The first thing I want to say though is the name of the blog is irritating. Just because of the label - would you want a story about you to appear in something entitled poverty matters? It is just as bad as being a statistic. Just as impersonal.
To me, the Renaissance Dam is not a symbol of poverty or an issue of poverty. Ethiopia is a poor country, yes. However, dams are symbols of progress, engineering skill, and modernity. The dam site is full of modern equipment, Ethiopian and foreign experts. The Renaissance Dam I think that it is a symbol of Ethiopia's internal political and economic stability - and change on the African continent - change that has not necessarily been successfully won on a large scale by the donor community. It was the 1960s that many African countries declared independence, the 1990s when apartheid finally came to an end. War has gripped much of the continent and still does...and right in the same neighborhood of Ethiopia. Ethiopia is war-free at the moment.
The opposite of war is creation.
I would suggest that though the report does not give definitive terms as to downstream impacts of the Renaissance Dam, it does symbolize the will for Ethiopia to cooperate and offer a level of transparency in the process of its own national development plans. This is necessary given the shared nature of the river. What is going on with Sudan, by the way? One of my colleagues, Ana Cascão, who is an expert on Nile water politics, brings up this question - "'Sudan's intentions [that] may instead cause the greatest long-term concern for Egypt. The Gerd would allow Sudan to siphon off more downstream water for farm irrigation, potentially allowing the republic to take more water from the Nile than allowed by an agreement signed with Egypt in 1959.' Sudan has achieved this leverage by engaging positively with the dam's construction..." Ana brings up an important point about the nature of the tripartite negotiations, but I wanted to highlight it here since it is sort of buried in the text.
Answer me this: how can anyone truly know, for sure, what downstream impacts are going to be of a dam on a river that has little to no hydrologic flow monitoring in Ethiopia, that has little to no data on sediment transport in Ethiopia, that has little to no data on precipitation/runoff in the Ethiopian highlands...? There are large and significant dams in between Renaissance and the Egyptian farmers in the Nile River Valley and that as long as Ethiopia is open to a gradual filling process of the reservoir, the issue of downstream impacts is negotiable and manageable with cooperative action? I think this can be answered even without the scientific numbers for the above data gaps. This is where the engineers can shine.
Again, drawing attention away from the high level diplomatic and economic argument, stepping forward instead of back as it were, one is left with very critical issues still - the issues of the environment - the river itself which is, in the reaches of Ethiopia, still wild - and the subsistence communities in Ethiopia and downstream in Sudan. Why aren't these issues getting a mention in these articles? Is the realm of high level governmental business all too attractive to pull attention away from? The dam is under development. There are 8500 workers out there working 24/7. They've made progress and continue to make progress regardless of what is going on behind closed doors and what appears in reports.
A journalist just wrote me today asking whether I am sure about the 20,000 people figure I have put forward in a paper I published. I am only as sure as the documents for resettlement I was able to read at the EEPCO project offices in Addis and at the dam site. The journalist suggested that he heard that the company is doing a recount. I suspect the number is higher, but not because of a recount. The 20,000 mostly Gumuz people in Ethiopia are not the only ones who will be directly impacted by the dam's construction. There is still an undocumented and unknown number of subsistence communities who live in Sudan, just over the border. How do I know? I don't from my own eyes, but I have a hunch. Plus, linguists who studied the Gumuz people produced maps that show the extent of the community follows the river valley right over the border. There are only 200,000 Gumuz people full stop, according to the little I could find in published literature about this ethnic minority. I think this is something to care about even if no one has ever heard of the Gumuz. I wish someone would get out there and document now.
Rant over, back to work. I defend my research this Friday at 10am PCT. Wish me luck!