This House believes Ethiopia is right to build a dam on the River Nile

On the 30th May 2011, the Ethiopian government announced plans for the construction of the ‘Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam’ (GERD). Set to be Africa’s largest gravity dam at 170 m tall and 1,800 m wide, it will span the width of one of two major tributaries that create the Nile; the Blue Nile[1]. The GERD is expected to be completed by July 2017 and will produce 6,000 MW of electricity.  The dam is expected to be able to generate energy for all of Ethiopia, however Egypt’s and Sudan’s positions downstream from the GERD have made them question the impact of the dam on their respective countries.

Over the next two years tensions continued to mount. The majority of Egypt’s water comes from outside its borders, the Nile is 96% of Egypt’s renewable water,[2] which has led Egypt to fervently defend its water rights[3]. Instability within Egypt, caused by the Arab Spring and the toppling of President Hosni Mubarak, meant that the issue was not addressed until Mohamed Morsi was elected as president[4].  During the year that Morsi spent in office, and the months afterwards where an interim government took charge, there have been rising political tensions between the two states disputing whether Ethiopia really does have the right to build the GERD.

 

Title 
The dam is predicted to provide energy for all of Ethiopia
Point 

When the dam is in full effect, it should be able to provide the entirety of Ethiopia’s population with electricity. The United Nations Foundation placed access to energy as a high priority for developing countries, it enables access to key services and enables more income-generating activities[1]. If Ethiopia discontinued the project, then they would deprive their citizens of economic and health security. Using energy from a dam will have its own benefits. The energy will be renewable source and will provide energy security for this developing state, thus justifying the project.

[1] The United Nations Foundation ‘What We do: Achieving Universal Energy Access’ data accessed 10 December 2013

Counterpoint 

While in theory the 6,000 MW dam can power all of Ethiopia, the reality is quite different. Areas of Ethiopia, such as Ogaden and Eritrea-Ethiopian border, are relatively unstable; making it hard to build a sufficient power grid in these regions. In Ogaden, instability in the past led to the withdrawal from the oil fields[1], and this conflict-zone will most likely make the completion of a national grid a problem. The hurdles to producing the means to provide energy to these areas means that there probably will not be universal access to the GERD’s electricity.  

[1] Wikipedia ‘Ethiopia: Exports’ date accessed 10 December 2013

Title 
Economic benefits of the dam for Ethiopia
Point 

The dam will produce significant economic potential for EthiopiaIn 2013, Ethiopia had to import 125,000 metric tonnes of coal to fuel its power stations. Over 50% of the country’s imports are orientated towards meeting its fuel demands[1]. If Ethiopia can replace these imports with its own energy then it can make significant savings. The diverted money could be contributed towards development, which would be assisted by greater accessibility to electricity. In addition to this, 12,000 jobs will be created[2] and Ethiopia will become an energy exporter. The excess energy from powering Africa will be enough to supply the surrounding region, making energy a viable export market for Ethiopia to tap in to[3]. In combination with the greater access electricity dependent to income-generating activities, these factors give Ethiopia hope of a positive economic future.

[1] Tekle,T. ‘Ethiopia imports $1 billion in fuel from Sudan via Djibouti’ in Sudan Tribune 30 March 2013

[2] Joy,O. ‘Earth, Wind, and Water: Ethiopia bids to be Africa’s powerhouse’ CNN 8 November 2013

[3] Ibid

Counterpoint 

Despite Ethiopia’s economic dreams, demand risk may mean a shortfall in profits. Internally, supply may exceed demand once the GERD is complete. The unaffordability of energy has led to low demands for electricity in the past.  The possible reductions in subsidies to repay loans for building the dam will increase prices, which will then lower demand further[1]. Exporting the energy may not work either. To export power Ethiopia needs neighbours with developed transmission lines and a willingness to buy the electricity. The weak economic position of countries like Sudan[2] and poor relations with others suggest that international buyers won’t be too forthcoming.  

[1] Wikipedia ‘Dams and Hydropower in Ethiopia’ date accessed 12/12/13

[2] World Bank ‘Project Appraisal Document on a Proposed Credit in the amount of SDR 26.44 Million’ 20 November 2007 p.20

Title 
Environmental Benefits of the GERD
Point 

GERD will have environmentally positive consequences for the region. The major environmental benefit is the clean and renewable energy source. There is an unlimited supply of electricity and the production of this energy does not contribute to global carbon dioxide emissions. Another environmental benefit is that the dam will reduce the chances of flooding downstream and drought, enabling the country to better combat climate change which is worsening these factors[1]. Flood protection will prevent settled areas from being destroyed through rising river levels, benefitting Sudan and Egypt as well as Ethiopia.

[1] Consulate General of Ethiopia, Los Angeles ‘Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam’ data accessed 12/12/13 

Counterpoint 

GERD will have environmentally positive consequences for the region. The major environmental benefit is the clean and renewable energy source. There is an unlimited supply of electricity and the production of this energy does not contribute to global carbon dioxide emissions. Another environmental benefit is that the dam will reduce the chances of flooding downstream and drought, enabling the country to better combat climate change which is worsening these factors[1]. Flood protection will prevent settled areas from being destroyed through rising river levels, benefitting Sudan and Egypt as well as Ethiopia.

[1] Consulate General of Ethiopia, Los Angeles ‘Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam’ data accessed 12/12/13 

Title 
Egypt and Sudan will have their legal rights infringed
Point 

The two downstream countries have a combined claim to a majority of the River Nile’s water. Through the Nile Waters Agreement, an old colonial treaty, Egypt and Sudan are owed 48 billion m³ and 4 billion m³ of water from the Nile respectively[1]. Each country also has a veto on any upriver activity. Both of these rights are known but ignored by the Ethiopian government, in violation of an internationally recognised treaty. This has led Egypt to be particularly prominent in claiming that their rights are being abused as 70 billion m³ of water from the Blue Nile (which they are dependent on) is used by the Ethiopians. This is a violation of the Nile Rivers Agreement and demonstrates Ethiopia’s poor position to justify the GERD construction.

[1] Azikiwe,A. Water and the Geopolitics of the Nile Valley: Egypt confronts Ethiopia, GlobalResearch.ca

Counterpoint 

The colonial era agreement is outdated and does not apply to the modern world. Ethiopia’s population has now exceeded 90 million, which is more than Egypt’s 83 million, and yet it only has a small claim to the river. Many upstream countries, like Uganda, feel that the downstream countries have constrained and damaged them by denying access to majority of the Nile’s water[1]. These states have created a new agreement the Cooperative Framework Agreement in which there is a “principle of equitable… utilization” and each “state has the right to use within its territory”.[2] The upstream countries argue supersedes the old colonial treaty if it ever had any validity.[3] The Ethiopian government has assured Egypt and Sudan that they will receive enough water to live off comfortably. Sudan has been satisfied by the rearrangements[4] which implies that Ethiopia will not deprive downstream countries of access to the Nile.

[1] Schwartzstein, Water Wars

[2] ‘Article 3’, Agreement on the Nile River Basin Cooperative Framework, International Water Law, 2010

[3] Ibrahim, ‘The Nile Basin Cooperative Framework Agreement’, p.302

[4] Peppeh,K. ‘Ethiopia, Sudan and Egypt meet again to discuss GERD’ Zegabi 8 December 2013

Title 
Ethiopia does not need another hydroelectric dam
Point 

Ethiopia’s decision to become an energy hub has led to the construction of unnecessary dams in the face of viable alternatives.  Ethiopia has already constructed nine dams which produce more energy than the country consumes[1]. A significant disadvantage of these dams is that droughts can lower their energy output which, combined with lower river levels for nine months of the year, results in the dams being ineffective[2]. The Ethiopian government has already announced plans for a geothermal plant being built for 2018 to offset the disadvantages of the current dams[3]. The geothermal plant costs $0.7 billion less than the hydroelectric dam, and the company constructing it claim it will produce twice as much energy as the hydroelectric dam when the latter is at its peak[4]. It would be more viable, therefore, to invest in thermal energy rather than another hydroelectric project.

[1] US Energy Information Administration ‘Ethiopia’ 30 April 2013

[2] International Rivers ‘Ethiopia’s Biggest Dam Oversized, Experts say’ 5 September 2013

[3] Wikipedia ‘Energy in Ethiopia’ data accessed 11/12/13

[4] Maasho,A. ‘Ethiopia to get $4billion investment for leap into geothermal power’, Reuters, 24 October 2013

Counterpoint 

Geothermal power plants have their own drawbacks as well. Prime sites are often far away from population centres which means that there are losses of electricity between the plant and the customers.  Drilling into heated rock is a difficult process and once complete there must be constant management to ensure that the source is not overused[1].

[1] Siegel,R.P. ‘Geothermal Energy: Pros and Cons’, Triple Pundits 15 June 12

Title 
Natural Flow Theory
Point 

Natural Flow Theory (NTF) is the concept that every riparian user (land touching the water) has a right to the water unaltered and undiminished[1]. Dams tend not to disrupt water flow directly, however water use and evaporation from the large reservoir upstream from the dam could reduce the flow of the Blue Nile. In turn, this could affect downstream countries. Evaporation from the Aswan dam in Ethiopia amounts to around 14 billion cubic metres[2]. The GERD will face similar problems, meaning that the downstream countries will have a reduced water flow. The reservoir will also become a tempting target for large agricultural businesses as well. These companies, many of them foreign, have taken part in ’land grabbing’ to secure water before for large irrigation projects[3] and could potentially tap in to the large reservoir. A similar example is the Colorado River, where dams and irrigation projects have reduced the flow of the river and impacted heavily on the river delta[4]. These threats to the Blue Nile’s river flow demonstrate the likelihood of decreased access to water in the downstream countries, violating the major principle of NTF.

[1]  Smolen,M., Mittelstet,A. & Harjo,B. ‘Whose Water is it anyway?’ Southern Region Water Program August 2012

[2] Consulate General of Ethiopia, Los Angeles ‘Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam’ data accessed 12/12/13

[3] Fisher,S. ‘Africa for Sale’ International Rivers September 2011

[4] Wikipedia ‘Colorado River’ date accessed 12/12/13

Counterpoint 

A contender to Natural Flow Theory is the Doctrine of Reasonable Use. This theory states that water can be used as long as it does not cause unreasonable damage to the flow.  While there will be some loss of water to evaporation in GERD reservoir, it is predicted to be minimal compared to other dams in the region[1]. The threat from the irrigation projects can also be mitigated by developing more efficient techniques, which is a high priority of the Nile Basin Initiative[2].      

[1] Water Technology ‘Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam Project’ Data accessed 12/12/13

[2] ‘Nile Water: Downstream versus upstream countries’ 27 May 2010

Bibliography 

‘Article 3’, Agreement on the Nile River Basin Cooperative Framework, International Water Law, 2010, http://www.internationalwaterlaw.org/documents/regionaldocs/Nile_River_Basin_Cooperative_Framework_2010.pdf

Azikiwe,A. Water and the Geopolitics of the Nile Valley: Egypt confronts Ethiopia, GlobalResearch.ca, http://www.globalresearch.ca/water-and-the-geopolitics-of-the-nile-valley-egypt-confronts-ethiopia/5339545

Consulate General of Ethiopia, Los Angeles ‘Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam’ data accessed 12/12/13   http://www.ethiopianconsla.org/Documents/BONDINFORMATION.pdf

‘Nile Water: Downstream versus upstream countries’ 27 May 2010 http://davidshinn.blogspot.co.uk/2010/05/nile-water-down-stream-versus-upstream.html

Fisher,S. ‘Africa for Sale’ International Rivers September 2011 http://www.internationalrivers.org/resources/africa-for-sale-1657

Ibrahim, Abadir M., ‘The Nile Basin Cooperative Framework Agreement: The beginning of the end of Egyptian hydro-political hegemony’, Modern Environmental law & Policy Review, Vol.18, No.2, http://law.missouri.edu/melpr/recentpublications/Ibrahim.pdf, p.287

International Rivers ‘Ethiopia’s Biggest Dam Oversized, Experts say’ 5 September 2013 http://www.internationalrivers.org/resources/ethiopia%E2%80%99s-biggest-dam-oversized-experts-say-8082

Joy,O. ‘Earth, Wind, and Water: Ethiopia bids to be Africa’s powerhouse’ CNN 8 November 2013 http://edition.cnn.com/2013/11/08/business/earth-wind-water-ethiopia/

Maasho,A. ‘Ethiopia to get $4billion investment for leap into geothermal power’, Reuters, 24 October 2013 http://www.reuters.com/article/2013/10/24/us-ethiopia-geothermal-idUSBRE99N10920131024

Peppeh,K. ‘Ethiopia, Sudan and Egypt meet again to discuss GERD’ Zegabi 8 December 2013 http://www.zegabi.com/articles/?p=6065

Schwartzstein,P. ‘Water Wars: Egyptians Condemn Ethiopia’s Nile Dam Project’ National Geographic 27 September 2013 http://news.nationalgeographic.co.uk/news/2013/09/130927-grand-ethiopian-renaissance-dam-egypt-water-wars/

Siegel,R.P. ‘Geothermal Energy: Pros and Cons’, Triple Pundits 15/06/12 http://www.triplepundit.com/2012/06/geothermal-energy-pros-cons/

Smolen,M., Mittelstet,A. & Harjo,B. ‘Whose Water is it anyway?’ Southern Region Water Program August 2012 http://waterquality.okstate.edu/uploads/ANNC/wq/E-1030%20Water%20(2).pdf

Tekle,T. ‘Ethiopia imports $1 billion in fuel from Sudan via Djibouti’ in Sudan Tribune 30 March 2013 http://www.sudantribune.com/spip.php?article46020

The United Nations Foundation ‘What We do: Achieving Universal Energy Access’ data accessed 10 December 2013 http://www.unfoundation.org/what-we-do/issues/energy-and-climate/clean-energy-development.html

US Energy Information Administration ‘Ethiopia’ 30 April 13 http://www.eia.gov/countries/country-data.cfm?fips=ET

Veilleux J. ‘Researcher interview about Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam fieldwork’ 9 July 2013 http://jveilleux.blogspot.co.uk/2013/07/my-interview-on-grand-ethiopian.html

Water Technology ‘Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam Project’ Data accessed 12/12/13 http://www.water-technology.net/projects/grand-ethiopian-renaissance-dam-africa/

Wikipedia ‘Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam’, accessed 9 December 2013 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Grand_Ethiopian_Renaissance_Dam

Wikipedia ‘Ethiopia: Exports’ date accessed 10 December 2013 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ethiopia#Exports

Wikipedia ‘Dams and Hydropower in Ethiopia’ date accessed 12/12/13 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dams_and_hydropower_in_Ethiopia

Wikipedia ‘Energy in Ethiopia’ data accessed 11/12/13 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Energy_in_Ethiopia

Wikipedia ‘Colorado River’ date accessed 12/12/13 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Colorado_River#Environmental_impacts

World Bank ‘Project Appraisal Document on a Proposed Credit in the amount of SDR 26.44 Million’ 20 November 2007 P.20 http://www-wds.worldbank.org/external/default/WDSContentServer/WDSP/IB/2007/12/04/000020953_20071204112043/Rendered/PDF/414250ET.pdf

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