Commentary response to the article: The Nile Conflict: Compensation rather Than Mediation, How Europeans Can Lead an Alternative Way Forward?

Alternative Way Forward

This commentary is a response by Ethiopian International Professional Support for Abbay (EIPSA) to the article, “The Nile Conflict: Compensation rather Than Mediation, How Europeans Can Lead an Alternative Way Forward” by Tobias von Lossow, Luca Miehe and Stephan Roll (SWP Comments, March 2020). EIPSA would like to state that it appreciates the effort by your institution to contribute to the dialogue on Ethiopia’s Grand Renaissance Dam (GERD) in the aforementioned article 1.

The article is informative and indeed provides an alternative to the conversations on the Nile. Encouraged by this, EIPSA has felt it necessary to provide constructive dialogue related to the order of the suggested approaches, and the tone and some of the lines of the arguments in the paper. Specifically, our response piece attempts to evaluate the ‘mediation’, ‘compensation’ instruments as put forth by your article.

The article argues that mediation is a rather unwelcome option because it has failed to bring the negotiating parties closer. While that is a fair point, the reason for the lack of success of this particular instrument, as put forward by the article, is rather unpalatable. According to the article, the mediation effort has failed because it did not focus on water allocation. Ethiopia and the rest of the basin countries have repeatedly presented their position on the equitable share of the Nile towards a more just and sustainable use. Specifically, Ethiopia has no reason to shy away from discussions on water shares as a riparian party that contributes 86% of the Nile waters. However, the fact that it has been difficult to mediate the parties on the GERD-that has minimal effects on water flows is rather indicative of of Egypt’s positions, and not the weakness of the instrument itself. It is wrong to believe that a negotiation could not bear fruit because it is the only way for the sustainable use of the water among the 300 million-plus people in the basin. Despite the possible increase of precipitation in the basin, water quality deterioration, sediment deposition, and excessively increasing evaporative losses due to climate change (Walsh, 2020; Coffel et al., 2019) still requires shared agreement that works for everyone for equitable and sustainable utilization.

The key gap for no-progress so far has been the lack of a negotiated agreement between the countries to equitably share the Nile waters, which would lead to formulating a plan for coordinating the operation and filling of the reservoirs. Agreement for an equitable utilization of water between the basin counties can only be the result of negotiation and mediation in their rights. More food production and energy demand are not only the issue of Egypt but are also equally the problems Sudan and Ethiopia are facing. However, Egypt’s argument of sticking to the lone

ownership of the water based on outdated colonial order is standing in the way of any meaningful cooperation to implement shared development and prevents a common effort against inevitable environmental catastrophes before it is too late (e.g. flooding and sedimentation of the river channel). The article claimed with 5-7 years of GERD filling period, Egypt faces 25% and 30% water and energy reductions, respectively. This is totally unreasonable claim without any reference study and methods. Strzepek (2015) had evaluated the effects of the filling policy for both Ethiopia and Egypt using Monte Carlo Modelling risk-based approach. He evaluated four rates of filling: unconstrained, 3 years, 5 years and 10 years scenarios. He concluded that, for Ethiopia, slowing the GERD filling will create a loss of hydropower revenues & repayment and slowing of economic growth. However, the economic impacts on Egypt are very minor due to substitution in the economy and the limited role of water in the GDP.

The potential impacts on water resources due to the GERD have also been investigated using SOBEK model by Abdelhaleem and Helal. As per the authors, reducing Egypt’s water use more than 15% induces superficial effects on the drinking water stations, by 10% induces no effect on the irrigation, and industrial pump stations and by 5% produces a small effect on the safe navigation (Abdelhaleem and Helal, 2015).

Wheeler et al analyzed the strategies for filling the GERD and implications for downstream countries using a river basin planning model with a wide range of historical hydrological conditions and increasing coordination between the co-riparian countries. The analysis finds that risks to water diversions in Sudan can be largely managed through modifications of Sudanese reservoir operations. The risks to Egyptian users and energy generation can be minimized through combinations of sufficient agreed annual releases from GERD and a drought management policy [Wheeler et al].

Almost all of the reviewed researchers have agreed GERD does not cause any significant harm in filling in 5-7 years in contrast to von Lossow et al comments. Independent experts and technical committees from the three countries have also presented that the filling of the GERD over 6-7 years could only result in minor impacts in Egypt and Sudan. Even if the impacts are shown on the map on (von Lossow et al. 2020) are true, the water stored in one of the largest dams in the world- the High Aswan Dam and the subsequent reservoirs in Sudan (Sennar, Roseires, and Atbara dams) can easily offset the demands in both countries for domestic water use and agriculture.

Egypt’s concern for faster filling has got to do with far more unjustified concerns such as the lowering of levels in Aswan Dam / reservoir (e.g. Nada and Fathy, 2015), which showed a 0.4 – 0.7 m reduction in water level, is way less than what Abdelhaleem and Helal (2015) suggested as the maximum allowable reduction. Egypt’s agricultural and water use practices are excessively wasteful. Egypt is also seated on Africa’s most abundant groundwater reservoir with 55, 200 km cube while mountainous Ethiopia has only 12,700 km cube (MacDonald et al, 2012). Egypt’s access to sea waters is also something landlocked Ethiopia does not have.

As the title indicates, the main focus of the article is on convincing readers how compensation is a more effective instrument to get an agreement on the GERD compared to mediation. EIPSA has hoped that this perspective, given that it has been a little explored option, would be discussed in depth in the article. However, the article does not provide the pros and cons of this alternative, nor the context for it. To start with, compensation as an instrument in a setting where negotiating parties have diametrically opposing views on what involves ‘rights to the use of the Nile waters’.

Even with shorter-term measures such as the time frame for the filling, the compensatory schemes need to look into not just the economic opportunity costs but, also the social opportunity costs. It is important to note that the issue of opportunity costs can be more complex as it includes lost revenues from electricity sales, costs to delayed access to electricity, delayed planned development, and delays in human development (education and health). The compensation should also consider the long term benefits the downstream countries such as removing up to 86% of silt and sedimentation, steady water regulation flow throughout the year, reduction of catastrophic flooding to downstream countries and also water conservation in Ethiopian highlands by having lower evaporation and water recycling mechanisms (Tesfa, 2013) with cost-benefit analysis.

The article goes into reasonable depth in analyzing the precarious situation of water shortage in Egypt. This is the kind of analysis that could inform the discourse surrounding the water use of the Nile. However, the analysis carries three kinds of fallacies. First, bringing the issue of water shortage in Egypt into the GERD discussions is out-of-place, at least, and misleading at best. Given that the Ethiopian Government has made it clear that the GERD does not reduce the amount of water that flows to the downstream countries, the authors pivoted their discussion only on the issues of negotiations regarding how long water filling should take without causing significant reduction. Without a doubt, this is a legitimate concern that also demanded the time and investment of heavy power observers (US Treasury Department) when the parties negotiated. While water shortage is a serious issue for Egypt, and indeed for all the riparian states, the GERD is not a relevant point of discussion related to it. Second, the analysis, which goes to great lengths to Emphasize Egyptian woes, does not devote even one sentence to discuss Ethiopia’s needs for electricity, its lion’s share contribution to the water’s of the Nile (86%), and Ethiopia’s right to build a Dam over the Nile, (something downstream countries have done in far greater numbers and capacity without consulting Ethiopia, including Egypt), more importantly Ethiopia’s right to use its natural resource within its territory, and the fact that the GERD does not, temporarily or permanently, affect water flows to downstream countries. It is also important to mention the bulk of research from Egypt (and international institutions) that shows ways to minimize impacts of reduced flow due to GERD through the implementation of several water conservation strategies that Egypt needs to take (e.g., El-Nashar and Elyamany, 2018). Third, the authors seem to limit the argument between Egypt and Ethiopia, while Sudan has a legitimate environmental and use rights that, we believe, it wishes to benefit from the negotiations.

If the article shows little disposition towards fairness, it does not seem to redeem itself by equipping itself sufficiently with scientific facts and respect for sovereign rights of use of their natural resources.

In summary, the claim of the article which states the 5-7 years of GERD filling period, causes 25% and 30% water and energy reduction, respectively is untrue as shown by the range of academic and technical reports. In addition, Nile is not the only sources of water for Egypt as it is claimed in this article. Egypt is seated on Africa’s most abundant groundwater reservoir compared to Ethiopia. Finally, EIPSA believes before starting the discussion on compensation, the core principal of fair and equal share of Nile have to be accepted by Egypt to unlock further discussions.


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Gamal M. Abdo, Edith A. Zagona, Jim W. Hall & Simon J. Dadson (2016) . Cooperative filling approaches for the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam, Water International, 41:4, 611-634, DOI: 10.1080/02508060.2016.1177698 Nada, Fathy. Effect of Different Scenarios of Filling the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam

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