Why U.S. and Europe must help Egypt with the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam?

An overview rendition of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam
An overview rendition of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam

For those who are interested in video games, the initial mission in Call of Duty, Black Ops III, in the futuristic 2064 A.D., was indeed interesting. You, the player, with Mr. Jacob Hendricks, must save Mr. Said, the prime minister of Egypt, and his close assistant, Lieutenant Khalil, from the Nile River Coalition (NRC) army. Afterward, John Taylor should pick up both of Mr. Said and Lieutenant Khalil. Except for only mentioning the occurrence of some uprisings in Cairo, Egypt, the narration did not give a lot of details about the situation. However, one can see that the fight scene was in an African country –probably Ethiopia- and it pertained to a Nile River coalition that did not include Egypt due to the fact that they kidnapped her prime minister.

Looking into the existing geopolitical landscape, the construction of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) may lead to the previous scenario.

An overview rendition of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam
An overview rendition of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam

GERD is a dam, upon finishing, that will be made of 10.5 million cubic meters of roller compact concrete. It will create a huge reservoir of 70 cubic kilometers of water in the course of the Blue Nile River, one of the two sources of the Nile River of Egypt, with energy expectation of 6425 megawatts. That power would qualify it to be the largest hydroelectric generator in Africa.

Ethiopia has suffered drought and insufficient supply of electricity for decades. Consequently, the per capita consumption is considered the lowest in the world at 65 kilowatt-hours in 2013 compared to the world average of 3104 kilowatt-hours. The Ethiopians are in dire need for this dam, which will quadruple, in conjunction with the Gilgel Gibe III Dam, the Ethiopian national electricity production. Ethiopia can export the excess electricity getting revenues of up to 1 billion dollars.

However, Ethiopia, during and before the dam’s construction, did not negotiate with Egypt and did not begin the dam building until a revolution erupted in Egypt in 2011.

The original height of the main dam, released by Ethiopia, was 145 meters with 5250 megawatts of electricity production. In March 2012, Ethiopia modified the announced power to 6000 megawatts with a new height of 155 meters. Finally, in February 2017, the actual final dam parameters were delivered to the media. Due to the claimed improvements of the dam turbines, the Ethiopian authorities declared that new upgrades were done on 14 out of 16 of the Francis turbines at the main dam bottom, which increased the energy generation to 6450 megawatts. Ethiopia did not mention clearly that a new height was set to 175 meters! This new height necessitated increasing the height of the accompanying saddle dam from 50 to 60 meters. This information was not completely new, but it was revealed in 2015 in a video by the construction contractor: Salini Impregilo. Several experts in renewable energy and energy efficiency expressed that the dam is oversized with respect to the expected electricity generation, and the dam is probably designed for the peak value rather than the average flow rate of the Blue Nile River.

Ethiopia mentioned on several occasions that the dam would be only for hydroelectric generation and not for irrigation. But looking at the obscurity and the continuous re-modification of the stated facts, it appears that the dam is not only for power generation or local water storage but to: store, control, and sell water to Egypt.

The Egyptian army is in better shape than the Ethiopian, but Ethiopia knows that the shattered Egyptian economy, Sinai insurgency, and the eminent problems between Egypt and her supporters at the Gulf States will prevent any possible armed conflict. Moreover, logistically, Egypt does not have the enough marine power to carry an extended military campaign away from Egypt’s border. In addition, the relations between Egypt, Sudan, and South Sudan are not that great; especially, with the conflict fermenting between Egypt and Sudan over Halayeb and Shalateen border areas. There is also a lot of internal conflict within South Sudan itself. So, moving of fighter jets or ground forces in these areas is not safe or guaranteed.

But what all of that has to do with U.S. and Europe?

The answer is simple: Illegal Immigration.

Even in Mubarak’s era, the former ousted Egyptian president, Egypt has always been a source of illegal immigrants’ waves to Europe. Nowadays, the Egyptian pound is continuously and vigorously devaluating. Prices of food, electricity, fuel, water and almost every consumer good are skyrocketing. After the Egyptian revolution, Egyptians, in droves, are heading to Europe, especially Italy, through the Libyan coast using old, over-occupied, and unprepared boats to cross the Mediterranean.

When GERD is fully functional, the insult will be added to injury. Egypt is already in a water scarcity situation with warnings from the United Nations that Egypt could run out of water by 2025, due to rapid population increase, and inefficient irrigation and distribution. These warnings did not take GERD into account.

If Ethiopia wants to cut off the water to quickly fill the GERD’s reservoir, the water reservoir behind Egypt’s high dam, Lake Nasser, will be depleted and eventually Egypt would be completely paralyzed. People will greatly suffer from the agricultural lands’ retraction, and the decrease of potable water supply. At a certain point, Israel offered its help to the Egyptian authorities, to build seawater distillation projects, and to regulate and improve water usage in irrigation, but it was too late.

An Egyptian farmer on cracked and dry soil
An Egyptian farmer on cracked and dry soil

Upon the decrease of the Nile River’s supply, hundreds, thousands, and millions will take their chance and look at the north. Egyptian and Libyan armies would be helpless and would not dare to stop the continuous waves flooding the Mediterranean with carpets of humans. The Syrian refugees’ crisis, which crippled Europe and laid down existential questions about identity and religion, will look as a walk in the park at that time.

The only recourse for U.S. and Europe to prevent the inevitable is to send a committee to investigate the GERD design and construction, establish a per capita water distribution on Ethiopia, and monitor any quick fill-up of GERD’s reservoir to halt the in-progress humanitarian crisis.

In case nothing is done, the Call of Duty’s scenario may not be that certain, but the immigrant waves ‘scenario will be.