The Great Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD): A Quest for Surviving Abject Poverty
Ethiopia once used to be called a breadbasket of Africa because of the many rivers flowing year-round and blessed with agricultural land suitable for farming with varying level of ecology. External pressures and proxy wars waged over the years have caused greater instability, making it difficult to divert resources for infrastructure development. As a result, the country has remained one of the most impoverished nations on the planet. It has also once been used as a definition of famine by the Oxford world dictionary. The famine and historical hunger have not been caused by resource scarcity or lack of skilled manpower, but rather due to internal and external proxy conflicts, brokered and agitated by different actors. In 1991, the downfall of the Derg regime had changed the paradigm, and the taste of the new economic order has emerged.
The end of the civil war has given a chance to look into inside and work on home some grown development trajectories. That has not remained in vain; Ethiopia came into the realm, and once a definition for famine, became an African Tiger growing by an average of 10 percent or more a year. The economic stimulus at home and a change in the world order have created a wealthy group on one side and a substantial un-proportional poor segmented group on the other side. Economic stability has also incentivized a civil and stable way of life, giving rise to a higher fertility rate unbalanced with economic growth. More demands are created, yet production is unable to grow proportionally. A booming population makes the nation the second most populous African country. This unbalanced population growth has required another "Marshal Plan" that would lift the country from abject poverty.
Despite promising economic growth, the majority of Ethiopians lack basic human needs. For instance, growth measured by the UN HDI put Ethiopia in the 173rd poorest country. The World Bank has noted, Ethiopia was "one of the most educationally disadvantaged countries in the world" for much of the 20th century, because of armed conflict, famines, and humanitarian crises. Health coverage and access are also one of the least in Africa. Most importantly, there is no reasonable electricity access to the majority of the Ethiopian rural villages and towns. Only 40 percent of the nation's total population has access to either grid or off-grid electricity.
Energy is pivotal to catalyze development and attract foreign direct investment (FDI). It also has direct household-level impacts (making schooling accessible to everyone), brings equity among gender disparities, reduces pressure on natural resources, and enables access to a health facility. These fundamental human needs that are accorded in the UN universal declaration of human rights are now very luxurious to the majority of Ethiopians. To live a dignified life, Ethiopians need access to energy, health, and education. To counter fight this multifaceted poverty syndrome, Ethiopia has initiated a multi-billion dollar homemade energy infrastructure development and expansion plan. GERD is part of this relevant and timely national infrastructural project. Energy for Ethiopians is not of a luxury commodity, preferably a hard fight choice to live a dignified life. GERD is a long-awaited dream for millions of youth for an employment opportunity, and bread for the impoverished drought-hit pastoral communities. It is also a long-awaited dream for the rural shepherd who used to chant slogans and sorrows against the bad deeds that the Blue Nile has caused over his ancestors' land. Above all, it is a quest for equity and shares over one's natural resources. The Blue Nile, of which 86 percent flows from Ethiopia, annual water use is only 10 billion cubic water as compared to Egypt's 75 billion cubic water.
GERD from UN SDG Perspective
The global challenge, coupled with mounting population pressure, poses a higher risk to humans in the last couple of decades. UN in 2011 has introduced 17 sustainable development goals (SDG). The UN's primary goal is to end poverty in all its forms everywhere. It has an objective to address the common causes of poverty from an inability to obtain the necessary amounts of clean and healthy food, energy, and water for the reproduction of the household. The growing Food -Energy -Water (FEW) nexus studies are motivated by the fact that there is an inter-connectedness between the layers of the nexus resources. SDG framework, therefore, has assured that welfare at the household level can be achieved through a closed recycling loop and powered through efficient use of renewable energy systems, making possible the end of such types of poverty. Other most prominent SDG components of UN are also linked to renewable energy and poverty reduction. Healthy food and clean water promote healthy lives, and clean renewable energy eliminates the grave threats of air and water pollution. GERD, as renewable energy is a means to equitable share and use of water resources to come out of abject poverty and start living a dignified human life.
GERD from a Decolonization Perspective
GERD, for Ethiopians, is a symbol and a sign of self-reliance and a fightback against colonization. It is a sign of resilience and self-esteem, praising the power of unity. It is a dream come true, abolishing the walls of impossibility. It is a seal and a sign of every Ethiopian. Everyone has put his/her legacy on the tower and walls of the dam. Egypt, once and then claimed that Ethiopia is not abiding by the 1902/1952 colonial water agreements. Ethiopia, on the other hand, had repeatedly expressed its positions against a colonial water agreement signed and motivated only for colonial spirits. GERD, which is being built on the Blue Nile (Abay in Amharic), is served as a patriotic aspiration and national pride, drawing all walks of life together for its completion. Many Ethiopians believe GERD as a second ADAWA, where an African power had defeated the western colonial aggression. GERD is a symbol of overcoming abject poverty and decolonizing themselves from impossibility. Ethiopia managed to generate all financial and technical resources by itself and without any international funding. Ethiopia has repeatedly complained over Egypt for the blockage of financing from different foreign funding sources, claiming Egypt as an invisible colonizer over its resources. Now, GERD is believed by many Ethiopians as the weapon to abolish a colonial mentality and unfair world order.
GERD from Green Development Perspective
Climate change has impacted all paces of life all over the world. Developing countries like Ethiopia have little or no adaptive capacity and resilience and remained as highly vulnerable to climate change. Ethiopia established a climate-resilient green development strategy in 2012. Green development strategy has been praised by many as a means to tackle future climate change effects. GERD, as a renewable and clean energy mechanism, will put Ethiopia as a major contributing nation to global carbon mitigation efforts. Realizing GERD will also enable many (60-70 percent) Ethiopians accessible to clean energy and contribute to the reduction in carbon emission from deforestation for firewood purposes. Climate change mitigation efforts have global perspectives, and in this regard, Ethiopia's effort should have been praised and supported by the international community. Reducing pressure on forest resources and the expansion of afforestation and watershed management practices deserve carbon compensation. Ethiopia's effort to build GERD is not only a mere energy generation but goes beyond international carbon sequestration and climate change mitigation. From this perspective, therefore, GERD, deserves global subsidy and support, not international sabotage. In Ethiopia, every year, a single firewood dependent household for energy purposes, on average, clears 0.3ha of forest land.
GERD from Equity and Cooperation Scenario
Many high-level academic and policy-relevant studies have been conducted in search of an optimal solution to the three major riparian countries. Game-theoretic simulation results have shown that the only viable strategy for all the players in the negotiation is cooperation and working towards the common good. The Nile river should be accessible to all in a fair share and good faith principle. Ethiopia has claimed that Egypt, disregard this principle and brainwash all stakeholders for any infrastructure developed on the Nile valley as an existential threat. Instead and based on scientific evidence, Ethiopia has tried to assure the dam will have a paramount contribution towards eradicating poverty, maintaining economic growth, and regional integration. It is believed that there should be fair and equitable resource use in a manner that would contribute to regional cooperation and integration. GERD should instead enhance regional cooperation and integration.
GERD: A Quest for Survival to Ethiopians
Ethiopia, as a nation has experienced a survival threat from frequent seasonal drought (every ten years) and weather fluctuations due to El Nino. El Nino is becoming a hard fact for nature dependent nomadic communities causing massive water and pasture scarcity. To reverse this natural order, Ethiopia needs to show resilience and invest in renewable energy. GERD is part of the quest for survival.
23.5 percent of the total population in Ethiopia is living below the poverty line, where the majority of them are living in rural villages. These populations are either dependent on traditional farming or following nomadic life. On the other hand, Ethiopia has only 40 percent of electricity coverage, and power rationing is considered as normalcy. Power generating dams capacity was going down during dry seasons and failed to support the ever aspired rural transformations and an industry lead development plan. The Egyptians, and Sudan, who are dependent on the Blue Nile for their freshwater needs, have a 100 percent electricity coverage and created commercial agriculture. The depth and extent of poverty in Ethiopia are not comparable to Egypt. Ethiopia needs a "sword" to beat poverty and inequality. Ethiopia has no alternative except using its water resources and generates the most awaited energy that is expected to lift its people from abject poverty.
Despite the competing views growing over the media, the optimal strategy by all negotiating bodies is to cooperate and work on good faith principles for a better tomorrow. Ethiopia, as a major source of the Blue Nile river, deserves compensation for the historical conservation works it has done over the Nile basin through a win-win deal. Ethiopians have invested their time and energy to conserve the highland river basins, as well as watersheds that all flow into the Blue Nile. Egypt and Sudan remain the sole beneficiaries of the investment in conservation works. If there were a fair, just, and equitable distribution of the resources, Ethiopia deserves cooperation and financing in its effort to build the GERD. GERD also has a water regulation role, reducing the evaporation and flooding effects on the lower riparian Egypt and Sudan dams. Therefore, all parties should instead cooperate with Ethiopia to lift citizens from abject poverty and contribute to the green development plans. Cooperative win-win negotiations based on real facts than colonial mentality should be a centerpiece of dialogue.