By Keffyalew Gebremedhin The Ethiopia Observatory (TEO
This time around, it has become like the story of a patient the causes of whose ill-disposed health her physician(s) could not easily diagnose.
In a similar manner, after some months of following up their work, both Ethiopia and Egypt have just rushed out to acknowledge to the world that they do not know what has soured one of the two engineering consultancy firms from the two they have hired – French BRL and Dutch Deltares, two known names in applied research in the field of water – to stud downstream impact of the Great Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD).
Since May 2015, Ethiopia, Egypt and the Sudan have designated the two firms to affirm with crisp studies whether the GERD is without any adverse consequences in any form to the downstream countries of Egypt and the Sudan.
That expectation now seems to suffer some setbacks. Firstly, BRL (French) and Deltares (Dutch) could not honor their August 2015 deadline. Came and gone is also September 5, supposedly when the two firms were to present the Tripartite National Committee (TNC) with their report(s).
Secondly, the final blow to forward movement on GERD agreement was administered by Deltares, which has made known its decision to withdraw from the contractual agreement.
In an official statement posted on its web page, Deltare states what has pained it, as follows:
“These studies are being commissioned by the Tri-partite National Committee (TNC) of Ethiopia, Sudan and Egypt. After 3 months of negotiations on a possible cooperation for the studies with BRLi, a French consultancy group, Deltares had to conclude that the conditions as imposed by the TNC and BRLi on how the studies should be carried out did not provide sufficient guarantee for Deltares that an independent high-quality study could be carried out”.
In terms of its aftershock, this decision implies that the portion of the work assigned to the Dutch company would be delayed. This may affect the otherwise increasing trust and confidence fostered especially in Egypt.
While possibly not wanting to close the door on diplomatic solution to the Nile problem, Egyptian officials have been insistent on standing by the “Declaration of Principles”, signed in Khartoum on March 23, 2015.
Therefore, the Egyptian reaction, as expressed on September 9 by Irrigation Minister Moghazi, has only underlined of the need to quickly organize an early meeting of the three nations. He told the media that “the next Ethiopia Renaissance Dam negotiations meeting [which] will include representatives from three concerned countries” would soon be organized.
At the same time, Egypt sounded unfazed by Deltares’ withdrawal; there was nothing to indicate a sense of urgency about some action, including the need for a scheduled meeting, which was pushed to mid-October 2015. This meeting would be attended by both the representatives of the three states and the two consultancy firms. At time of this writing, there was no indication from Deltares, i.e., whether it would attend or be in abeyance.
On the Ethiopian side, Eng Gedion Asfaw, Chairman of the Ethiopian GERD Technical Committee, said on September 9 that the firms have not respected their deadline for submission of reports, which he simply attributed to disagreements between the firms.
While tightlipped on substance of the disagreement(s), Eng Gideon, however, has acknowledged his awareness of for a while of some differences of views between the two water engineering institutions.
The question now boils down to whether this is really only a disagreement between the two firms, or if there is an underhanded action by any of the states that has now slipped over onto the work of these companies?
The possibility of such scenario had crossed our minds early on at some point – each of the firms being pro- this and pro-that. In the circumstances, speculation may have it that perhaps the bazaar incense the firms might have been smelling have given rise to the present problem. Be that as it may, TEO does not have any additional concerete information whatsover on any aspects of the problem(s) at this point.
It is also important to recall that the three governments have given a major share of the study – i.e., 70 percent – to the French consultancy firm, while the other 30 percent to the Dutch firm.
Nonetheless, Deltares casts hint on its web page, referring to its concern of not being “provided sufficient guarantee” to enable it carry out “an independent high-quality study.”
In a way, this implicates both the states and its counterpart French firm. It is not clear if this needless exertion comes from within the upper Nile Basin states only namely Ethiopia, Egypt and the Sudan and also from strong nations from beyond.
Deltares has told the world in clear terms that it could not operate under “the conditions as imposed by the TNC and BRLi”. Why has it not indicated this at the beginning, when signing the contract?
As non-engineer, I ask the question why both firms fail twice to submit their reports to the TNC, especially BRL? At least, as of Sept 9 we know that Deltares has said it would not participate in the studies?
At another level and as human organizations, the question of the French firm, which supposedly is pro-Ethiopian now exerting pressure on Deltares, is concerning. It is being accused of making professional collaboration impossible with BRL. What is going on? Is this professional rivalry, or pecuniary?
As far as the states are concerned, normally the usual suspect has been Egypt. It has been accused of wanting to challenge Ethiopia on all fronts, with or without the GERD. What now, after the GERD has become a fait accompli?
Does Egypt still bear grudge against Ethiopia, as a dethroned country from its distortionary empire as “The Source of the Nile”?
Or is it Ethiopia the culprit, underhandedly seeking Egypt to be seen as author of its multifaceted internal problems? Not only the numbers do not add up from my vantage point, also there is no clear and concrete pointer to any of these either thus far.
What we now are certain is that, when the two firms were supposed to have produced some work for the Tripartite National Committee, Deltares has decided not to participate in any studies related to the assessment of the Ethiopian Grand Renaissance Dam.
More than the budding relations between Ethiopia and Egypt now being tested once again, it is possible that the future of the Renaissance Dam negotiations would remain unclear after the firm’s withdrawal – if indeed it is allowed to occur.
For information, On its web page, Deltares has reiterated the same points:
“Deltares has decided not to participate in the studies to assess the impacts of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam.
These studies are being commissioned by the Tri-partite National Committee (TNC) of Ethiopia, Sudan and Egypt. After 3 months of negotiations on a possible cooperation for the studies with BRLi, a French consultancy group, Deltares had to conclude that the conditions as imposed by the TNC and BRLi on how the studies should be carried out did not provide sufficient guarantee for Deltares that an independent high-quality study could be carried out.
Deltares regrets that it has to withdraw from these challenging studies as its knowledge, expertise and experience in the region fits quite well with this complex and economically important project.”
The assignment of the Dutch and French firms has its origin in the report of the International Panel of Experts (IPoE), which was the first to investigate the GERD from every angle. In that report, IoPE and recommended, among others:
* “A more comprehensive assessment of downstream impacts of the GERDP, based on a sophisticated water resources/hydropower system simulation model. Potential positive and adverse impact should be quantified and confirmed by a detailed study.”
* “Additional investigations are carried out in the three countries in order to link the results of the modelling exercise with the anticipated environmental and social impacts resulting from flow alteration by GERDP and to quantify these impacts in technical, economic and social terms.”