Ethiopia’s Renaissance Dam and its impact on Sudanese water security
By Saifeldin Yousif Saeed
National security no longer refers only to the power of the military state, but also to its economic strength and its ability to preserve its natural resources and development, particularly water. Therefore, the security of nations in the twenty-first century will depend on secure access to natural resources, energy and mineral resources and water and arable land resources. Global competition over natural resources will be a source of economic imbalance and disorder and will lead to the spread of instability, including in some cases the outbreak of armed conflicts.
Water and its impact on human life is one of the challenges facing mankind in this century. Water is one of the most important factors creating security. If a state blocked the flow of a river to another state or changed its course this would damage the interests and needs of the citizens of the other country. The decisions taken by the state in the use and regulation of water are important actions. Every water project or movement within a country translates as an assault on the other countries in the same river basin.
Water is the most important element for maintaining the political and economic independence of any state to achieve food self-sufficiency and fulfil the requirements of future development projects. Water will become the master of the region geographically, politically, and economically in the coming decades. Any state that does not have sufficient water and food causes its national security to be threatened. Storage of water outside the borders of the state makes it vulnerable to political and economic pressures. State security is further threatened by climate change and population growth. Climate change means less rain, drought and the spread of desertification. Population growth increases demand for water, but also leads to a deterioration in the quality of the existing supply.
Sudan water resources management strategy 2002-2027
77% of Sudan water sources come from the Rivers Nile, Gash, Parka, and Azoum, all of which are unfortunately outside its borders. Sudan suffers from a scarcity of water resources and this scarcity is increasing year by year. In Sudan, the average share of water per individual is 750 cubic metres annually and this continues to drop and is projected to reach 300 cubic metres in 2025. Studies show that during the next two decades the need for water will exceed the available water by more than 60%. Sudan’s total water resources are now estimated at 30 billion cubic metres. 20.5 billion of the resources are estimated to come from the River Nile and its tributaries, 5.5 billion from seasonal rivers valleys and 4 billion from groundwater sources.
Sudan’s estimated water requirement in the period 2012 – 2027 is approximately 33 billion cubic metres. This 3 billion deficit highlights the growing demand for water in that period. This is a result of the implementation of current proposed agricultural projects, continued industrial development, and the increasing needs of human beings and animals.
A study by the United States Bureau of Reclamation in 1964 proposed the construction of thirty-three dams, including four dams on the Blue Nile, Krdoba, Abu Pico, Mndaya and Border reservoir, which together would contribute a capacity of 70 billion cubic metres and 5500 MW of electric energy. This U.S. study states that the reclamation of one million acres of agricultural land requires approximately five billion cubic metres of water.
In addition, Ethiopia is planning to produce approximately 45,000 MW of electrical energy for export to Sudan, South Sudan, Djibouti and Kenya by the period 2020-2025. This includes 20,000 MW from the Blue Nile.
Ethiopian Renaissance Dam
In 1998 Ethiopia updated the 1964 U.S. study, this time, using a French consultancy company. This was followed by several studies by Dutch companies investigating increasing the capacities of the four dams on the Blue Nile to 150 billion cubic metres and increasing electrical production to around 10,000 MW. As a result of these studies, the Border Dam, first named ’The X Dam’, then “The Millennium Dam”, currently known as, “The Renaissance Dam”, has been updated for the production of 6,000 MW of electrical energy and has a reservoir capacity of 74 billion cubic metres.
The Renaissance Dam is located at the end of the Blue Nile in the Benishangul area of Ethiopia, 24 km from the Sudanese border, and 505 metres above sea level. The height of the dam is 145 metres and it is 1800 metres in length. The area of the lake formed by the dam is approximately 1880 square kilometres. With this specification, the Renaissance Dam will be the largest dam in Africa and one of the twelve largest in the world.
Ethiopia officially announced the Renaissance Dam project on 13 March 2011 only one day before the contract to build it was signed with the Italian company, Saini. The foundation stone was laid on 2 April 2011.
The Governments of Sudan, Egypt and Ethiopia signed an agreement to form a committee of national experts to oversee the Renaissance Dam. This committee selected international experts to conduct two studies, a hydrological simulation model and an economic, social and environmental assessment of the dam’s impact on Egypt and Sudan.
On 23 March 2015, Sudan Egypt and Ethiopia signed the Declaration of principles of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam. The principles agreed were: common understanding, good faith, not causing significant damage, fair and appropriate use of water, trust building, dam security, management and operation and reservoir filling and peaceful settlement of disputes. These principles contravene the existing agreements of 1929 and 1959 since they do not include any article binding Ethiopia from harming the water security of the Sudan and Egypt. The principles require technical agreements to be ratified after the international advisory offices finish preparatory studies.
In December 2015, the three countries agreed to contract with two French companies to conduct technical studies on the impact of Renaissance Dam on both Sudan and Egypt. Since, the two companies have still not completed their preliminary studies, although almost 60 percent of the Dam construction is already completed.
The Impact of the Renaissance Dam
1. Although the Renaissance Dam provides cheap electric supply and permanent water flow, it prevents Sudan’s access to the flood waters that replenish the underground water supplies and fertilise the soil. No study has been undertaken to assess the impact of the lack of groundwater and the cost and negative effects of using fertiliser chemicals on the underground water and fertilisation of the soil. It should further be noted that the underground water level reaches its maximum elevation during the flood season and not in the middle or the dry floods seasons. Normally recovery of the intensive extraction occurs during the flood season.
2. It will deprive Sudan of flood waters that deliver water stocks inside Sudan which can be exploited in times of drought . A recent Climate Change study pointed to a decrease in mean monthly flow volume of between 40% and 50% during 2010-2040 . It should be borne in mind that the Nile semi-fixed cycle over a twenty-year range consists of seven years heavy revenue, seven years medium, and seven years dry. There are no comprehensive agreements to secure the water flow, especially in the drought season.
3. The dam prevents the accumulation of gravel sediment which will lead to a deepening of the riverbed and consequently a lower groundwater table along the river Nile . This will affect groundwater recharge and will impact human communities drawing water from wells. (There were experiments to increase the depth of the Hoover Dam River in the United States to four metres, nine years after its construction).
4. Flood recession will affect flood plain agriculture and the natural productivity of agrarian areas, which will lead to a loss of livelihood for flood-dependent communities along the river bank.
5. The deficit in the amount of recharge water will increase for both Sudan and Egypt .There has not been a study to find out how much the reduction will be in Sudan and Egypt in the conditions likely to be brought about by climate change.
6. The dam will have a negative impact on the environment, on fisheries, on pasture forests, with a consequent loss of species and ecosystems, and on aquatic life in general .
7. The first filling of the reservoir to the operational level will reduce the annual flow for the Nile courses to which we referred earlier. There are no guarantees for the continuation of the annual flow for Sudan.
8. The Dam is located in the geologically complex area of the Great African Rift , with a number of faults and cracks and weak volcanic basalt rocks.
9. The weight of the water 74 billion cubic metres and heavy weight of silt that estimated to be 420 billion cubic metres may cause earthquakes on the dam’s reservoir that can lead to[ cracks in the dam and its collapse. If the dam collapsed, the flowing water will lead to collapse of Sudanese Roseires and Sennar dams and Ethiopia would not be affected at all. There are precedents for earthquakes in Lake dams due to the huge weight: the Hoover Dam lake in California in 1975; Lake Konya Dam in West India 200 km south of Bombay in 1967, which killed 200, injured 2,300 people and caused the destruction of 80% of housing in the area; Lake Hsinfeng Kiang Dam, South China in 1962, which led to damage to the dam body. There have been 18 earthquakes in China associated with the dam reservoirs.
10. 74 billion cubic metres of storage within the Ethiopian borders, in conditions of climate change and in a situation in which the the downstream countries already need more water to secure their food security, would raise concerns in downstream countries that Ethiopia could impose its opinions regarding their water supply and the existing 1902 and 1959 agreements, that have been a subject of dispute for many years.
• Sudan suffers from a scarcity of water resources and increasing scarcity year on year and the average share per individual continues to drop. Recent studies indicate that during the next two decades, the need for water will exceed the supply by more than 60%.
• Neighbouring nations’ partisan thinking regarding the development of water resources and their lack of cooperation will prolong suffering and potentially lead to conflict in the East Nile Basin region.
• The Ethiopian Renaissance Dam with its very high capacity in an unsafe location along with the lack of consensual agreement between Ethiopia, Egypt and Sudan will probably lead to conflict between the three countries.
• Climate change and the lack of rain and consequent drought and desertification, the growing population and the increased need to provide food and achieve food security, the increasing demand for water and the deterioration of the water quality, requires cooperation between the Nile Basin countries to achieve the interests of each without being harmed by each other.
• The 1996 World Bank report has been criticised for its glorification of the benefits of the largest dams and for minimizing the negative impacts and for ignoring the social impacts of such dams. The World Bank report issued in 2000 said that the largest dams, although making contributions to human development and being of considerable benefit, in many cases brought about those benefits at unacceptable and unnecessary costs to the citizens living downstream of the dams. The report provided sufficient evidence that the largest dams had failed to produce electricity and water supply and flood control to the extent envisaged by the planners and implementers of such dams, and noted that more than half of the dams that had been studied had failed to produce the electricity that had been expected by the planners and implementers.
• Therefore, the global trend is now to replace large dams by small dams. There is a tendency to remove large old dams and to include the cost of removing the dams in the new studies. Ethiopia has many alternatives for the production of electricity from small dams with high efficiency and lower cost to achieve the welfare of its people without causing harm to others.
• Ethiopia by this Dam capacity will be able to control the Blue river water and to impose its opinions regarding the water and existing agreements of 1902 and 1959, that have long been the subject of a disagreement with its neighbours. It is probable that within the next 10-15 years those who live downstream will suffer hardship as a result of the building of the Renaissance Dam.
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Dr Saifeldin Yousif Saeed can be reached at Saifm4441@yahoo.com
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