Misleading article by a Sudanese on Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam
By Gezu Karma
December 6, 2012

Dear Ethiomedia Editor,

I am an international expert with close working ties to the Nile Basin. My position does not permit me to speak on national issues. However, since this is very critical and I know the issues surrounding the GERD, Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam, very intimately, and as an Ethiopian, I felt compelled to write you.

I am writing to voice a concern over your recent posting of an article on GERD by a Sudanese writer, Haydar Yousif, provocatively entitled “Ethiopia’s Renaissance Dam – A Mega-Dam with Potentially Mega-Consequences”. Not surprisingly the insidious article is spreading like wildfire along the internet, including with your support.

Any Ethiopian could legitimately voice opinions and argue and quarrel over the technical, social, economic and environmental merits and demerits of the dam. That is fine. Even more, these arguments if buttressed with solid facts and evidences, will add value. They will help improve the conversation about the dam. They will help improve possible current flaws in the GERD, and even better in avoiding similar ones in the future. However, when a reputable Ethiopian media outlet like yours, publishes articles on an investment of a scale like the GERD, I would expect you to validate and verify the facts in the article, for example by consulting with Ethiopian and other experts before posting it on your website. I also would have expected you to research about the writer, and if possible his/her affiliations and motivations for writing the piece. I am afraid you failed to meet these minimum standards of journalism, especially as an Ethiopian website with large number of visitors.

For starters, in the very second paragraph of the piece, Haydar innocuously inserts and alludes to Ethiopia’s conspiratorial intent by linking the timing of the announcement of the dam to the still ongoing unrest in Egypt. This is not relevant, is at best speculative, and has nothing to do with the discussion about the merits or demerits of the dam as such.

The writer bemoans that the GERD could “permanently alter the amount of water these countries [i.e. Sudan and Egypt] are able to draw from the river”. So what? Who said that Ethiopia, while its people are suffering from recurrent drought and famine, should not even think of utilizing the Nile waters, because the amount of water these countries receive will be altered (read reduced)? By so stating his views, the writer betrays that he belongs to those who would like to perpetuate the British colonial legacy which “allocates” all the Nile waters to Sudan and Egypt. For us Ethiopians, who had to bear repeated aggressions and invasions by foreigners (including Egyptian, Italian, British) bent on controlling the Ethiopian headwaters which contributes over 86% of the flow the entire Nile, the articulation of such a stance is insulting.

Haydar talks of the filling period of the dam as being 3-5 years. This is patently false. The GERD design envisages filling in more than six years, if need be even more, to minimize downstream impact. Simulations have been carried out to fill the dam in such a way that it factors in probabilities associated with extreme drought events.

Haydar also argues that planning and implementation has been decided behind closed doors. Again, I say: so what? Did the Egyptians invite Ethiopians to take part behind their closed doors when they planned and implemented the High Aswan Dam? They even did not have the courtesy to inform Ethiopia after the fact! Were the Ethiopians members of his Sudanese government team that planned and implemented the Meroe Dam in 2010? Not at all! Why then does he bemoan that the decision was made behind closed doors? All governments do so!! Is it any wonder that given the historical and current hostile stances of Egypt on Ethiopia’s access to the Nile that GERD was planned in secret? The point is not that the decision was made behind closed doors. The point is that Ethiopia, of its own will, invited Egypt and Sudan to take part as members of an International Panel of Experts to examine the design and other parameters of the GERD. What more does he need?! He forgets that the two downstream countries never extended such an opportunity for Ethiopia!!

Another factually wrong – and I may add deliberate misinformation – is what Haydar said about (and left unsaid!) about evaporation loss. True: any dam incurs evaporation loss. The GERD is no exception. Equally true: Evaporation loss is much less in dams located in the Ethiopian highlands than those located in the midst of the Sahara desert, where the High Aswan Dam (HAD) is. Haydar misstates and bemoans that the GERD will result in annual evaporation loss of 3 BMC (the truth is 1.5-2BMC!!). Even more insidious is his deliberate silence about the five-fold loss (10-15BMC) HAD causes. I could go on and on refuting each and every statement of his. Suffice this for illustration.

You could easily have counterchecked and gotten these facts from any serious hydrologist – before you posted factually wrong, softly and well written but ill-intentioned hyperbole. That is damaging for the country you love. Without realizing it you are serving the interests of those who are opposed to and are tirelessly working to undermine Ethiopia’s right and cripple its efforts to access the Nile waters. You may have qualms about the government alright. But GERD is also about the future, way beyond the current generation and the current government. Please let us stop being Trojan horses – good intentions notwithstanding – of Ethiopia’s enemies!!

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