By Jake Lippincott
On Sunday the Grand Ethiopian Dam Project (GERD) Panel of Experts slammed a 31 March report issued by the International Rivers Network (IRN), titled “GERD Panel of Experts Report: Big Questions Remain”.
The IRN piece was a response to a leaked GERD Panel of Experts report on the expected environmental consequences of Ethiopia’s massive hydroelectric dam project in the Blue Nile.
In the IRN report, the international environmental group accused the Ethiopian government of a lack of transparency regarding potential environmental consequences resulting from the dam project, specifically concerning Sudan and Egypt, which are downstream from Ethiopia and rely on the Nile for most of their water.
The Ethiopian government had previously issued a statement saying: “The Dam offers high benefit for all the three countries [Ethiopia, Sudan and Egypt] and would not cause significant harm on both the lower riparian countries.”
However, IRN says that the leaked report “documents numerous problems with existing analysis and a lack of analysis on a number of critical issues. The panel recommends further investigation into the dam’s hydrological impacts, including on downstream countries’ water supplies and power generation, risks from climate change and geotechnical issues”.
In its report, the IRN suggested that “construction on the [GERD] project be halted” until a more comprehensive assessment is undertaken and “a process is in place for ensuring public accountability on the project” is instated. According to the IRN, several issues have been insufficiently investigated, including the structural viability of the dam, its general environmental effect and its effect on downstream water flow.
The concerns raised by the IRN have been echoed by successive Egyptian governments, which fear that the dam will threaten Egypt’s water supply. In a statement released on 31 March, Egyptian foreign ministry spokesman Badr Abdelatty said that while Egypt is seeking a “win-win” resolution regarding the disagreement, the dam project is illegal and “it is clear there is no room at all for concessions or allowances harming our interests because it is a subject of national security.”
In a response to the IRN report, titled “A proxy campaign against Ethiopia?” the GERD Panel of Experts refers to the IRN as a “self-appointed ‘guardian’ of all rivers of the world” and accuses it of “leaving no stone unturned in its effort to subvert Ethiopia’s efforts to develop its water resources and lift its vast and growing population out of poverty”.
The Panel of Experts goes on to say that “apart from being amused, the [panel] so far had chosen to ignore IRN’s anti-Ethiopia lobbying, which is driven by an ideological, if not fanatical-messianic mission… IRN is the high priest that communes with God the Almighty and determines what is the most environmentally appropriate… What paternalism!”
The GERD panel report also accuses the IRN of being “a proxy for Egypt masquerading as an international environmental group fighting for the health of rivers!” The panel also contends that while Egypt opposes the project, Ethiopia’s more immediate downstream neighbour Sudan identifies with and supports the dam project.
In a separate statement released on 11 April, Ethiopian Minister of Defence Siraj Fegessa said: “The ministry was fully prepared to protect the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam [GERD] from any possible attack, but said that he did not believe there would be any direct attack on the dam.”