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Report on Renaissance Dam notes concerns for Egypt, Sudan

A leaked international expert report on the Renaissance Dam says that Egypt and Sudan have not been given sufficient reassurances about the dam’s impact.
A general view shows construction activity on the Grand Renaissance dam in Guba Woreda, Benishangul Gumuz region March 16, 2014. Egypt fears the $4.7 billion dam, that the Horn of Africa nation is building on the Nile, will reduce a water supply vital for its 84 million people, who mostly live in the Nile valley and delta. Picture taken March 16, 2014. REUTERS/Tiksa Negeri (ETHIOPIA - Tags: ENERGY ENVIRONMENT POLITICS BUSINESS CONSTRUCTION) - RTR3HFQT

CAIRO — Al-Monitor obtained a hard copy of the final report by the International Panel of Experts (IPE) about their assessment of the effects and repercussions of building the controversial Ethiopian Renaissance Dam.

The report was completed on May 31, 2013, and copies were delivered to the governments of Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia. However, the report remained confidential and its technical details undisclosed, but was particularly critical of Ethiopia’s assessment of the dam.

An Egyptian diplomatic source who is familiar with the Nile water file told Al-Monitor, “The Egyptian government has rejected publicizing the report because they were planning to use it as a pressure card in the negotiations with Addis Ababa, to reduce and modify the specifications of the dam’s construction and to reduce the expected negative impacts on Egypt. The report serves the Egyptian position even though the negotiations are stalled.”

The negotiations, which began between Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia in three rounds in the Sudanese capital, Khartoum, in November-December 2013 and January 2014, might be unable to reach an agreement on how to implement the recommendations contained in the IPE report. The technical negotiations were deadlocked, and Egypt has started taking legal and international escalatory steps against Ethiopia.

According to the report — whose 48 pages are each signed by all 10 experts on the panel — the panel noted a number of general concerns about their assessment of the studies submitted by Ethiopia. Most of those studies were completed after the project started. Moreover, environmental and social studies have not been able to demonstrate the dam’s impact on the downstream countries, Egypt and Sudan.

The report also highlighted that the engineering and safety studies have not reached the technical level to start the project, and Ethiopia did not provide feasibility and cost studies to the IPE.

The IPE was formed after negotiations and mutual visits between the prime ministers of Egypt and Ethiopia following the announcement of the construction of the Renaissance Dam. The IPE’s goal was to build trust and assess the dam’s impact on the downstream states. There was agreement on the terms of reference for the IPE’s work at a meeting of the three countries’ water ministers on Nov. 29, 2011. During the meeting, Egypt expressed its fears about the dam. They then agreed on choosing 10 experts, two from each country — Egypt, Sudan, Ethiopia — and four international experts, according to the report.

Although Ethiopian and Egyptian experts signed the report and approved its content, the Ethiopian government still insisted on building the dam without waiting for the other studies to be completed, amid assurances by Ethiopian officials that the dam would not affect Egypt’s water security, without providing guarantees that allayed Egypt’s fears.

The IPE report divided its assessment of the 153 studies submitted by Ethiopia into three areas:

  • Dam engineering: The IPE assessed the Ethiopian studies ​​in this area and said that the basic design criteria have only explained the general nature of the dam without giving details about whether the dam is suitable for the conditions of the region. Also, the current design did not take into account the capabilities to operate the dam during times of drought and the amount of water that can be released to produce electricity.
  • Water resources and hydrology: The IPE concluded that the general plan did not present a model of operation or measures of the water flow rates to downstream countries. Thus, the IPE could not assess the real impact of the dam on the water flow to Egypt and Sudan. Also, the potential impact of climate change on the flow system was not studied.

The report pointed out that the preliminary results of a simulation study designed by Ethiopia for the storage lake indicated that the initial process of filling this lake might not affect Egypt during years with rainfall. But the report warned that filling the lake during drought years would cause the High Dam in Egypt to have lower operating levels, at least through the first four years. Moreover, there would be a strong impact on the water supply to Egypt and a loss of energy.

  • Environmental and socioeconomic impact: The report said that the environmental impact assessment studies did not provide a vision about the dearth of oxygen caused by flooding the plants and organisms in the vicinity of the dam. The estimated area to be flooded with water is 1,874 square kilometers (723.5 square miles), which will present technical and financial challenges. Also, no vision was provided about how the dam would affect the environment in downstream countries, in light of expectations that it would harm agriculture in the area and the riparian forest on the Blue Nile, as well as damage groundwater supplies along the Blue Nile.

The report said that the studies provided by Ethiopia were optimistic and most should be reconsidered, which requires joint action between the three countries to resolve these outstanding technical problems.

The dispute between Cairo and Addis Ababa is still at an impasse after the intransigence of both parties. Neither agreed to new rounds of negotiations despite the passage of nearly a year since the IPE report, which recommended technical solutions to the problems that might be caused by the dam. The report also recommended that Egypt and Sudan be given clear guarantees that the dam will not harm their future. Meanwhile, the Egyptian government is escalating its campaign against Ethiopia to pressure the latter to cease construction of the dam.

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