The latest round of talks among three key Nile River Basin countries failed to resolve a contentious dispute over construction of a giant $4.6bn hydroelectric dam in Ethiopia, Sudan’s irrigation minister said Wednesday.
Ethiopia, Egypt and Sudan resumed negotiations on June 9 via video conference after months of deadlock.
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Officials from the US, EU and South Africa, the current chairman of the African Union, attended the talks as observers.
The years-long dispute over the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) on the Blue Nile pits Ethiopia’s desire to become a major power exporter and pull millions out of poverty against Egypt’s concern that the dam will curtail its critical share of the river if filled too quickly.
Ethiopia would like to fill the dam in seven years, while Egypt has proposed a slower pace of 12 to 21 years instead. Sudan has long been caught between the competing interests of Egypt and Ethiopia.
It stands to benefit from Ethiopia’s dam, which will reduce flooding downstream and offer cheap electricity, but has raised fears over the operation and safety of the GERD and says it could endanger Sudan’s own dams.
After the talks ended on Wednesday, Sudan’s Minister of Irrigation Yasser Abbas told reporters in Khartoum that the three counties’ irrigation leaders had agreed on “90 percent or 95 percent” of the technical issues but the dispute over “legal points” in the deal remains dissolved.
“A deal should be signed before the start of the filling [of the dam],” he said. “There is no solution but negotiations.”
Ethiopia’s water and irrigation ministry said that although technical issues had been resolved, a key legal issue had yet to be worked out.
The 6,600-kilometre-long (3,900-mile) Nile is a lifeline supplying water and powering electricity in the 10 countries it traverses.
Sudan has proposed elevating the GERD negotiations to the prime ministerial level to try to break the deadlock.
“The disputes between the three delegations are of a legal nature, especially in terms of a… mechanism for water-sharing. Sudan has proposed to refer these issues to the prime ministers of the three countries,” Abbas told reporters on Wednesday.
No timeline has been set for when the prime ministers would meet as Addis Ababa continues to hold to the July deadline to start filling the GERD reservoir, much to the consternation of its partners.
The three countries held talks in Washington, DC, at the end of 2019 and earlier this year but Ethiopia did not attend a final round in February during which a draft agreement was to be discussed in hopes of the three signing it.
Ethiopia cited ongoing consultations within the country as the reason it could not attend.