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Renaissance Dam talks continue despite Sudan rejectionist position

November 20 - 2020 KHARTOUM
Grand Ethiopian Rennaissance Dam (SUNA)
Grand Ethiopian Rennaissance Dam (SUNA)

Sudan will withdraw from the current round of negotiations with Ethiopia and Egypt on the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) unless a mediation body has been established, according to Sudanese Ministry of Irrigation and Water Resources.

The announcement was made yesterday by Irrigation Minister, Yasir Abbas, after the Ministers of Foreign Affairs and Irrigation of Sudan, Egypt, and Ethiopia held two ambassadorial meetings, chaired by Naledi Pandor, Chairperson of the Executive Council of the African Union (AU) and Minister of International Relations of South Africa.

On November 4, the Ministers of Water Resources of the three countries agreed to return the file to the AU bureau of the head of states and governments, following months of stagnation. However, South Africa, the chair of the AU, refused the request.

Sudan then reiterated the demand to return the file to the AU, to strengthen the role of mediators and to support the Sudanese negotiating position to reach a satisfactory and binding agreement on the first filling and operation of the dam.

The three countries also failed to agree in general on the role that the AU, EU, and USA can play to end the eight-year trilateral talks over the filing of the GERD.

Negotiations will continue for the next ten days, despite Sudan’s refusal to continue until its demands are met.

Sudan affirmed its support of the negotiation process under the auspices of the AU during the meeting, as a means to reach a binding agreement that satisfies all parties. Abbas recommended a new methodology that gives a greater role to the AU mediators, to bridge the gap between the three countries' views. However, “Egypt and Ethiopia insist on continuing negotiations with proven methods that reached a dead end in the past,” the statement says.

Abbas considers this to be a procedural violation, according to the statement. He said “continuing negotiations is useless and has been tried repeatedly in the past without any progress.”

GERD background

In March 2011, Ethiopia announced its plans to build a large dam at the Blue Nile, in the Benishangul-Gumuz region, about 15 to 40 kilometres east of the border with Sudan, as a jointly funded, owned, and operated project between the three countries. Egypt and Sudan vehemently opposed the proposal. They claimed adverse effects on their Nile water rights and interests.

Khartoum later softened its position. Cairo, however, has warned that Ethiopia will not be able to unilaterally fill the dam without consequences.

Egypt relies on the Nile for more than 90 per cent of its water. The Blue Nile contributes approximately 85 per cent to the volume of the main Nile River.

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

Addis Ababa began filling the reservoir in August, after indicating on several occasions that, even without an agreement, it would do so. This prompted new speculation on whether the three countries will be able to find common ground.

The GERD, when finished in 2022, will have a reservoir with a volume of more than 74 billion cubic metres, and a hydroelectric generating capacity of 6,450 megawatts.

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