Written by Dr Tigist Gebrehiwot / Research Fellow at the University of South Africa.
Ethiopia has been trying to utilise the Nile Water since the 1800s but their rights were been disregarded by the influence of colonial rule in other Nile basin countries. After independence from colonial rule, Egypt continually enforces this unjust rule to the detriment of Ethiopia. The amicable resolution proposed by Ethiopia that will ensure a fair share of the Nile water has been rejected by both Egypt and Sudan.
Ethiopia contributes 85% of the Blue Nile water but gets 0% benefit, while its people live in poverty as a majority of the Blue Nile water together with its fertile soil benefit riparian states. We all are witnessing Egypt’s complete disregard for Ethiopia’s fair share of the water and its interest in utilising the Nile water within its geographical territory to generate electricity and provide clean drinking water for its people.
Without minimizing the importance of the dam for the ever-growing Ethiopian population, the second-most populous nation in Africa with a population of more than 110 million people having 65% of its population with no access to electricity or water is unfair.
The building of a dam by Ethiopia with a potential capacity to generate power will primarily provide clean drinking water and electricity to its ever-growing population. Also demand for power for industrial purposes by other neighboring east African states such as Kenya is key to the development of the entire East Africa’s economies.
Article 5 of the Convention on the Law of Non-Navigational Uses of International Watercourses adopted by the General Assembly of the United Nations on 21st May 1997 provides for the ‘equitable and reasonable utilization and participation in the use, development, and protection of an international watercourse’ while Article 7 of same convention provides an obligation not to cause significant harm to other riparian states.
Accordingly, Ethiopia took all the necessary measures to protect the interest of all riparian countries as prescribed in Article 7 of the Convention when it started the Grand renaissance dam also bearing in mind the provisions of article 5 which allows for the equitable and reasonable use of the Nile water.
In violation of Article 7 of the convention, the restriction on Ethiopia’s to utilize the Nile water causes significant harm to the majority of its people as they have no access to clean drinking water and electricity. The Law on Usage of International Waters specifically provides the principle of equitable and reasonable share with the view for sustainable development. In this regard, Egypt disregards the international water provision of an equitable and reasonable share of the international water law but imposes the duty of the Convention. You can’t read Article 7 separate from Article 5 of the convention as there are rights also there are obligations. In these instances, Ethiopia applied both rules of international law.
Surprisingly in 1929, Egypt recognised Sudan’s right to utilize the Nile water, later in 1959 the quota was increased by Egypt for Sudan to utilise an increased quantity of the Nile water which modified the allocation of water between the two countries in exclusion of other riparian states. Ethiopia who contributes a majority of the Nile water was completely disregarded for years.
It is not difficult to understand the plight of the Ethiopian people that almost 71 million people not able to access water and electricity is causing harm and creating social unrest including forced migration.
Egypt should come to an understanding with the Ethiopian people that their lives matter as well as those of Egyptians. Ethiopians have no problem sharing their resources with Egypt but the Egyptians claim and complete disregard of the rights Ethiopians have for a better quality of life is intolerable. The benefit of international cooperation within the framework of fairness and reasonableness with mutual respect for international law will help not only Ethiopia but the international community at large.
It must be maintained that the plight of millions of Ethiopians who are asking permission to drink their water from their land and generate electricity for the improvement of their livelihood but denied is a violation of their fundamental rights.