Declaration of Principles on the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam: Some Issues of Concern

AuthorDereje Zeleke Mekonnen
PositionDereje Zeleke Mekonnen, PhD, Associate Professor, School of Law, Addis Ababa University; Email:
Declaration of Principles on the
Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam:
Some Issues of Concern
Dereje Zeleke Mekonnen
The Nile Basin has long been noted as a potential flashpoint for resource
conflict on account of the prevalence of inequitable water utilization and
acrimonious inter-riparian relations. The basin’s proneness to conflict has been
exacerbated by the absence of an inclusive legal and institutional framework
governing the utilization and management of its meager water resources.
Unilateralism and incompatible riparian claims negating the fundamentals of
international water law still continue to be the defining features of the basin.
Launched in such a setting, the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD)
constitutes a significant counter-hegemonic measure capable of inducing a
positive transformation in the basin’s inequitable status quo. A lasting solution
which would ensure the equitable and sustainable utilization of the Nile waters
for the benefit of all is, however, still elusive as the signing of the Declaration
of Principles (DoP) poses challenges which might arguably neutralize the
transformative impact of the GERD and entail institutionalization of the status
Key terms
GERD · Declaration of Principles · International Water Law · Equitable
Utilization · Nile Basin
Received: 8 August 2017 Accepted: 26 December 2017
This article is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-
NonCommercial-NoDerivs (CC BY-NC-ND)
Cooperative development and utilization of transboundary watercourses carries
enormous potential economic benefits for riparian states. In the absence of
Dereje Zeleke Mekonnen, PhD, Associate P rofessor, School of Law, Addis Ababa
University; Email: dereje.zel
256 MIZAN LAW REVIEW, Vol. 11, No.2 December 2017
cooperation where competition and unilateral actions often constitute the modus
operandi, trans-boundary watercourses pose huge risk of being cause for
conflict. The enormity of the potential benefits and the seriousness of the risk
are, arguably, more evident in the Nile basin than in other major international
According to Sadoff and Grey, cooperation offers riparian states a wide
spectrum of benefits of an economic, environmental and political nature.1 In the
Nile basin, the economic value of cooperation involving limited infrastructure
development in the Blue Nile sub-basin has been estimated to be between USD
1.15 billion and 1.97 billion.2 Utilization of Nile water for irrigation and
hydroelectric power generation has been estimated to generate an annual gross
economic benefit to the tune of USD 11 billion.3
Tapping the enormous potential benefits of the Nile waters through
cooperative development and equitable utilization requires overcoming the
many challenges which not only make realization of these benefits extremely
difficult but also aggravate the basin’s proneness to conflict. The difficult
hydrologic environment of the basin,4 especially the relatively small discharge,5
the hegemonic hydro-political configuration prevalent in the basin,6 the
1 C. Sadoff & D. Grey (2002), “Beyond the River: The Benefits of Cooperation on
International Rivers”, 4 Water Policy, pp. 389-403. The authors point out four major
benefits of cooperation: benefits to the river, benefits from the river, reducing costs
because of the river, and benefits beyond the river.
2 D. Whittington, X. Wu & C. Sadoff (2005), “Water Resources Management in the Nile
Basin: The Economic Value of Cooperation”, 7Water Policy, p. 249.
3 Ibid.
4 D. Grey & C. Sadoff (2007), “Sink or Swim? Water Security for Growth and
Development”, 9 Water Policy, p. 548. The hydrologic environment of a basin which
refers to “the absolute level of water resource availability, its inter- and intra-annual
variability and its spatial distribution” is said to be difficult “where rainfall is markedly
seasonal – a short season of torrential rain followed by a long dry season [which] requires
the storage of water; or where there is high inter-annual climate variability, where
extremes of flood and drought create unpredictable risks to individuals and communities
and to nations and regions and require over-y ear water storage.” Ibid., p. 549.
5 N. Kliot (1994), Water Resources and Conflict in the Middle East, (London, Rutledge), p.
13. The 84 billion cubic metres annual flow of the Nile is the lowest discharge of
comparable large rivers. R. Collins (2002), The Nile (New Haven & London: Yale
University Press), p. 11, gives a figurative description of the small flow of the Nile which
constitutes only “a mere cup (2 per cent) of the Amazon, perhaps a glass (15 per cent) of
the Mississippi, or at best a pitcher (20 per cent) of the Mekong.”
6 M. Woodhouse & M. Zeitoun (2008), “Hydro-hegemony and International Water Law:
Grappling with the Gaps of Power and Law”, 10 Water Policy Supplement 2, p. 113. The
authors describe Egypt’s hegemonic position in the Nile basin as a malign form of hydro-
hegemony maintained in utter disregard of the principles of international water law.

To continue reading

Request your trial

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT