Turning On The Tap

Too Many Dam Issues!

Group 58

Ethiopia Map
Click to Enlarge

The River Nile passes through Sudan and Egypt and into the Mediterranean Sea. The Blue Nile, one of two main tributaries to the Nile, makes up 60% of the main river and originates in Ethiopia. The country is currently constructing The Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD), a massive $4.16Bn project that aims to provide hydropower to Ethiopia and the surrounding countries and boost national pride. However, the project has raised ethical concerns and caused tension in the region. Posing the question: how ethical is the construction of the dam?

Ethiopia: a sustainable energy hub in East Africa…

Being one of the least developed countries in the region, Ethiopia aims to implement a climate resilient development plan by 2025. As a part of its plans, the 6,000MW dam will boost the energy supply from hydroelectricity which was only at 1.7% of the country’s total energy usage in 2015. In doing so it will shift its unsustainable dependency on energy from biomass and waste which accounts for about 90% of energy.  Subsequently, the Ethiopian Herald reported expectations of the dam to increase the electricity produced in the country by 270%, boosting the Ethiopian grid’s coverage and establishing Ethiopia as an electricity exporter in the region.

Moreover, the Ministry of Culture and Tourism in Ethiopia also plans on exploiting the dam as a tourist site through the construction of lodges, parks and recreational sites in the presence of a huge artificial lake.

Looking at GERD from an ethical vantage Ethiopia’s efforts could be recognised as utilitarian as they strive to achieve the greater good for its people and the environment. Utilitarianism says an action is ethical if it produces more good than harm to a greater number of people. In this case, the well-being of the people and the environment outweighs the possible harm caused, through alleviating the pressure to use unsustainable sources of energy production. In addition, the duty ethics framework is more concerned with the morality of one’s action rather than the consequences. When considering duty ethics, it could be argued that the GERD construction is ethical based on the motive of benefiting Ethiopia and the surrounding region.

Despite the potential conflict with the other stakeholders; Sudan and Egypt, a Declaration of Principles was signed by all three parties in 2015 ensuring fair and appropriate use of the Nile resources. Such use would account for the environmental, social and economic needs of all concerned stakeholders, indicating a solid sustainable development standing for the project.

The GERD can then be seen to satisfy a virtue ethical standpoint – an ethical framework concerned with values and moral characters rather than rules and consequences. This is exemplifies in Ethiopia’s conformity to political norms and values in agreeing to the Declaration of Principles, as well as striving to be a sustainable energy hub.

Ethiopia’s desire to implement the adequate strategies for safe design and correct risk assessment is seen through the delegation of a professional company that specialises in such projects. The company’s code of ethics conform to the need of having adequate ethical risk management. Therefore, the effects of inherent risk is lowered to the morally acceptable.

The GERD seems to be a beneficial project to Ethiopia and the region of East Africa, with a good moral initiative according to various frameworks. However, there are two sides to every story…

…Or, development at the expense of the people?

“It’s one of the most important flagship projects for Ethiopia…it’s not about control of the flow, but providing opportunity for us to develop ourselves through energy development. It has a lot of benefit for the downstream countries.”

Seleshi Bekele, Ethiopia’s Minister for Water, Irrigation and Electricity.

This statement further emphasises the view that Ethiopia believes the project will produce more benefits than drawbacks. However, can one decide what is best for an other? Surely to say what is best for Egypt and Sudan, strips the countries of their autonomy as they are effectively at the mercy of Ethiopia’s management of water flow – particularly troubling during the filling of the dam. With Egypt’s already very low water per capita, a disrupted or reduced flow could prove devastating to both the people of Egypt and to its hydropower production.

Ethiopia’s gains from the dam at the potential expense of Egypt and Sudan undermines the freedom principle: every entity is free to strive for its happiness as long as it doesn’t hinder others. It also indicates there is the potential that more harm than good may come as a result of the project; suggesting that the utilitarian argument in support of the dam isn’t all that watertight.

Additionally, the project is having a negative impact on the people of Ethiopia. An estimated 20,000 people will be involuntarily displaced from the construction area. Despite plans of monetary compensation and jobs from the project, it disregards the emotional aspect of relocation. In relation to the indigenous people’s attachment to their land and water, as well as their agricultural work, which when taken away for them, would leave them struggling to compete on the job market. This forces the question; will this project have an overall net benefit for the people?

According to experts, the specified 6000 MW sizing of the Dam is up for debate. They argue that due to the flow rate of the river, the maximum power output can only be 2800 MW. Due to the undisclosed designs and plans, no one knows whether the GERD can actually provide double the output the experts say is possible. Moreover, judging by the intense drought seasons Ethiopia goes through and the inconsistent rainfall, such incredible dependency on hydropower is viewed as very unsustainable.

The secrecy and lack of transparency surrounding the design and construction of the dam towards other Nile basin countries and its own people, could be viewed as immoral and is certainly at odds with the Declaration of Principles. Thus, from a duty ethics standpoint, building the dam is unethical. From this perspective, the dam can perhaps be viewed as motivated primarily by the desire of the Ethiopian government to prove its sovereignty, with less attention paid to the potential negative impact on Ethiopians and other citizens of downstream nations.

Overall, the GERD presents a chance for Ethiopia to provide energy to its citizens from a sustainable source and improve their lives. However, the lack of transparency and  evidence for the dam’s efficacy form a strong basis for a skeptical view surrounding the ethics of the project.

41 thoughts on “Too Many Dam Issues!

  1. I believe more strict regulations must be imposed on any construction that would affect the supply and flow of water on the downstream countries. If Ethiopia is to build its own dam, surely Uganda, South Sudan and Sudan can build their own as well. In the end, why would Ethiopia alone reap a dam’s benefit and not the rest?

  2. A very good and well written article!

    One thing which makes it an even more challenging dilemma than some is that the issue is not contained within one country or community and there are direct impacts on the livelihoods of those in neighbouring countries.

    I think the dam has potential to be constructed in a suitable way, but if so the focus should shift away from it being something of a vanity project for Ethiopia, and more towards how it can best benefit people in the areas involved – national pride and proving their sovereignty does not seem to fit in with virtue ethics, utilitarianism, or any other framework mentioned!

  3. “Looking at GERD from an ethical vantage Ethiopia’s efforts could be recognised as utilitarian as they strive to achieve the greater good for its people and the environment” Only from Ethiopia’s point of view, maybe not from its neighbours’ point of view.

    This is a nicely written article that brings in a good quality of ethical discussion.

    For me, I’ve never really liked the Aswan High Dam since it created Lake Nasser, and that created a larger surface area for water to evaporate from. The High Dam also prevents sediment from being carried down the Nile, which, to my mind, is why the Nile Delta – Egypt’s bread basket is shrinking. Since ancient times, Egypt was known as a fertile land, it’s a shame that it is no longer looking to be the case.

    The construction of GERD will, in my mind, only cause more problems for Egypt. It is no-one’s interests for a country of ~100,000,000 to be water stressed.

    The problem then becomes why should Ethiopia not be able to use its own resources. Or could the problem be isn’t there another way for Ethiopia to become an energy supplier?

  4. I love dams. I am never one to argue against an exciting new dam project. However I am very concerned with the numbers being thrown around regarding this build. 6000MW?? That’s just daft. These claims really leave a sour taste in my mouth, especially considering the potential harmful impact the building of this dam could cause for countries downriver who don’t even have a say in its construction. I think that the Etheopian government is acting unethically by stripping these countries of their autonomous freedom.
    It is with great sadness that I declare: do NOT build this dam!

  5. The utilitarian framework is, in my opinion, the best (and perhaps only) tool we have in determining right from wrong. The difficulty arises in determining what the facts are, what is the probability of all the positive and negative externalities, and how each outcome is weighted in moral significance.
    In this case there is quite a large degree of uncertainty. This should not stop one from making a decision, however, as any significant human action really has a moral risk associated with it.
    I would imagine that the dam would be a significant net positive to Ethiopia itself, but the consequences in Sudan and Egypt could outweigh this.
    The fact that the people affected are in different nations should not be significant in its own right. People’s suffering is just as important whatever nation they live in. However, one should also consider possible political ramifications, or even war, if the negative consequences are borne by one group in particular.
    It seems to me that all nations concerned should be able to voice their concerns, evaluate what their water and energy needs are, and design a solution based around that. For example, the filling of the dam may need to take place over a very long period of time in order to minimise disruption to the water supply.

  6. Nice article! I especially like the pun in the title and the way the headers lead you through the article, keeping the tone a little less than formal.

    P.s. I think there is a grammatical error in para. 6. Is it meant to be exemplified?

  7. At the surface the project seems to be a useful solution, but as this article elaborates on there are a few catches…too many and too severe to make it worthwhile.
    What bothers me particularly is when one compares the expected power output with the proposed output. The theoretical figure may have been ‘inflated’ to grant the project commission. Perhaps a more honest power rating may have stopped this project’s conception, especially when considered with the ethical disadvantages?
    What a damning.

  8. Interesting stuff and well written!

    An aspect of the blog I found particularly interesting is related to your discussion on the ethical standing of the dam in respect to the utilitarian ethical thesis. The argument that the most ethical action is that which will produce the highest level of overall utility perhaps needs to be expanded upon further. I would be interested to gain further understanding as to how – in respect to the impact of the dam – utility would be measured (quantitatively) and what types of factors an analysis of this issue would need to take into account.

    However, a massive pitfall of utilitarianism – and thus an aspect I think would have been helpful to discuss- would be the substantial potential harm to individuals which the theory can allow for, even if it still allows for the maximum net utility benefit. It would perhaps be interesting to discuss whether there is an ‘acceptable’ or ‘justifiable’ level of individual harm a government policy can allow for in seeking a higher overall utility for the state as a whole.

  9. Great read, thoroughly enjoyed it!

    The topic does seem very controversial. On the one hand, Ethiopia must ensure it has a strong, independent, energy outlook for future generations. However, acquiring this energy seems to be at the expense of many, such as the local residents surrounding the Nile, and Northern countries such as Sudan and Egypt, who depend heavily on the water resources for both agricultural and energy purposes. It seems that building the damn would be a breach of the ‘Freedom Principle’ mentioned above since it would, without a doubt, hinder other governments and residents looking to ‘strive towards happiness’, through using the Nile’s natural resources as a route towards sustaining a decent living.

    From a sustainable energy outlook, what makes Ethiopia so dependent on waste and biomass as its main source of energy? Should the country focus its policies instead on alternative renewable sources, such as solar? Or should Ethiopia strive to improve its circular economy, so that before it decides to incinerate household or other waste, it looks at what can be recycled or reused, making the ‘unsustainable’ process of extracting energy from waste much more sustainable.

  10. Laying out the facts from both sides of the conflict in such an unbiased manner granted me the chance to look over the issue from a new perspective. Being from one of the affected downstream countries, I only weighed the negative consequences and the possible stress and struggle that previously outweighed any benefits to the Ethiopian people. Now I could see some of the possible benefits for Ethiopia more clearly.

    Even though the article presented the conflict equally, it could have benefited from adding the attemps to reach solutions if there was any. A possible temporary solution would be appointing supervisors from the affected downstream countries under the authority of an international organisation with the approval of the Ethiopian authority. In doing so, regional stress might be alleviated until further disclosure of vital information from the Ethiopian side.

  11. This was an interesting article, and I appreciated the tie-in to utilitarianism and deontology. I’d be interested in reading more articles in the future which analyze how these two ethical frameworks can be applied to other issues.

  12. A very well written article that allowed me to have an objective point of view on an issue only exposed in the media, thus providing me with the opportunity to have a new perspective. Addressing the subject from an ethical point of view makes it possible to present the benefits the dam would have for the Ethiopian people, but also to put them in question by exposing the negative consequences it would have on neighboring countries like Egypt and Sudan. The theoretical arguments were backed with facts and numbers, increasing the credibility of the reasoning.
    The choice of approaching the subject in a utilitarian framework elevates the debate from a mere question of right or wrong, to a question of outcomes and consequences, a question of choosing one project over another, thus taking into account the interest of others. Which leaves to wonder if more effort can be put in trying to reach another solution that could benefit all parties.

  13. Such an important topic that should be prioratised and addressed by both parties sooner than later. It’s important to practice sound diplomacy at this stage and truly look for a solution that benefits the region as a whole.

  14. Absolutely love this article. The depth of analysis and the seamless transitions between socioeconomic analaysis and ethical considerations made it an easy and interesting read. I feel that the GERD issue will not be easily resolved, and even if it does, there will be bitterness and cold disputes that will affect the region for decades to come. The only thing that this article needs, I feel, is a bit of more analysis in regards to the counter-argument to Ethiopia’s justification of utilitarianism. Perhaps numbers that prove that the potential harm will more likely than not exceed the potential benefits.

  15. This article poses some fascinating questions ranging from socioeconomic implications to ethical and moral considerations for the construction of a dam whos primary aim seems to be to help advance the state of affairs of Ethiopia as a nation. Is it fair for Ethiopia to exercise its right to sovereignty at the potential expense of its neighbours ? What counter measures might be taken by Egypt to offset any negative consequences its people may face as a result of the building of the dam. I for one am not convinced that the harms would outweigh the benefits. It is high time underdeveloped countries took actionable approaches to solving its problems and reduce its reliance on its neighbours. Perhaps the governing authority of Egypt ought to take similar measures with regards its own potential so as not to cripple itself through naive hopes of its neighbouring countries. With regards to the actual energy output production of the dam, does it really make a difference whether it is 6000 MW or 2000 MW ? Is it not the step in the right direction that has more value and meaning for the future prospect of the Ethiopian nation ?

  16. Excellent article highlighting very key issues.

    Although the secrecy around the project is quite worrying, overall hydroelectric power is quite beneficial for the country, and if the government does indeed follow through on its promise of relocating the affected populace, this project would definitely have more benefits than losses.

  17. Interesting article with some very good points outlined like how Egypt would be affected by dam construction in Ethiopia. Kinda reminds me of the Kashmir water crisis between India and Pakistan where disputes over sharing of water resources are among the two biggest challenges when it comes to normalising relations between the countries. Taking this as a lesson, I am personally against the dam construction as the river is a vital water source for few neighbouring countries thus it is unethical for Ethiopia to place dominance on it. Plus the electricity generation capacity quoted is twice larger than the ones quoted by experts, indicating there might be something fishy about this.

  18. Thoroughly enjoyed this interesting read!
    The topic seems to be extremely controversial, and yet all the involved parties are failing to reach a satisfactory agreement.
    Firstly, one must establish that the Nile water is a matter of life and death to Egyptians, whereas a mere commodity for export in the form of electricity to Ethiopia.
    In my humble opinion, the issue can only be resolved with diplomacy and sound negotiations. I also do believe that Ethiopia is not taking heed of all the attempts to negotiate. I am afraid that the Egyptian government will be left with no choice but military action, which many politicians and media figures are sadly advocating.
    It is also crucial to admit that Egypt and Sudan always took the lion’s share of the Nile’s water under the colonial-era treaties.
    Such treaties weighted massively in Egypt’s favour, which might be the reason why other Nile Basin countries are supportive of building the dam. Perhaps, it is fair for Egypt to put a second thought into negotiating such treaties, to win more African allies. This is especially important for Egypt to regain its influence in Africa, which has been waning over the past couple of years.
    Although I believe that Egypt is rightful, I would condemn any form of military intervention.
    One can only pray that as competition for this precious resource continues to grow, all stakeholders will come to embrace the importance of fair negotiations.
    I also hope that this issue would turn out to bring greater harmony to countries through which the Nile flows and increase dialogue in a way that would be advantageous to all parties.

  19. An exceptionally informative article which clearly analyses all aspects of the issue. It thoroughly examines all factors of the project and its aftermath. The article stresses on all outcomes regarding the aftermath of the project through both a mechanical/physical approach and through an ethical standpoint. This significantly sparks questions regarding the negative ethical and humanitarian impacts that will affect surrounding communities, in addition to all the harmful consequences that would affect surrounding countries such as Egypt and its population.

  20. A well structured and written out article. All the issues and benefits of the dam were outlined clearly. Both side of the argument of whether the dam will produce energy sustainably or not has been thoroughly considered and explained. Overall, I think that the dam will increase the electricity outcome of Ethiopia but might not be the most sustainable choice.

  21. Very informative article. It sheds the light on an ongoing issue in that region and thoroughly explains the effects of the project on Ethiopia and its surrounding neighbours.

  22. The structure,
    The content,
    The ethical analysis,
    The social considerations,

    An absolutely brilliant and well thought-of article.

  23. This is a very interesting article and poses great ethical dilemmas that do not only apply to the Ethipian planned dam, but also to other issues that involve other countries pursuing plans without considering the wider consequences on other countries. While I agree with most of the points presented in the article, I believe it is still hard to judge if Ethiopia’s dam is ethical or not. There is no quantitative measure of the extent of positive and negative impacts on people.

  24. This is clearly a very complex issue ethically and is well thought out. Your first argument in the second half of the article describes that the development of GERD would be detrimental to Egypt’s hydrodynamic energy supply. It is clear from this that it is a question of which country should benefit from using the Nile as a source of energy. Obviously one country cannot claim to owning the whole of a river, especially one which runs through so many countries. Might it be more ethically just (i.e. from utilitarian ethics) for the countries to share the cost of the dam and then be allowed to use a portion of the energy produced with respect to how much they contributed to the project?

  25. This project sounds good however there are some ethical issues which come about. The final decision will be made on what is the most morally acceptable

    If it is acceptable to relocate the local
    Population so as to see a rise in economic and social standards which may take a decade before it occurs to happen.

    The fact that the plans are not available to be seen shows a lack of sincerity and belief in the beliefs of what the project is capable of.

    The fact that neighbouring nations will also receive a negative impact hinders support for the project.

    It cannot also be forgotten that the idea of increasing the economic and social standard of Africa has always been at a forefront for the nation and this project serves to aid that while also opportunities not just for the locals but other African individuals as well.

  26. A very well-written and informative article highlighting the effects of the dam on Ethiopia and its surrounding neighbours. Clearly, the dam has merits for Ethiopia, but its drastic drawbacks on the neighbouring countries should be carefully considered.

  27. The building of the dam in Ethiopia is almost inevitable, it was just a matter of time for Ethiopia to end up utilizing its hydro sources to produce energy, after all its their water source and one could say that it is their right to utilize it for their own benefit, but at what detriment to the others using the same river.

    The real problem is not with the operation of the dam but the filling of it, which if tried to be filled in the shortest amount of time (which ethiopia wants) in order to reap the benefits of the dam as soon as possible, would severely disrupt Egypt’s share.

    Maybe this could be a blessing to Egypt disguised as a curse, this dam could be an incentive to Egypt to rely less on the river and use develop much needed methods such as sewage water treatment, and SOLAR POWERED DESALINATION.

    The dam could create military conflict between Egypt and Ethiopia if more aggressive policies were take, although building SOLAR POWERED desalination plants would still be more cost effective and moral compared to good old warfare.

      1. I believe we already have been suffering, there are reports of the rivers levels being lower than ever. I think this is due to the dam but im not entirely sure. Many people have complaint about this when i personally been there. These are the only two rivers we have in somalia that runs through the south of the country. It will affect livelihood and agriculture, so it’s a big deal for us. The rest of our rivers are seasonal and you cannot rely on water being there all year round compared to those two rivers.

        from reddit post, Link: https://www.reddit.com/r/Africa/comments/8g46ty/an_ethical_study_about_the_gerd_dam_affecting/dydsr5r/

  28. Very well written. I did not have much information about the details of this issue, but it was great that you pointed out the benefits of the projects before it’s potential harms to give a full picture, as well as include both opposing views. In my own opinion, when looking at this matter, we are weighing ”potential” or ”promised” benefits with clear, undisputed harm that would affect Ethiopians in this area as well as Sudanese and Egyptian people. Many things can go very wrong, however, it depends from which side you see things. Perhaps if you were a patriotic Ethiopian, you’d probably take the risk for the potential that the project has. The very least it can do, is give Ethiopia unprecedented political power in the region.. which is one thing that any politician in a certain country seeks.

  29. The article provides a well structured two-sided argument about the benefits and drawbacks of the GERD project for different stakeholders. I certainly agree with the final conclusion about the obvious benefits of the project to Ethiopia on the one hand, while on the other hand the outcomes to the downstream countries remain obscure due to lack of transparency and credible disclosures about the GERD, which ultimately nurture the existing concerns on the ethics of the project from a wider stakeholders standpoint.
    Well done Group 58, keep it up!

Leave a Reply