tactical move by Menelik to keep the British colonizers at bay
following his win over another colonizer, the Italians in 1896. Further, it expresses the
wish of all Ethiopians, past and present, not to inflict significant harm to Egypt. The 1993
Framework Agreement that you mentioned “refrain from engaging in any activity that
would cause appreciable harm” is consistent with Ethiopia’s historical position.
Indeed, the first comprehensive engagement of the Nile riparian countries started with
the Nile Basin Initiative (NBI) in 1999, with Egypt as one of the founding members, which
unfortunately you failed to mention. Established with the motto of “One River, One
People and One Vision, ” the objective of NBI is ‘achieving sustainable socio-economic
development through the equitable utilization of, and benefit from, the common Nile
Basin water resources’ (www.nilebasin.org). Over the last 20 years, NBI has also
managed to maintain a platform for cooperation, generate knowledge, and contribute to
human and institutional capacity building across riparian countries. It developed a
Cooperation Framework Agreement (CFA) that helped move away from the bilateral
colonial agreements to all-inclusive Nile Treaty. The Treaty envisaged establishing a
permanent institutional mechanism, the Nile River Basin Commission (NRBC) to
promote the implementation of the CFA and to facilitate cooperation among the Nile
Basin States. After almost two decades of negotiation, Egypt and Sudan refused to sign
the CFA and further negotiations for a Nile treaty suspended.
- Misrepresenting GERD. You generated a litany of misleading and untrue statements
about GERD’s impacts stating “Ethiopia’s …..unilaterally commence the construction of
GERD, failure to conduct … studies on environmental impacts and social effects …. start
filling the dam without agreement with… riparian states” “GERD and negotiations not
adequately and accurately presented.” We all know that GERD is a hydropower
generating project, which basically means whatever water used, flows back to the river.
Several studies have also confirmed that water reduction during GERD filling has little or
no negative impact to Sudan’s water users and on irrigation water uses in Egypt. Even if
there is minimal loss during filling, (mostly due to evaporation), there are many
possibilities for mitigating downstream risks.
The truth is the only factor that can set all of us free. Ethiopia is doing everything possible
to generate full understanding of the dam and its benefits. Whatever done so far is
consistent with the 2015 Declaration of Principles (DOP), you mentioned, on “rules
governing the filling and operations of the GERD in a manner that is equitable and
reasonable and that avoids the infliction of significant harm on downstream countries.”
- Stretching the Untruth. You wrote “Ethiopia has adopted a consistent policy of
obstructionism that hindered agreement on GERD.” On the contrary, it is Egypt that has
played an obstructionist and hegemonic role for years. Was Egypt courteous enough to
consult with Ethiopia, or show an iota of concern for equitable share with Ethiopia, when
it built the Aswan Dam and put in place structures that over commit the Nile waters?
Ethiopia, on the other hand, supported the Joint Multipurpose Project (JMP) of the
Eastern Nile countries (Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan). Funded by the World Bank, the study
(Blackmore and Wittington, 2008) proposed four cascaded large storage dams in Upper
Blue Nile (Abbay) that offer substantial economic benefits and enhance water availability
in the system. Ethiopia had hoped the JMP will be a first opportunity towards cooperation
and development, only, to be crushed by Egypt (Cascao and Allen, 2016). GERD came as
You also falsely accused Ethiopia of commencing “construction without conducting any
studies on environmental impact and socioeconomic effects on downstream countries.”
We know environmental and social impact studies are absolute requirements these days.
Indeed, extensive environmental and social impact assessment studies of the GERD have
been conducted and were subject of reviews by Egyptian experts.
- Undermining the spirit and substance of Pan-African institutions and solidarity.
You wrote a wrong and misleading statement that “Ethiopia’s conduct inconsistent with
the spirit of Pan African solidarity and riparian neighborliness.” Throughout its history,
Ethiopia has stood big and generous in its support of African liberation struggles. As a
founder and host of the Organization of African Unity (OAU) now the African Union, has
promoted Pan-African values and solidarity.
It is Egypt that brought the GERD issue to Washington, DC and UN Security Council
disrespectful of Pan African (African Union) and regional institutions (NBI) created to
resolve any misunderstandings and conflicts arising in the continent. Afterall, GERD is
not only an Ethiopian resource but also that of Africa, including Egypt and Sudan, as it is
a critical component of the African Power Pool, without which Africa will fail to realize
its cherished goal of 100 percent African electrification set by Agenda 2063. GERD is an
African project and should be arbitered by African institutions.
- Incomplete information: You wrote “Ethiopia is endowed with abundant water
resources in and outside the Nile.” On the contrary, more than 62 million Ethiopians live
under water crisis…. 7.5 percent of the global water crisis is in Ethiopia
(www.lifewater.org) despite its huge potential. 83.5 percent of the Ethiopian population
endures multidimensional poverty compared to Egypt’s 5.2 percent (UNDP HDR 2019); yearly water consumption
of Egypt is more than seven times that of Ethiopia (FAO); and only 44.3 percent of Ethiopians have access to
electricity compared to Egypt’s 100 percent (World Bank). Most Ethiopians, including those in upper Blue
Nile Basin rely on traditional biomass, inhale indoor smoke and suffer from respiratory diseases (see photo,
Kimir Dengay, Guna Mountains, a Blue Nile water tower).
Further, Ethiopia is highly vulnerable to recurrent drought with the 1973/74 and 1984/85 droughts with
impacts of apocalyptic proportions while the 2003 severe drought left Lake Tana water dropping to a level that
curtailed any kind of navigation. On the other hand, Egypt’s aquifers hold enough fresh water to last it 300-400 years at the rate of its current water consumption. While Ethiopia languishes in land-lockedness, Egypt has access to
technologies that would help her harness its marine water to the benefit of her people.
- Forgetting the unforgettable – climate change. You wrote about Egypt’s vulnerability
to water shortages but failed to mention the adverse impacts of climate change and the
highly vulnerability of the Nile Basin to climate variability and change. The year to year
reduction in both the volume and quality of water flows from feeder rivers, Lake Tana
(the reservoir) and the Blue Nile itself is visible to the naked eye. Temperature rises,
recurrent drought, shifts in human settlements as people search for fertile land, limited
access to modern farm technologies and heavy reliance on biomass energy – which mean
that water-saving trees are cut – have compounded the problem. The Blue Nile is drying
up and may not exist by 2080 (see reporting by Schlanger, https://qz.com/1709757/climate-change-threatens-the-niles-critical-water-supply/
referring to work done by Dartmouth University researchers. Climate change is the
biggest challenge Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia face, not GERD as you put it.
The Way Forward
Let us give science, reason, peace, and cooperation a chance. What Ethiopia demands is the
efficient, equitable, sustainable use and management of the Nile waters for mutual benefit
and the well-being of all people dependent on it- in line with what has been advocated by the
WWC, United Nations, African Agenda 2063 and Nile Basin Initiative. Let us silence the
drums of war, halt the spread of false information and move towards win-win solutions.
Ethiopia should proceed with the filling of GERD as per schedule and indeed, the best time is
now. Let us also make every effort to ensure optimal power generation capacity to enable
recoup, in a reasonable period, the investment in GERD mobilized from all Ethiopians (most
of them living under conditions of abject poverty). At the same time, let us make every effort
to fight the biggest enemy-climate change- and significantly improve the volume and quality
of the Nile waters, which is doable, through upstream water ecosystem restoration and lift
the people from abject poverty, darkness, respiratory diseases and offer them with
alternative livelihood sources. This is a task that needs to start today side by side with the
filling of GERD.
Founding Member Former Representative, World Water Council
Former Assistant Director General for Programmes and Policy, IUCN-The World
Former Minister of Planning and Development of Ethiopia
Former Senior Fellow, Foundation for Environmental Security and Sustainability (FESS)