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Pre-emptive fallacies Refuting Ethiopia’s claims on the second filling of GERD

Since Ethiopia has unilaterally announced the launch of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) project without coming into an agreement with the two downstream countries Egypt and Sudan, as is required by international conventions to which it is signatory, it has been embraced a counterfactual media discourse to respond to the justifiable criticisms relating to the insufficiency of technical studies on the dam and the high-risk of its collapse. 

With Ethiopia’s dispute reaching a boiling point with the downstream countries due to its prevarication in negotiations and imposing a fait accompli by speeding up the construction of the mega dam, the Ethiopian rhetoric on GERD has now reached unprecedented levels of inconsistencies – contradicting with the reality on the ground, on one hand, and with Ethiopia’s earlier statements, on the other.  

Besides Ethiopia’s failure to adopt a flexible position that allows for the minimum demands of the two downstream countries to be met and saves Ethiopia and the region from a potential state of insecurity and unrest, Addis Ababa is unilaterally proceeding with the second filling of the dam’s reservoir without coming into a binding agreement with Egypt and Sudan. As is often the case, doublespeak has been Ethiopia’s tool to strengthen its extreme position where its English-phrased and Amharic-phased rhetoric convey inconsistent messages. 

Domestically, Ethiopia’s rhetoric is utilized to foster the illusions of “taming the river” and “re-imposing sovereignty over it” and to lead the Ethiopian people to believe that imminent development will be brought about by the hydroelectric power form the dam. Conversely, facing the growing external pressure from the international community – which has become more involved in GERD negotiations whether Ethiopia wanted or not – Addis Ababa adopts a rhetoric that aims at leading the international community to believe its latest steps will not cause harm to the downstream countries. 

Noticeably, both the external and internal rhetorics are rich in fallacies – there is no chance that the dam will help generate considerable electricity and the second filling will certainly cause serious harm to Egypt and Sudan. 

Against this background came the statement of the spokesman of Egypt’s Ministry of Water Resources and Irrigation on 19 April on their page, to emphatically refute the Ethiopian claims and address the recent developments on GERD, i.e. Ethiopia announcing the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam’s (GERD) bottom outlets going operational in preparation for carrying out the second phase of filling the dam’s reservoir, as follows: 

“In response to the misinformation and fallacies that were publicized, the Ministry of Water Resources and Irrigation clarifies the following points:

–  The Ethiopian claim that the two bottom outlets will allow an average flow of Blue Nile water is false. The current flow capacity of the two outlets is no more than 50 million cubic meters/day, an amount that is neither equivalent to the average flow of the Blue Nile water nor fulfils the needs of the two downstream countries, Egypt and Sudan.

– Proceeding with the second filling and the retention of large quantities of water – as the Ethiopian side has declared – will change the flow regime of the Blue Nile, as the bottom outlets will be the only channel to control the release of water. And with the upcoming flood season next July, the situation is expected to be more problematic as the outlets will pass less water in July and August. At a reservoir level of 595m and a moderate flood risk, the maximum outlets’ flow rate is estimated at only 3 billion cubic meters/month, which will cause suffering for Egypt and Sudan. A low flood will further worsen the situation, which makes it necessary to have a legally binding agreement that establishes an effective coordination mechanism.

– In 2012 and 2015, Egypt called upon Ethiopia to increase the number of the bottom outlets and offered covering the cost. Egypt wanted to ensure the downstream countries’ needs of water are sufficiently met and to allow for more flexibility in dealing with different possible scenarios of floods and drought, but Ethiopia maintained the position that the current outlets are sufficient and will continue to operate constantly even in case of power outage. 

– With the first filling of the reservoir, Ethiopia was supposed to start early power generation (through two turbines); however, this has never been the case. Ethiopia completed the first filling which provided storage without any hydropower generation at site, a fact that makes it clear that the first filling occurred for purely political reasons rather than technical ones.

–  The outlets of the 13 turbines of the dam are not yet fully operational. Thus, the large scale of power generation that the Ethiopian side proclaims isn’t realistic, particularly given the established association between turbine readiness and volume of stored water. Despite this fact, the Ethiopian side is rushing to force a fait accompli on the downstream countries through filling the dam’s reservoir for the second year despite the non-readiness for power generation. 

– Regarding Ethiopia’s claims about the dam’s compliance with international standards, Egypt affirms that these claims are unfounded. The GERD was not constructed properly. For example, several modifications were made to the auxiliary dam, the turbine holes have been adjusted, three turbine exits have been detached after being installed, turbines were reduced to 13 instead of 16, low quality asymmetric concrete pouring practices have been followed, and suspicions of corruption have been reported, causing the project to be ceased many times.  

– In trial run experiences, technical problems are very likely to occur during the operation of turbines and outlets – if the Ethiopian side was successful operating them – which will greatly affect the flow of water to the downstream countries.

– Egypt has shown great flexibility in negotiations over the past decade, hoping that a legally binding and fair agreement that regulates the filling and operation of the dam could be reached. In light of the above, Egypt affirms that Ethiopia’s unilateral decision to go ahead with the second filling of the reservoir is a continuation of its fait accompli policy that causes harm to the downstream countries, a situation that isn’t likely to change without the existence of an effective trilateral coordination mechanism within a legally binding agreement.

If all of the above is any indicator, it suggests that Ethiopia’s rhetoric is becoming less credible and more revealing of Ethiopia’s hostile intentions toward the downstream countries. Those intentions become more clear when the GERD crisis is put in its wider context by reading the “conflict-provoking” position of the Ethiopian regime toward several issues, particularly its crimes against the Tigray, the Oromos, and in Benishangul which made it a fact as clear as daylight that the Ethiopian regime is the source of unrest and instability in the Horn of Africa by its internationalisation of internal conflicts, bringing the Eritrean forces to fight on the Ethiopian fronts, and turning its border conflict with Sudan over Al-Fashqa into a multilateral armed conflict. 

These factors demonstrate a pressing need to adopt international and regional positions against Ethiopia’s destabilising policies, a step that may initially start with reaching a legally binding agreement on GERD, paving the way for a comprehensive settlement that will bring stability back to East Africa.

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