event 09 mars 2020

Nexus Blog // Opportunities for mutual learning? The Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam and Fomi dam: transboundary relations and Nexus thinking across the Sahel

By Luca Ferrini & Lucia Benavides. More than 500 million people in Sub-Saharan Africa still do not have access to electricity. Population growth coupled with industrialisation is resulting in a steeply growing demand for energy. Often, hydropower is a key element of generating energy. However, the generation of hydropower is only one aspect of a dam, in most cases, multi-purpose dams are planned and implemented, specifically for irrigation and the regulation of the water flow, although they are often financially not as attractive as a single purpose dam for generating energy. In the planning phase of such a dam, the Nexus approach plays a significant role, as the provision of energy is interchangeably linked with the food and water security of neighbouring countries. This article takes a closer Nexus-look at two dams located on the eastern and western part of the Sahel: the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) and the Fomi Dam in Guinea.

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The Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD)

The construction of the GERD began in late 2010 at the Blue Nile 40 km east of the Sudanese border. It is projected to be the largest dam in Africa, with a wall length of 1.8 kilometers and a capacity of 74 million cubic meters. The energy production in Ethiopia will, after the finalization of the dam, almost double: from 3,200 MW to 6,000 MW. The dam will affect the natural river flow of the Blue Nile, of which the neighboring countries, such as Sudan and Egypt, who are depended on regular flooding’s for their agricultural production and on a constant flow for their drinking water supply and the industrial activities will be affected. The GERD inadvertently aggravated the conflict between these states, which lead to iterative negotiations in which the three countries now seem to be moving towards a solution. Ethiopia committed to set up an independent scientific study group, who is in charge of assessing consequences of the dam operation. This way, equitable and safe access to the Nile’s water for all three parties and all relevant actors shall be ensured. Furthermore, a tripartite infrastructure commission for the joint discussion of future infrastructure projects involving the Nile was founded.

The Fomi Dam

The Fomi dam is a planned multi-purpose dam at the Niandan river, 30 km upstream of its confluence with the Niger. If built, it would have generate about 100 MW and could provide 374 GWh, which represents 3% of the total national needs estimated for 2030 in Guinea. In addition to hydropower generation, the water reservoir of the dam is foreseen to provide water for irrigation (for approximately 100,000 ha of agricultural land in Guinea and 200,000 ha in Mali) and for fish farming and fishing. The position of the dam, at the head of the Niger river Basin, signifies important stakes for Mali, Niger, Benin and Nigeria downstream of Fomi (see the article on Fomi on this platform in EN and FR). Some of the issues which are currently discussed include the dam’s impact on agricultural and economic activities in the downstream countries as well as the impact on key ecosystems such as the Niger Inner Delta wetland in Mali on which at least two million people’s livelihoods depend. The Niger Basin Authority (NBA, founded in 2011) enhances and promotes multilateral planning and the discussion on the cost-benefit sharing and ecosystem preservation, which includes all stakeholders. The project has already been identified as a priority by the nine countries that conform to the NBA, and several workshops and meetings have been held. As a result, the project has been included in the approved regional development plan as a key tool for multisector planning.


What are the opportunities for mutual learnings in these two projects?

Both cases share a common situation: complex decision-making processes on a scarce water resource. The dams will both have impacts on irrigation agriculture, fisheries, neighbouring and downstream ecosystems, power supply and livelihoods.

The in 2011 founded tripartite Nile Basin Initiative (NBI) between Ethiopia, Sudan and Egypt could benefit from the lessons learned of the FOMI dam negotiations and multilateral planning processes. This applies particularly to methods which collectively assess the sectoral trade-offs of multi-purpose dams to maximize the benefits among all interests and stakeholders in an international setting.

Furthermore, the NBI and the NBA can exchange experiences and learn from each other concerning the generation of valid data and the mediation of conflicts. Since the NBI is only marginally involved in interest conflicts concerning the GERD, the initiative could learn from the NBA experiences, for becoming a key actor for managing and mediating in multi-lateral negotiations for future projects on the Nile. The NBA gathered more than 30 years of experience in bringing stakeholders together to work on beneficial solutions for all in dam projects.

In turn, the NBA could benefit from the NBI’s experience in gathering large amounts of varied information and data of the basin (from technical studies to scientific databases to policy instruments), which can be made accessible through a website. Overall, regional knowledge and practice exchange can be considered powerful tools to improve stakeholders’ capacities for handling resource conflicts more efficient and successful for all cooperating parties.


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