From a barrier to a bridge The Ethiopian Renaissance Dam: a trigger towards transformed and cooperative relations? Op-Ed in Al Jazeera on the Renaissance Dam 6 Nile Basin ministerial meeting in Khartoum on Monday Nov 5th, Sudan is currently considering the recommendations of the International Panel of Experts (the Panel) on the Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (the Dam). The Panel evaluated the Dam and its socioeconomic, hydrological and environmental impact on Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia. Commenced in April 2011, the construction of the Dam, been a source of controversy between Egypt and the rest of the riparian countries. Once completed, the 1780m long and 145m high dam will hold 74 billion cubic meters of water and will generate 5238 Megawatts of electric power.

Some media coverage of the report of the  Panel on the Renaissance Dam raise three main concerns of the riparian countries on the impact of the Dam: reduction of the volume of water (water security), the safety of the dam, and quality of the water.  During the initial years, the filling of the dam may result in low levels of water mainly for hydropower generation in the High Aswan Dam of Lake Nasser. Indeed, the Panel calculated that there would be a maximum of 6% reduction in the hydropower generation. However, this concern could be easily addressed by consulting about the optimal time for filling the dam during the rainy season. Moreover, the Panel recommended some further measures to ensure the safety of the dam. The concerns raised by the Panel about the safety of the dam will be useful for Sudan and Egypt, but vital for Ethiopia. Of all the riparian countries, the safety of the dam would mostly benefit Ethiopia by ensuring the prudency of its USD 4.8 billion investment. The Panel also raised some minor concerns about the impact of the vegetation around the Dam on the quality of the water. Accordingly, the Panel recommended that Ethiopia speed up clearing the vegetation to reduce sedimentation and methane gas in the river.

The Panel has overwhelmingly agreed that the Renaissance Dam will not bring significant harm to the water security of Egypt and Sudan. On the contrary, the Panel attested that the Dam could actually benefit all riparian and neighboring countries, particularly Ethiopia, Sudan and Egypt. According to some estimates, the Dam will generate USD 27 million per day for Ethiopia, and increase the total electricity access in Ethiopia to 50%.  Quite an achievement; however, tens of millions of Ethiopians will still remain without electricity for decades to come. At the same time, the benefits of the Dam will be enormous. A dam built in the Ethiopian highlands will save more than 20 billion cubic meters of water from evaporation prevent the damage caused on the riverbanks during over-flooding and significantly reduce sedimentation on the downstream countries. Compared to the benefits from the Dam, these concerns and side effects of the Dam are negligible.

Unless manipulated by governments, the Nile and the various projects in the riparian countries, including the Ethiopian Renaissance Dam, do not threaten the security of any country or population. Indeed, to the contrary, the Cooperative Framework Agreement (CFA) and the Dam could transform the Nile from a historical source of animosity to a transformative bridge between the peoples of the riparian countries. But what is required for this transformation to happen?

Recent Op-Ed in Al Jazeera on the Renaissance Dam

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