Tensions between Ethiopia and Egypt caused by the planned Grand Millennium dam, on the Nile river, have eased after the two countries agreed to undertake a review of project’s potential impacts.
“We have agreed to establish a tripartite team of technical experts to review the impact of the dam,” said Ethiopia’s Prime Minister, Meles Zenawi, during a joint press conference with his Egyptian counterpart, Essam Sharaf, in Cairo. The other party to the tripartite team is Sudan.
Before the agreement with the new Egyptian government, Egypt had vowed to oppose construction of the controversial dam on the basis that it would reduce the flow of the Nile. With a population of some 85-million people, Egypt derives about 90% of its water requirements from the Nile.
For its part, Ethiopia was adamant the project, which generate 5 250 MW, would be implemented. The Horn of Africa nation has already awarded the construction contract to Italian company Salini Costruttori and has started mobilising financing for the project.
Ethiopia believes implementing the project in the next six years will be critical in addressing its severe energy shortages and assisting the country in realising its desire to become a major electricity exporter in the region.
The country projects that power exports could rake in $407-million annually, much more than what it earns from exports of coffee, currently the country’s major foreign currency earner.
Over the past six months, many Ethiopians have responded to a call by Zenawi to contribute to the dam’s construction kitty, which now boasts $350-million raised from civil servants, private-sector employees, students, private businesspeople and Ethiopians in the diaspora.
During the talks in Cairo, Sharaf softened Egypt’s tough stance on the dam, which is set to be the biggest in Africa.
“This dam, in conjunction with the other dams, can be a path for development and construction between Ethiopia, Sudan and Egypt,” he said.
The easing of tension between the two nations comes six months after the signing of the Nile Basin Cooperative Framework by seven of the eight countries that share the Nile’s waters that ended Egypt’s exclusive rights to the waters as part a colonial treaty signed in 1929.
The framework provides for equitable sharing of the Nile’s waters by the eight countries the river crosses, which also include Uganda, Tanzania, Kenya, Rwanda and Burundi.
Egypt and Sudan have opposed the pact, mainly because they enjoy more than 90% of the Nile’s waters.