In part one of this interview, Dr. Tirusew discussed the core challenges facing Ethiopia, Sudan, and Egypt in arriving at a mutually beneficial agreement on the issue of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD). He explained, at length, the Sudanese perspective and their particular concerns, and recommended some confidence-building measures for the three governments, and their respective citizenry. In addition, Dr. Tirusew outlined the ever-growing challenges of climate change which, in addition to complicating the tripartite negotiations, further heightens the urgency for a durable and timely solution. Lastly, Dr. Tirusew emphasized the importance of framing the larger “water story” and weaving it into the social, economic, and political context of the three countries *.


In your professional experience, are there any technical factors, in particular, that further complicate the negotiation process for the parties?

In my view, one of the core causes of intense debate and disagreement is assessment. Currently, Sudan, Egypt, and Ethiopia cannot agree on the baseline for assessment; for example, the measurement of water levels, threshold for drought, and other such phenomena. When weather forecasters say “today is warmer than usual” they look through 30 years of data. In our case, we would need at least 10 years and rain and precipitation data to determine the benchmarks. It is also worth considering that due to the lack of such a benchmark, Egypt has been attempting to use arbitrary figures to further pressure Ethiopia. There are various holistic assessment tools used around the world to address, among other things, the issue of equitability. How much food is produced and what is the average caloric intake of the population? What is the minimum wage everybody would require to survive? These are the questions the aforementioned tools would be answering. It is important, for any nation, to ensure that their population is, at the least, food-secure before discussing issues like water sharing. Egypt is blindly insisting on maintaining the status quo with no consideration for the assessment tools I mentioned earlier. What does this mean for Ethiopia? Ethiopia’s historically allotted amount of 0% will remain under binding conditions; Egypt does not wish to alter its historical share of 85% of Nile waters and singularly discuss the building and operation of the dam on the condition that water sharing be addressed separately-later, if at all.


Is it possible to have conditions demanding no discussions on water sharing, yet insist on maintaining the status quo?

Exactly! It is the classic “do as I say, not as I do” command. Egyptian officials claim their share to be 50.5 BCM. I doubt the accuracy of this figure. I would guess that Egypt’s share is no less than 70 BCM. Though not directly, what Egypt is proposing entails water-sharing given that they are asking Ethiopia to release everything, i.e. all the water is stored in the reservoir. So then, what is the share of Ethiopia? Nil! Subsequently making operation conditions binding will seal the fact that Ethiopia is never to have any share of Nile waters.


To the best of your knowledge, are there other transboundary river projects with a similar dispute between the parties?

Due to factors like climate change and population growth, water-sharing agreements need to not only be flexible but should also have built-in cooperative mechanisms. The Colorado River which runs through several US States and Mexico is administered by multiple local and international treaties. The United States and Mexico revise their agreement every decade and it is within the purview of the parties to end the agreement, provided that they give 10-year notice. Having negotiated for 10 years, the parties are only now agreeing to share water shortage in the basin amongst themselves. Juxtaposing the flexible nature of water agreements around the world with the strictly binding and one-sided conditions on Ethiopia, it is evident that Egyptian demands are not only stringent and non-reciprocal but also pose developmental challenges to Ethiopia’s growing population. The parties must come together to determine how much water there is to go around.

In 2019, Egypt announced its ambitious plans to construct 20 new cities, with large green spaces and indoor greenery, to accommodate around 30 million people. Setting aside the feasibility questions of creating new cities in the desert, this alone necessitates the need for a mutually binding agreement, i.e. amongst all parties. Luckily, there is a growing number of Egyptian water experts who are calling on their government for better water management, yet their government has not moved any closer to better agricultural production. It is my view that the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam is simply scapegoated for all of Egypt’s water woes.

It is my view that the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam is simply scapegoated for all of Egypt’s water woes.

As a personal anecdote, a few months ago, I came across an article on the issue with a very touching photo of an old Egyptian man in what seems to be an arid land that was claimed to have previously been a stream. I was touched by the photo and wondered. After a little investigative work, I found and found that there is a deeper water mismanagement issue that is being packaged as a result of activity upstream. Though the Egyptian government vows to improve its water management system by, among other things, switching to less water-intensive crops. In one instance, Egypt halted rice production, only to replace it with a golf course that is more water-intensive than rice. In addition, given that which has slashed the people’s water share resulting in scarcity: Egypt is also a powerful country which increased the chances of backlash (particularly from the Arab and Gulf States)


Do you see any harm in non-experts discussing highly sensitive, yet technical, issues such as the Gerd project, with little knowledge of the science and process behind it? What are the dangers for political readers, and to their general audience?

It is very dangerous. Not only because there is a lack of scientific detail on the matter, but there are risks in the way casual information and scientific data are discussed on the same platform. For example, there is a marked difference in the way experts present uncertainties, as opposed to journalists or news hosts. This brings us to the deterministic VS probabilistic discussion of information. Most scientists adopt a cautious and probabilistic approach to the issue. However, there is a high risk for misinformation and antagonism in the way prominent media seem to deliver their, rather, deterministic views. There is an increased distortion, weaponization, and sensationalization of scientific data in the way Sudanese and Egyptian media approach the GERD project. Scientists and experts in the field of hydrology, water, and climate sciences seldom present their findings so deterministically. In addition to knowing the science behind their assertions, it is also important to accurately deliver the information.

There is an increased distortion,weaponization, and sensationalization of scientific data in the way Sudanese and Egyptian media approach the GERD project


Given Ethiopia’s immense hydroelectric potential, and the country’s plans to lean into this potential, how can university departments, young professionals, government institutions be better custodians of our water resource?

As an educator, I will have to start with recommending an inward reorientation of our education system. For example, Ethiopian universities should integrate Abbay and other national water resources in their coursework and school activities. From my own experience, I can tell you that our universities often use random rivers and water systems from across the world as teaching examples. Why? We should be using our resources, water or otherwise, not only to educate but also to instill a sense of responsibility for generations to come. It is my observation, without exaggeration, that I have rarely met Egyptian water experts whose academic and research focus is not exclusive to the Nile. I only know a handful of people whose Ph.D. thesis or dissertation is on a water resource outside of Egypt. Due to this fact, there is ample research, information, and nuance that is built into their education. This is a product of their investment in academia, research and development, and public awareness generation efforts.

From my own experience, I can tell you that our universities often use random rivers and water systems from across the world as teaching examples. Why?

The converse is true in Ethiopia, aside from some of the information and data availed by the government, comparatively, there is little publicly available and detailed research. This effort will have a ripple effect in advance. For example the measurement of Nile tributaries. This information is widely incomplete. Granted, this endeavor requires high financial commitments and human resources. In the past, there has been some effort to complete this data with partners like the World Bank. However, little progress has been made. This is negative not only because of the lack of information but also because it perpetuates the existing problem. For example, if students in institutions of higher learning desire to do further research, and perhaps explore new research areas, these students are discouraged from even having research questions given that there isn’t the data to answer them. As an Assistant Professor myself, students do not attempt to answer certain research topics because the research question, oftentimes, is just as good as the data.

The Government should avail data and research to researchers, experts at home and abroad. As the saying goes, you cannot manage what you cannot measure. We should build an education system that uses Ethiopia’s resources for having ample data and also encourages national and foreign academics.