The paradox

Publish date 02-07-2022

by Paolo Lambruschi

Other than Covid, in Africa the first problem is still water. In fact, drought has returned while there is a risk of a conflict for the blue gold of the Nile between three large states of East Africa: Ethiopia, Sudan and Egypt.
Let's go in order. Between 13 and 20 million people in Kenya, Somalia and Ethiopia, who according to the United Nations are in conditions of serious food insecurity, fluctuate between 13 and 20 million. Not to mention the 5.5 million children suffering from acute malnutrition.

The drought caused by climate changes that have blown up three consecutive rainy seasons, has decimated crops (with losses of 70% of the essential cereals for the already poor diet of these populations) and caused the death of millions of head of cattle, the main source to support families. Right now the Horn of Africa is an emblematic case of the lethal mix that will cause hunger and refugee flows in the coming years: climate changes, Covid and conflicts. In fact, drought is the latest emergency afflicting populations already tried by the anomalous floods of 2019, by the biblical invasion of locusts that began at the end of that year and ended now and caused by the alluvial rains that fueled the hatching of the eggs. And while only 5% of the population has been vaccinated, for about 500 days Ethiopia has been torn apart in the north by a bloody civil war obscured by communication and energy blackouts while in the south of the capital the conflict with the Oromo, the ethnic group more numerous than the second African country, it risks exploding by opening another front.

This environmental, political and humanitarian crisis that is destabilizing the Horn is connected to the crisis caused by the Gerd, an acronym given to the Ethiopians at the Great Renaissance Dam on the waters of the Blue Nile, in the western region of Benishangul-Gumuz in Ethiopia, 30 km from the border. with Sudan. On February 20, Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, the most controversial Nobel Peace Prize winner in history, officially kicked off the production of electricity the country needs to develop industry and light up the streets.
The € 3.7 billion project is expected to produce more than 5,000 megawatts of electricity, doubling Ethiopia's electricity production.

When finished (now it is at 84%), the maxi-dam which has the Italian Webuild (formerly Salini Impregilo) as its main contractor will be the largest hydroelectric plant in Africa. The mega plant will support the country in its development path and towards the sustainable goal of becoming carbon neutral, i.e. without energy from fossil sources, by 2025.
Yet the dam that would produce clean energy paradoxically risks triggering a war. This exploitation, argue the two coastal countries, Sudan and Egypt, will reduce the vital flow of water for agriculture. And they see the dam as a threat due to their reliance on the waters of the Nile. Above all Egypt, one of the driest countries in the world, which draws 97% of the water used by its over 100 million inhabitants from the Nile. Cairo wants a binding agreement on the filling rate of the basin and its future management, especially in times of drought like this one.

Ethiopia no. The negotiations started in March 2015 and conducted last year under the aegis of the African Union are in a dangerous stalemate: Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al Sisi used bellicose tones warning that: "no one is out of our range ".
Everyone has their reasons, including the environment which asks to produce more and more energy from renewable sources to counteract those climate changes that in fragile regions such as the Horn thirst millions of human beings. But if the will to develop together is lacking, if a policy of true peace is lacking, clean energy can become stained with blood.

Paolo Lambruschi
NP March 2022

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