Egypt and Sudan have said that talks about a controversial dam on the Blue Nile River will resume on Monday, amid Egyptian accusations that Ethiopia, the third party to the talks, has tried to scrap previous agreements reached, and that “many fundamental issues” remain rejected by Ethiopia.
The construction of the $4.6bn Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) on the Blue Nile – which is more than 70 percent complete and promises to provide much-needed electricity to Ethiopia’s 100 million people – has been a contentious point among the three main Nile River Basin countries.
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The three countries have been holding talks for years without reaching a deal. Those talks came to a halt in February when Ethiopia did not attend a final round of talks sponsored by the Trump administration.
Ethiopia wants to begin filling the dam’s reservoir in coming weeks, but Egypt has raised concerns that filling the reservoir behind the dam too quickly could significantly reduce the amount of Nile water available to Egypt.
After months of deadlock, Sudanese, Egyptian and Ethiopian water and irrigation ministers resumed talks last week, with observers attending from the US, the European Union and South Africa, which is the current head of the African Union.
Sudan’s irrigation ministry said Saturday’s talks focused on technical matters regarding the dam’s operation and the filling of its massive reservoir during rainy seasons and droughts. It said it would draft a paper, based on Egyptian and Ethiopian notes, to be discussed on Monday.
Egypt’s irrigation ministry said the June 9-13 talks revealed the differences that remain with Ethiopia.
These issues included Ethiopia’s “total” rejection of addressing technical issues related to “mitigation measures for droughts and prolonged droughts and measures to address prolonged dry years,” the ministry statement said. Ethiopia also rejected “the inclusion of a legally binding dispute resolution mechanism,” it said.
“Egypt reaffirmed that these are essential components in any agreement that relates to an existential matter that affects the lives of over 150 million citizens of Egypt and Sudan,” the statement said.
Ethiopia’s water and energy ministry said the talks have achieved progress and will result in “finalising the process with a win-win outcome”.
It said the three countries had reached an understanding on the first stage of filling and the approach to drought management rules.
But Mohammed el-Sebaei, a spokesman for Egypt’s irrigation ministry, said Ethiopia rejected a Sudanese proposal last week that could be a basis for negotiations between the three countries. Instead, Addis Ababa introduced a “worrisome” proposal that included its vision on the dam’s operation.
He said Ethiopia lacked the “political will” to compromise and wants Egypt and Sudan to “abandon their water rights and to recognise Ethiopia’s right to use the Blue Nile waters unilaterally and to fill and operate the Renaissance Dam in accordance with its vision”.
“The proposal is not legally and technically sound,” he told reporters in Cairo. “It is a clear attempt to impose a fait accompli on my downstream country.”
Egypt and Sudan rejected the Ethiopian proposal, el-Sebaei said.
The Ethiopian ministry said el-Sebaei’s comments were “regrettable”. and that if the continuing negotiations failed it would be because of “Egypt’s obstinacy to maintain a colonial-based water allocation agreement that denies Ethiopia and all the upstream countries their natural and legitimate rights”.
The Blue Nile flows from Ethiopia into Sudan where it joins the White Nile near the capital, Khartoum, to form the Nile River. Eighty-five percent of the Nile’s waters originate in Ethiopia from the Blue Nile.
Egypt last week called for Ethiopia to “clearly declare that it had no intention of unilaterally filling the reservoir” and that a draft deal that resulted from negotiations observed by the US and the World Bank serve as the starting point of the resumed negotiations.
The preliminary agreement had been reached in January after several rounds of talks in Washington, DC. However, only Egypt had initialled the deal, and Ethiopia’s absence at the final round meant it was not signed by the three.
The deadlock over the dam has become increasingly bitter in recent months, with Egypt saying it would use “all available means” to defend “the interests” of its people.
Ethiopia’s deputy army chief on Friday said his country would strongly defend itself and will not negotiate on matters of sovereignty.