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International experts analyze impacts of Ethiopian dam

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African securityInternational experts analyze impacts of Ethiopian dam

By David L. Chandler

Published 23 April 2015

A new report addresses potential effects of huge construction project. According to present plans, the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) — now under construction across the Blue Nile River in Ethiopia — will be the largest hydroelectric dam in Africa, and one of the twelve largest in the world. But controversy has surrounded the project ever since it was announced in 2011 — especially concerning its possible effects on Sudan and Egypt, downstream nations that rely heavily on the waters of the Nile for agriculture, industry, and drinking water.

Report from conference at MIT addresses potential effects of huge construction project. According to present plans, the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) — now under construction across the Blue Nile River in Ethiopia — will be the largest hydroelectric dam in Africa, and one of the twelve largest in the world. But controversy has surrounded the project ever since it was announced in 2011 — especially concerning its possible effects on Sudan and Egypt, downstream nations that rely heavily on the waters of the Nile for agriculture, industry, and drinking water.

To help address the ongoing dispute, MIT’s Abdul Latif Jameel World Water and Food Security Laboratory (J-WAFS) convened a small, invitation-only workshop of international experts last November to discuss the technical issues involved in the construction and operation of the dam, in hopes of providing an independent, impartial evaluation to aid in decision-making. The group’s final report, which was shared with the three concerned governments in early February, was released publicly yesterday.

On 23 March, the three governments signed an agreement to enter negotiations for final settlement of issues surrounding the dam’s operations. Though the agreement is preliminary, it marks a significant step forward.

Professor John H. Lienhard V, the director of J-WAFS, was among the organizers of the November workshop held at MIT. He says that the group was carefully selected to include top experts on water resources engineering and economics and on the Nile Basin, and was charged with reviewing the current state of technical knowledge on the GERD and its potential downstream impacts. The idea was “to give advice, and do it impartially,” Lienhard says.

“We went out of our way to find people who know about large dams and large rivers, and who are not affiliated with any of the three governments,” including people with “hands-on experience with dams of this scale,” Lienhard says. The meeting also included observers from Egypt, Sudan, and Ethiopia. After the report was shared, members of the group also met with officials in Egypt and Ethiopia to review the technical issues.

Technical issues
The working group developed consensus recommendations, which were incorporated into the 17-page report. It reflects agreement reached at the November workshop, says Lienhard, who is also the Abdul Latif Jameel Professor of Water and Food at MIT.

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