Conference brings together 43 countries for dam discussion

An FIU Institute of Environment-led conference on the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam brought together people from countries that have been at odds over how the dam will affect water security in Africa.

Individuals representing over 40 countries came together for the FIU Institute of Environment’s 2020 International Conference on the Nile and Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam: Science, Conflict Resolution and Cooperation. The conference represented the first ever meet-up of over 500 water experts, engineers, social scientists, journalists and government liaisons to discuss water security issues in the Nile and the GERD. The conference was hosted by the institute, in partnership with Addis Ababa Institute of Technology at Addis Ababa University and the Bahir Dar Institute of Technology at Bahir Dar University.

Participants from across the globe tuned into the virtual conference, which was held on Zoom on Aug. 20-21, in an effort to examine the science and infrastructure behind GERD. Encouraging cross-collaborative discussions and knowledge-sharing, the meeting presented over 50 technical papers from universities, embassies, NGOs and consulting firms. 

Assefa Melesse

Conference chair Assefa Melesse, a Department of Earth and Environment professor in the FIU Institute of Environment, opened the meeting with welcoming remarks. 

Melesse described the building of the new dam as one of contention when it comes to its impact on the use of water in the Nile Basin. While the topic may be historically fraught with controversy, this meeting strove to provide an accessible platform for non-political scientific discussions to address water security issues in the region. 

“Like rivers, science also has no boundaries,” Melesse said. “In any discussion, one should be looking for good data that one can rely on.” 

With good data and proven science, Melesse said, negotiations can lead to conflict resolution. “It is really very critical for anybody who is discussing sharing our most important resources,” he added.

Pablo Ortiz, Vice President for Regional and World Locations and the Vice Provost for the Biscayne Bay Campus, echoed Melesse on how scientific evidence could help unite the people of the Nile River Basin behind a project that could do so much good. 

Four keynote speakers also joined the discussion: Elfatih Eltahir, Breene M. Kerr Professor of Hydrology and Climate and Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering at MIT; Kevin Wheeler, researcher in the University of Oxford’s Environmental ChangeInstitute; Abdulkarim Seid, Deputy Executive Director and Head of the Nile Basin Initiatives; and Wossenu Abtew, Principal Civil Engineer with Water and Environment Consulting LLC.

Melesse plans to put together a consolidated book of the presented works from the meeting. The book will include information on the seven conference themes:

  1. The Nile: Past, Present and Future Perspectives
  2. International Transboundary Basins Cooperation
  3. Blue Nile/Abbay and Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam
  4. Nile Water Supply and Demand Management
  5. Extreme Hydrology and Climate Change 
  6. Land and Water Degradation and Watershed Management
  7. Emerging Threats of The Lake Regions in the Nile Basin

Maria Donoso, UNESCO Chair on Sustainable Water Security in the FIU Institute of Environment, moderated the second theme of the conference, leading discussions on the importance of cooperation for Nile Basin countries. Donoso highlighted projects she worked on in Latin America with parallel water security concerns and similar cross-country relations.

Full conference recordings and presentations will be available on the meeting webpage by Aug. 31.