GERD visit by scholars from Addis Ababa University and University of Khartoum

A high level delegates and scholars from the University of Khartoum (UoK) and Addis Addis Ababa University (AAU) visited Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) in the 12th of June 2015.

GERD is one of the significant, and of course, prominent projects underway in Ethiopia. Ethiopia proclaimed and identified poverty as a number one enemy. As an effort to getting rid of poverty and having intent to earn hydroelectric power, GERD came in the first Growth and Transformation Plan (GTP 1) of the country. When announced for the public by the late Prime Minister Meles Zenawi in April 2011, the project was like a surprise for most of Ethiopians. Since then, nations and nationalities of Ethiopia join hands to help the project a reality. It has been reported that the project reached around 45 per cent this time.

Ethiopians are watching out the progress of the project alertly for their stamp sealed on it. They are the engineers and financers of the project. The dam is under construction on the Abay River (Blue Nile) in the Benshangul-Gumuz Region of Ethiopia at Goba district. By 6,000 MW, GERD will be the largest hydroelectric power plant in Africa when completed, and also the 11th largest in the world.

During the visit, Engineer Simegnew Bekele, Manager of GERD, gave for the delegates a briefing about the dam. He reassured that the progress of the dam is going well as planned. 93 years of river flow data were taken to make the river diversion, Engineer Simegnew said. 9,000 employees are working 24 hours currently in the dam, out of which 400 are expatriates from 25 countries, according to Engineer Simegnew.


As explained in the briefing session during the visit, there are several benefits the dam will give when it is completed. Among them to mention a few: prospects to export power, increasing business opportunities, addressing gender issues, improving access for power, mobilizing the peoples of the country for advancement, creating visiting and recreational areas, avoiding flood risk for the downstream countries, trapping sediments, and reducing evaporation losses in the Nile Basin.

The dam, most importantly, is significant for regional integration through power connection to be created gradually in the future, Dr. Yakob Arsano, a political scientist in AAU and long term negotiator of Ethiopia on the issue of Abay River, said during the visit. When countries are connected more until the level of countries’ thinking that ‘without the goodness of the other prosperity will be difficult’, sustainable peace and development will be in the making. Hence, the dam has this peacemaking effect in Africa, Middle East and Europe in the long run by connecting the countries through hydroelectric power in a cheaper price, as stipulated by the manger of the dam.

The visiting team, including Dr. Admasu Tsegaye, president of AAU, and Professor Ahmed Mohamed Suleiman, president of UoK, at the GERD site was inundated by what’s happening right there and the progress of the dam. The visit consisted of the main areas in the dam including the main dam, spillway and saddle dam.

Visiting the dam feels great as it is historic, exceptional, source of proud and confidence, start of hope, beginning of a new era, for Ethiopians.

It is also become source of contentions and concerns for downstream countries especially Egyptians. Among the concerns Egypt raises, she fears a temporary reduction of water availability due to the filling of the dam and a permanent reduction because of evaporation from the reservoir water. She also says the dam will lead to a permanent lowering of the water level in Lake Nasser, if floods are stored instead in Ethiopia.

The fact, in the contrary, as studied, is that the reservoir, located in the temperate Ethiopian highlands and up to 200 m deep, will experience considerably less evaporation than downstream reservoirs such as Lake Nasser in Egypt, which losses 12% of the total water  due to evaporation as the water sits in the lake for 10 months. Through the controlled release of water from the reservoir to downstream, this could facilitate an increase of up to 5% in Egypt’s water supply and that of Sudan as well.

Ethiopia gets support from many riparian countries including Sudan from the very beginning of GERD construction. Though Egypt and Sudan didn’t sign, as they claim it violates the 1959 treaty which gives the two countries only exclusive rights to make use of Nile’s waters, Cooperative Framework Agreement (CFA) is signed by most of the upper riparian countries and other are on the process to sign. That gives more legitimacy for Ethiopia to use her rights; making use of Nile as 86% water contributor.  Ethiopia doesn’t accept the 1959 Nile treaty for she didn’t participate on this agreement and is not expected to be abided by the treaty, Ethiopia says.

Ethiopia is keen to work together with its counterparts on the issue of Abay River all the time, Dr. Admasu Tsegaye, president of AAU, said on the reflection session at the end of the GERD site visit. It is possible to exemplify Ethiopia’s readiness to collaborate with downstream countries by mentioning the International Panel of Experts. It was established to study the impact of the dam for downstream countries. Ethiopia, Egypt and Sudan established it to review and assess the dam. The Panel consists 10 members; six from the three countries and four international experts in the fields of water resources, hydrologic modeling, dam engineering, socioeconomic and environmental issues.


Dr. Admasu, on the reflection session, expressed his delights on the visit and the status of the dam. “Most of the doubts are clear for our Sudanese counterparts today due to the visit. Although we have plenty amount of natural resources, we are poor. Although we are the water tower of Africa, we didn’t use it except now. Ethiopia is working to be middle income country in the near future. We have many projects, and GERD is one of them”, Dr. Admasu explained.

He emphasized on the importance of the collaboration between the two universities. As AAU is the mother of all universities in Ethiopia, UoK has the same status in Sudan as well. By using their important places in their respective nations, the two universities can make a difference on many issues through research collaboration, student and staff exchange programs, and community services, the president commented. In his concluding remarks, Dr. Admasu said: “Academicians have multiplier effects. They reach the community in different ways. Though they are not decision makers at nationwide, they are influencers in their respective communities. That is why we started this initiative-AAU and UOK research collaboration on Nile Basin and other issues. Let’s explain the importance of the dam to our communities”.

President of UoK on his part expressed his reflection on the session saying:”this is the right place for dam construction. Poverty can be reduced in many ways. This (the dam) is one mechanism. In the future, we want to collaborate with AAU and Ethiopia”.

Other delegates and scholars from the two universities reflected about the dam as they are satisfied and learned a lot. Their questions are well addressed during the visit with vivid evidences, visitors from the two universities said.

Ethiopians have watchful eyes on the progress of their dam at this time. This can be well expressed by the saying Engineer Simegnew Bekele mentioned at the reflection session: “humans have five senses to hear, touch, smell, taste, and see. And GERD has become the sixth organs of Ethiopians since 2011”.