Nile dam talks between Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan fail again

The three African nations say they failed to agree on new approach to resolve dispute over Ethiopia’s mega-dam project.

This handout picture taken on July 20, 2020, and released by Adwa Pictures on July 27, 2020, shows an aerial view Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam on the Blue Nile River in Guba, northwest Ethiopia. -
Ethiopia views the mega-dam project as essential for its electrification and development [File: Adwa Pictures/AFP]

Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan have once again failed to agree on a new negotiating approach to resolve their years-long dispute over the controversial dam that Ethiopia is building on the Blue Nile River.

In late October, the three African nations resumed virtual talks over the filling and operation of the $4bn Grand Ethiopia Renaissance Dam (GERD) project, which broke ground in 2011.

The renewed talks followed US President Donald Trump’s comments in which he said downstream Egypt could end up “blowing up” the project, which Cairo has called an existential threat. The remarks angered Ethiopia.

Foreign and irrigation ministers of the three nations met last week and delegated experts from their countries to discuss and agree on an approach so the talks could be fruitful.

But differences remained and Wednesday’s meeting failed to bridge the gaps, said Mohammed el-Sebaei, Egypt’s Irrigation Ministry spokesman.

Sudan’s water ministry said in a statement: “Water ministers of Sudan, Egypt and Ethiopia agreed to end this round of negotiations over Ethiopia’s Nile dam.”

“This round … failed to make any tangible progress,” the statement read.

Sudan’s Irrigation Minister Yasser Abbas said the talks did not achieve concrete progress and that Egypt opposed a Sudanese proposal supported by Ethiopia to maximise the role of the African Union (AU) experts.

Ethiopia said the countries “were unable to reach a complete agreement” on items such as the “basis for the upcoming negotiation and the time frame”.

It said they would turn to the chair of the AU Executive Council and South Africa’s foreign minister “to consult on the next steps”.

Multiple rounds of talks have over the years failed to produce an agreement on the filling and operation of the vast reservoir behind the 145-metre (475-foot) tall hydropower barrage.

‘Great risk’

Key questions remain about how much water Ethiopia will release downstream if a multi-year drought occurs and how the three countries will resolve any future disputes.

Ethiopia rejects binding arbitration at the final stage of the project.

El-Sebaei, the Egyptian spokesman, said the three countries would separately report their positions to South Africa, which heads the AU.

Ethiopia is building the dam on the Blue Nile, which joins the White Nile in Sudan to become the Nile river – the world’s longest and a lifeline supplying water and electricity to the 10 countries it traverses.

About 85 percent of the river’s flow originates from Ethiopia, whose officials hope the dam, now more than three-quarters complete, will reach full power-generating capacity in 2023.

Ethiopia views the project as essential for its electrification and development and insists that the flow of water downstream will not be affected.

In July, Addis Ababa declared that it reached its first-year target for filling the reservoir of the mega-dam, which can hold 74 billion cubic metres (2,600 billion cubic feet) of water.

But Egypt and Sudan have expressed concerns the dam will reduce the flow of the Nile waters to their countries.

Egypt relies heavily on the Nile to supply water for its agriculture and to its more than 100 million people, while Sudan warned that millions of lives would be at “great risk” if Ethiopia unilaterally fills the dam.

On Wednesday, Sudan said it “cannot keep negotiating without an end and must guarantee the safety of its water installations”.

Sudan and Egypt have long called for a political solution to the dispute, rejecting any unilateral action by Ethiopia.

Source: News Agencies