Unease as Ethiopian Nile dam water level rises

Thursday July 16 2020

A handout satellite image showing a closeup view of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) in Ethiopia on July 12, 2020. PHOTO | REUTERS



Addis Ababa has refuted claims it has begun filling the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD), just days after talks with Sudan and Egypt failed to reach agreement on how to regulate the flow of the Nile waters from the reservoir.

In a statement on Thursday, Addis Ababa said the amount of water flowing downstream, to Sudan and Egypt, had predictably reduced after the dam structure was raised, absorbing more of the incoming water.

The Ethiopian Water, Irrigation and Energy Minister, Dr Seleshi Bekele, the said his country had not blocked the flow of water as earlier claimed.

“The GERD construction has reached level 560m compared to level 525m last year this time. The inflow into the reservoir due to heavy rainfall and runoff exceeded the outflow and created natural pooling. This continues until overflow is triggered soon,” Dr Seleshi said.

“The dam is yet to be constructed to level 640m in the following years. In fact, predicted heavy rain this year is expected to cause huge flooding in the region.”


Ethiopia’s comment comes after Sudan on Wednesday claimed the volume of water reaching its territory had reduced and accused Addis Ababa of filling the dam without reaching an agreement.

Both Sudan and Egypt have raised concerns that the mega-dam project could see their countries face water shortages since millions of their citizens depend on the Nile for livelihood.

Khartoum’s Ministry of Irrigation and Water Resources said on Wednesday that the volume in the Nile had gone down by as much as 90 million cubic metres of water per day, attributing it to the closure of the GERD gates.

“Local and international media circulated information and pictures taken by satellites indicating that Ethiopia started filling the Renaissance Dam before reaching an agreement on the first filling and operation," said the ministry, adding that it tasked its agencies specialised in measuring the levels of the Blue Nile to investigate the authenticity of the information.

“It was evident through the flow measures of water at Al-deem station near the Ethiopian border that there is a decline in water levels equivalent to 90 million cubic meters per day, that is confirming the closure of the gates of GERD.”

Sudan raised the alarm as Egypt sought “urgent clarification” on the reports that Addis Ababa had begun filling the dam.

Officially, Ethiopia maintains it has a sovereign right to fill the dam, even before the three countries agree on technical arrangements of the filling.

The $4.5 billion mega-dam is projected to have a capacity of 6.4GW power when complete. Ethiopia says the project has reached a stage to start the initial storage process estimated at 4.9 billion cubic metres out of its 74 billion cubic metres capacity.

On Tuesday, the three countries failed to agree on technical and legal details regarding the rules for filling and operating the dam.

Sudan said it sent its final report on the GERD to the African Union following an end to negotiations and included a draft of “balanced and fair agreement” that it says is suitable to be the basis for a comprehensive tripartite pact.

Egypt fears the dam will deny it its annual share of the Nile's water, and demands an agreement on files, including the safety of the dam and the setting of rules for filling it in times of drought.

Ethiopia sees the hydroelectric project as important for its economic growth.