The ICJ (International Court of Justice) is a particular committee, presented as a trial with advocates, witnesses and judges instead of delegates. Over the course of ILYMUN, they covered one single case, on the topic of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam, with Ethiopia taking up the defense and Egypt the plaintiff.
On Friday morning, the ICJ entertained Peter Barabas, the editor-in-chief of Euronews. His intervention consisted of introducing the Grand Ethiopian Dam case to the judges, by explaining the historical context and the latest updates on the situation. Here is the background of the case.
The Nile River flows through nine countries and has been the source of life for Northeastern Africa for more than 2000 years, since the installment of ancient Egyptian civilizations across the delta. Its water supply is currently sustaining 300 million people. Water scarcity is one of the main issues faced in the region, and the social and economic potential of Northeastern Africa has been heavily affected by it. As a result, countries such as Ethiopia are pursuing efforts to resolve the water shortages, lack of electricity and high poverty rates.
The biggest project yet is the construction of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam, a massive installment demanding huge foreign investment that would allow Ethiopia to generate electricity for 70 million people and improve its water infrastructure. According to water.org, 70 percent of the Ethiopian population lives without electricity, 62 million Ethiopians lack access to safe water and 97 million lack access to improved sanitation. Projections for this dam have been discussed since the second half of the 20th century, and the final plans were presented in 2011. Since, the building of the dam has begun and is already 70 percent finished. Once the dam becomes functioning, it will become a source of income that will stimulate the revival of the Ethiopian economy, offer new jobs and help poorer people from rural areas of the country to have access to water and sanitation centers. Moreover, the electricity production of the dam will exceed the quantities needed to satisfy the population’s and economy’s needs: the additional electricity will be exported to bordering countries, thus creating a new source of income for Ethiopia. The economic stability could also provide a positive image of Northeastern Africa and encourage foreign investments in the surrounding region.
However, an economic dispute has arisen between Ethiopia and Egypt. The construction of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam implicates the creation of a reservoir, a huge lake (its size would be larger than the city of London) needed to retain water, increase the pressure of the river’s flow and make the dam’s turbines turn. Due to the very high cost of the dam, which is currently strangling the Ethiopian economy, the supporters of the dam want to build the reservoir as fast as possible. They planned to create the lake in five years, a decision that was contested by Egypt. The abrupt construction of this reservoir will decrease the flow of the Nile River and put Egypt’s agricultural activities at great risk. Egyptian officials are arguing that it will make half of their farmlands disappear. Yet, the country fully depends on the Nile’s freshwater resources (90 percent of the Egyptian water supply comes from the Nile), which are essential to ensure the sustainability of the country’s agricultural activities. Furthermore, as climate change poses a growing risk, Egypt fears that water demand will increase, and that the arrival of climate refugees will aggravate the problem of water scarcity.
Therefore, the construction of the dam is viewed as an existential threat to Egypt. Even though Ethiopia has the right to use resources on its own territory, the effects of the dam on Egypt have initiated a controversial debate. If no compromise is made, Egypt has threatened to respond with military action. After the African Union and the Nile Council backed away from the discussions between the two countries, the USA intervened to mediate the situation.
The judges and advocates of the ICJ really benefited from Mr Barabas’ intervention, and had the opportunity to learn about the latest information on the case. Recently, in fact, a meeting in Washington was concluded with an agreement to build the reservoir in seven years, but Egypt remains suspicious about Ethiopia respecting this decision and is considering bringing the case to the ICJ.
On Friday afternoon, the court reviewed the joint stipulation, a document defining some key terms and facts around the case, agreed upon by Egypt and Ethiopia. Among the presented information, both parties recognized the 1929 Nile Waters Agreement that gave Egypt the right to veto projects that would affect its water share, as well as Sudan’s change of position in 2012, when it consented to the Grand Renaissance Dam project.
On Saturday morning the ICJ entertained three different witnesses for Egypt, who gave their testimonies. They were first questioned by the advocates for Egypt, before being cross-examined by the advocates for Ethiopia and then answering questions from the different judges.
The first witness was Dr Mohamed Abdel-Aty (student representation), the minister of water resources and irrigation in Egypt, and the vice-president of the AMCOW (African Ministers’ Council On Water). He responded negatively to the dam project, believing that it would damage both Egypt and South Sudan. Indeed he stated that the dam was badly situated, over two tectonic plates, which could cause it to collapse after a few years. He also stated that the dam didn’t correspond to Ethiopia’s water needs, and is blocking so much water that Egypt isn’t receiving the quota it should be receiving. According to him, Ethiopia is focusing on itself, and not caring about the impact its actions can have on other countries, in order to gain power. The Ethiopian advocates then made the point that Egyptian farmers do not use appropriate irrigation techniques, making them inefficient, which causes a waste of water. Under the judges interrogations Dr Abdel-Aty, he revealed that the dam could collapse within the next 50 years, but also that this dam could damage Egypt and South Sudan’s economies, although it could benefit Ethiopia. It was then pointed out that it may be better to benefit two countries, than only one with an agreement detrimental to the others.
The second witness was Martin Kabwelulu (student representation), the minister of Mines for the Democratic Republic of Congo. According to him, tensions are likely to rise between Egypt and Ethiopia,with a war likely to arise. He also believes that agriculture will decrease in Egypt and South Sudan due to the diminishing amount of water. The Democratic Republic of Congo is supposed to be a neutral power compared to other African countries, as Ethiopia does not supply the country’s electricity, which it does for many other African countries.
The last witness was Paul Mayom Akec, the minister for irrigation and water supply for South Sudan. The dam would apparently affect the South Sudanese culture and way of life, as lowering the Nile’s water supply would leave many farmers and other people involved in agriculture unemployed. This would also affect the country’s economy, dependant on agriculture and oil, which would then plummet and be crushed. However he stated that he believed that armed conflict was equally a possible occurrence, and that Ethiopia needs to let more water down and fill the dam slower to lessen the impacts on other countries. According to the Ethiopian advocates, Mr Akec is the reason for the failure of the negotiations on the dam, but it must also be reminded that stopping the dam could also have negative consequences on Ethiopia’s economy. Mr Akec also pointed out that in case of armed conflict, South Sudan is likely to support Egypt as they already have existing agreements, whereas they don’t have any with Ethiopia. He believes that the solution to this tension is for Ethiopia to let Egypt and South Sudan have proper access to water.
Claire Dominici, Clara Larsen, Marta Averof