Dr. Tirusew, thank you for taking the time to speak with us on the topic of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) and the issues surrounding it. Please give our readers a summary of your background.

Thank you for having me. I primarily work with a water company that supplies nearly 2.4 million residents in the Tampa, Petersburg- Clearwater Metro Area. More specifically, I work in a department that aids with modeling and decision support in areas like water demand projections for the next 20-30 years, demand and supply-side management of the various water sources, as well as assessments of the impact of climate change on water resources. Additionally, I give a brief course at the University of South Florida in the areas of water demand and supply management, forecast, and immediate effects of climate change. I also teach a postgraduate course on water, energy, and climate at Pan-African University’s Algeria campus. In this course, I give an overview of adverse effects of climate change like floods, and drought, and effective measures of combating them.


As a climate and water resource management expert, summarize for us the core benefits of a hydro-powered dam as compared to other sources of energy like fossil fuel and nuclear power.

From a clean energy perspective, there are numerous benefits. While some emphasize the negative aspects like carbon and methane emissions after filling reservoirs; these effects, however, are negligible compared to emissions from fossil fuels and other energy resources used around the world. In terms of reducing emissions, hydropower is the cleanest. In this aspect, a project like GERD is not only helpful to the country but also to the world as it helps curb global emission levels. Ethiopia has six more tentative projects that are to generate an additional 25,000 megawatts of energy and help meet the population’s demands.

A project like GERD also has immense benefits both in terms of employment and engaging local communities. Thus far, the emphasis on labor has been on the construction of the dam itself.

However, one would expect further job creation in the construction and maintenance of power infrastructure that is to distribute electricity throughout the nation.

I recently had a conversation with a young lady in high school and I inquired into her future career aspirations. To my surprise, she answered that she hopes to become an electrical engineer as she foresaw the immense labor and expertise needed to meet and sustain our population’s electricity needs. Studies have shown that Ethiopia can easily double its output from its existing light industry solely by having a consistent electricity supply. Experts have also projected that every dollar invested in electricity generation, has an additional $7 worth of associated benefit because of its cascading effect across sectors.


What, in your opinion, accounts for the disconnect between the global move towards environmental consciousness and lack of support, financial or political, for clean energy initiatives in developing countries like Ethiopia. What accounts for this disconnect?

I believe this disconnect has a lot to do with the will and profit margins of special interest groups and goliath-sized lobby firms. It is no secret that many of the industrialized nations spearheading the global effort for clean energy continue to be large emitters with no foreseeable plans to change their path. With this reality in mind, I am also a firm believer that clean energy initiatives should never be at the cost of the poor. The cost of transitioning to clean sources of energy should be shared with nations that have achieved industrialization decades ago. This is akin to changing the rules of the game in one’s favor. Africa’s combined emissions, per capita, remain minuscule as compared to other nations and corporations, hence the international framework has to be one of practical assistance and not one of dictation of rules.

It is no secret that many of the industrialized nations spearheading the global effort for clean energy continue to be large emitters with no foreseeable plans to change their path.


How would you summarize some of the terms in the ongoing GERD negotiations? What are the buckets of issues?

The issues are different for both Sudan and Egypt and they need to be addressed separately. I do not believe Sudan disagrees with the benefits it would reap from GERD. Sudan would like to be assured that it would get a consistent supply of water throughout the year given that nearly 70% of Blue Nile water flows in a mere 4 months. Due to this fact, Sudan faces recurrent floods during these months. For example, the 2019 flood in Sudan is considered a once in a 100-year flood; coincidentally, 2019 was the year Ethiopia completed its first filling of the GERD reservoir. Sudan not only needs assurances that there will be regulated flow, but also information on the amount of water released given that their nearest dam only retains about 7 billion cubic meters.


What is the alternative to Sudan’s two concerns without the GERD?

GERD ensures that Sudan will face significantly fewer floods if any. Without it, Sudan would continue to manage extreme floods. And concerning information on water levels, well- they simply would not have any without GERD. As far as I know, the Ethiopian government does not object to Sudan’s demands. However, Egypt’s demands are far more demanding and non-reciprocal as they are not only asking for daily, monthly, and annual data- but they also demand reports on water quality levels. However, Egypt seems unwilling to share similar data on the water that reaches them. Contrary to Egyptian claims, I argue that we do not even know just how much water is reaching Egypt and the amount that is in the Nile basin as a whole. Though Egypt has always maintained that the total amount is close to 85 BCM, Satellite information suggests that it is no less than 97 BCM.

Additionally, Egypt’s core demand has to do with extended periods of drought periods and their demands to have a fixed amount of water released permanently. A binding agreement would dictate the amount of water Ethiopia should release ad infinitum; irrespective of climate change which equally affects Ethiopia, increasing needs for potable water, or national interests for commercial agriculture. Experts will tell you that one would need a few billion gallons of water to use for mass agricultural production; given that the GERD is located at the cusp of the Ethio-Sudanese border, this would mean that Ethiopia’s potential for such endeavors would adversely impact its own power generation. Instead of cooperating on combating water shortage due to factors like climate change and recurring droughts, Egypt’s terms essentially force Ethiopia to release a fixed amount of water, thereby acting as Egypt’s secondary reservoir. As I said, Ethiopia will not deliberately use excess amounts of water upstream of the GERD precisely because it severely reduces the water supply that is meant to go into the turbines for power generation. If Egypt’s suspicions were valid, GERD would be located further inland to facilitate an exorbitant level of agricultural productivity. Their terms are meant to limit Ethiopia’s ambitions to power generation by cornering the current government into disavowing any future ambitions of using the Nile waters for consumptive purposes.

A binding agreement would dictate the amount of water Ethiopia should release ad infinitum;


What confidence-building measures do you propose to build trust between the three nations and their respective populations?

It is important to note that this issue should not be seen as a political issue, but as a people-to-people issue. It is important to frame the larger water story and how it fits into the larger social, economic, and political context of the three countries. What we are seeing is the contrary; politicians and media personalities have politicized the project and seem to be the drivers of this conversation. It is also the responsibility of the professionals to clearly articulate the larger water story and contextualize it in terms of water, food, and energy security for all three nations.

It is important to frame the larger water story and how it fits into the larger social, economic, and political context of the three countries.