Ethiopia Fills GERD, Causing Big Dam Problem

  • Ethiopia promised Wednesday it would fill the dam only with the permission of Egypt and Sudan.
  • Data and satellite pictures from local and foreign media indicate that Ethiopia began to fill the Renaissance dam reservoir with water before an agreement was reached.
  • Egypt and Sudan demanded explanations from Ethiopia.

Ethiopia has disputed accusations by Egypt and Sudan that it had deliberately filled the reservoir of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD), calling the rising water level a natural part of the construction process. Egypt subsequently asked the Ethiopian government for immediate clarification.

The Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) formerly known as the Millennium Dam and sometimes referred to as Hidase Dam, is a gravity dam on the Blue Nile River in Ethiopia that has been under construction since 2011. Once completed, the reservoir could take anywhere between 5 to 15 years to fill with water, depending on hydrologic conditions during the filling period and agreements reached between Ethiopia, Sudan and Egypt.

Shortly after the completion of the GERD was formally announced, Ethiopia promised Wednesday it would fill the dam only with the permission of Egypt and Sudan. This pledge was reflected in remarks made by the Ethiopian Minister for Water and Irrigation, Seleshi Bekele.

The Minister then claimed that the amount of water behind the immense Renaissance Dam in Ethiopia was rising, which cost $4.6 billion, because of strong monsoon rains. “The construction of the dam and the filling of the water go hand in hand,” Bekele said.

The high water levels have prompted many local and global news outlets to report that Ethiopia will begin replenishing the dam on Wednesday. Media sources also said that, amid the failed deal with both Egypt and Sudan on the contentious dam, Bekele announced that his country had started mobilizing the Renaissance Dam reservoir.

Minister Bekele was quoted as saying that the step of the Renaissance Dam in Ethiopia allows the initial storage cycle, measured at 4.9 billion cubic meters, to commence. Bekele did not say whether Ethiopia was taking steps to collect water in a 74 billion cubic meter tank.

The dam is the pillar of Ethiopia ‘s drive to become Africa’s biggest exporter of energy. At the same time, however, Cairo has contributed to a reduction in the Nile’s already dwindling water supply, of which over 100 million people are almost entirely dependent.

“There is a public conspiracy against Egypt amid the silence of the international community and the African Union, which requested the completion of the negotiations,” political expert Mahmoud Bassiouni said. “Egypt will not remain silent and will respond at the appropriate time.”

The Flow of Water is Constant

Data and satellite pictures from local and foreign media indicate that Ethiopia began to fill the Renaissance dam reservoir with water before an agreement was reached on the first filling and service. This week, an officer at the dam’s site told Agence France Presse that excessive rainfall indicated that the Blue Nile river exceeded the dam’s channels’ ability to transfer water downwind.

“We didn’t close and nothing was done,” said the official who spoke anonymously. “It appears like as you see those photos, the river is growing gradually because of the volume of water flowing from reservoirs beyond the rivers’ capacity to drain.”

A contractor at the Water Agency, who also asked for anonymity, said water flow begins in the direction of the estuary, adding, the water level will increase behind the dam, as development proceeds, and that’s what happens.

Ethiopia emphasized that, as part of the building process, the dam reservoir has to be filled in stages this year. Prime Minister Abi Ahmed, speaking to Parliament earlier this month, echoed this point.

Egypt–Ethiopia relations refer to the bilateral relations between the governments of Egypt and Ethiopia. Both countries established diplomatic ties in 1927 to be the oldest on the African continent and one of the oldest in the world. In 1929, a British-sponsored treaty between Egypt and some Nile basin colonies awarded the former the right to veto any project that it deems threatening to its water share.

Egypt Asks for an Official Explanation

Meanwhile, on Wednesday the Egyptian Foreign Ministry said that Egypt had sought from Ethiopia an immediate formal explanation on the appropriateness of starting to fill the Renaissance Dam reservoir on the Blue Nile. This is the first official response from Cairo.

In its comment to the Irrigation Ministry, the Sudanese government said water levels in the Blue Nile had fallen by approximately 90 million cubic meters a day after Ethiopia started to raise the massive Renaissance Dam reservoir of the Nile in its territory.

The statement also stressed that Sudan opposes ‘any unilateral action taken by either side, in particular with the continuing attempts’ of talks between the two countries and Egypt.

It is worth remembering that, in a new round of talks, arranged by the African Union to control the supply of water from the giant dam that Addis Ababa is constructing on the Blue Nile, Egypt, Ethiopia, and Sudan did not come to a consensus, as announced by the three countries yesterday.

Addis Ababa had long ago declared it would start filling the dam reservoir in mid-rainy season this month, but had not suggested a date for that. Cairo and Khartoum tried first to reach an agreement on how to run it between the three nations.

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Joyce Davis

My history goes back to 2002 and I  worked as a reporter, interviewer, news editor, copy editor, managing editor, newsletter founder, almanac profiler, and news radio broadcaster.

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