Sudan formally requests four-party mediation in GERD row

Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok sent letters to the United Nations, African Union, European Union and the United States, foreign ministry says.

A handout satellite image shows a closeup view of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam and the Blue Nile River in Ethiopia
Sudan, Egypt and Ethiopia have been locked for almost 10 years in inconclusive talks over the filling and operation of the GERD [File: Reuters]

Sudan’s Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok has written to the United Nations, African Union (AU), European Union and the United States to formally request their mediation in a bitter regional dispute over the filling of a giant dam built by Ethiopia on the Blue Nile River.

A statement released by the Sudanese foreign ministry on Monday said Hamdok had expressed concern over Ethiopia’s stated intention of adding more water to the reservoir behind the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) for a second year in letters sent on Saturday.

Sudan, Ethiopia and Egypt have been locked for almost 10 years in inconclusive talks over the filling and operation of the hydropower dam, which broke ground in 2011. Both Egypt and Sudan lie downstream from the GERD, which Addis Ababa says is crucial to its economic development.

The Sudanese move came after Hamdok returned from Cairo on Friday and some 10 days after Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi’s own visit to Khartoum.

During Hamdok’s visit, the Egyptian government officially “renewed its support for the Sudanese proposal to stop direct talks and establish international mediation”, headed by the AU, the Sudan Tribune reported.

Ethiopia had recently indicated its opposition to adding mediators to the existing, AU-led process after the floating of the idea by Sudan, but has yet to comment on Hamdok’s formal call for external mediation.

Ethiopia started filling the reservoir behind the dam last year after Egypt and Sudan failed to secure a legally binding agreement over the GERD’s operation.

Ethiopian officials hope the dam, now more than three-quarters complete, will reach full power-generating capacity in 2023, helping pull millions of its people out of poverty.

But Sudan fears the project could increase the risk of flooding and affect the safe operation of its Nile River dams. Its government says at least 20 million people, more than half the country’s population, could be affected if Ethiopia fills and operates the dam without coordinating with it.

Meanwhile, Egypt has called the dam an existential threat and worries that it would reduce its share of Nile waters. The water-scarce country, home to more than 100 million people, relies almost entirely on the Nile to supply water for agriculture and its people.

The call for international mediation development comes amid rising tensions between Addis Ababa and Khartoum following skirmishes at the Al-Fashaqa border region, where Ethiopian farmers cultivate fertile land claimed by Sudan.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies