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Ethiopia, Egypt, Sudan resume talks on Renaissance Dam

July 4 - 2020 KHARTOUM / ADDIS ABABA / CAIRO
The Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (Sentinel/researchgate.net)
The Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (Sentinel/researchgate.net)

Negotiations between Ethiopia, Egypt, and Sudan on the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) resumed on Friday.

As the water ministers of the three countries did not succeed in reaching an agreement on several technical and legal points, the talks were set to continue on Saturday.

The negotiations are taking place – via teleconferencing – under the auspices of South Africa, which is the Chair of the African Union for 2020.

The AU Extraordinary Council has recently committed itself to reach a solution for the controversy triggered by Ethiopia’s building of the dam at the source of the Blue Nile in 2011.

According to Addis Ababa, the mega-dam could ultimately provide more electricity at a cheaper price, increase irrigation potential, and reduce flooding to the three Nile countries.

Several issues cause dissension however, especially between Egypt, that relies on the Nile for more than 90 per cent of its water, and Ethiopia, which wants to extend its power grid.

The main point of dispute constitutes the time of filling the reservoir. To protect its water supplies, Egypt wants to make it last 12 to 21 years, while Ethiopia intends to do this in seven years or less. Cairo says it needs guaranteed access to adequate water if there is a drought while the reservoir is being filled.

The first phase of the filling of the dam is scheduled to begin within less than a week.

‘Water cooperation’

The AU meeting served to reactivate the negotiations between the three countries before the first filling of the Ethiopian dam.

At the meeting, the three countries agreed to form a joint technical and legal committee, that is to formulate a legal agreement on the filling and operation of the dam. The committee will also include members of the AU’s Assembly Bureau and is attended by international observers.

The UN Security Council convened on Monday for a discussion on the decade-long issue, after Egypt referred the case to the council for the second time.

“Transboundary water cooperation is a key element in the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals,” UN Under-Secretary-General Rosemary DiCarlo stated.

“Through the generation of hydroelectricity, the GERD will significantly boost Ethiopia’s energy sources, allowing it to increase electrification, accelerate industrialization, and export excess electricity to the region.”

She urged Egypt, Ethiopia, and Sudan to soon reach a construction agreement on the dam.

‘Positive role’

Sudan’s Ministry of Irrigation and Water Resources announced in a press statement on Friday that Prime Minister Abdallah Hamdok received a message from South Africa President Cyril Ramaphosa.

Ramaphosa commended “the positive and constructive role” played by the Sudanese PM in the video-teleconference session of the Bureau of the African Union Heads of State on June 26, in which Egypt, Ethiopia, and Sudan, as well as and members of the AU Assembly took part.

Hamdok’s contribution to the meeting expressed Sudan’s commitment to finding a peaceful and mutually acceptable solution between the parties, the president stated.

The Sudanese PM recently proposed that the most controversial issues be dealt with at the level of prime ministers in order to reach agreement on the legal aspects.

Controversy

In April 2011, Ethiopia began building the dam in the Benishangul-Gumuz region, about 15 to 40 km east of the border with Sudan. Once completed, the $4.5 billion project will be Africa’s largest hydroelectric power plant.

Egypt, Sudan, and Ethiopia signed a Declaration of Principles in Khartoum in March 2015 as a basis for negotiations, but no breakthrough on the use of the Nile waters has been made since.

After Addis Ababa reiterated its refusal to postpone the start of the filling of the dam, Cairo referred the case to the UN Security Council. The referral came after the failure of a Sudanese initiative which succeeded in relaunching negotiations between the three water ministers in early June. Yet the talks ended with many differences, and without an agreement.

Addis Ababa has indicated on several occasions that, even without an agreement, it will start filling the reservoir in July, while construction work continues. Cairo however has warned that Ethiopia will not be able to unilaterally fill the dam without consequences.

Since colonial times, Egypt held the major ownership of the water from the Nile River, and could prevent Ethiopia from constructing a dam until 2011.

The Blue Nile contributes approximately 85 per cent to the volume of the main Nile River.


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