‘No breakthrough’ in Nile dam talks

Wednesday July 15 2020

gerd

Ethiopia and Egypt are at odds over the commencement of filling the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam. PHOTO | FILE  

The EastAfrican
By The EastAfrican
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The latest round of talks held to resolve the disagreement over the Grand Renaissance Dam in Ethiopia (GERD) on the Nile River ended on Monday without a “breakthrough”, Addis Ababa said blaming parties for “excessive” demands.

The negotiations, under the African Union chairman South African President Cyril Ramaphosa, were seeking to determine whether Ethiopia could begin filling the dam, the largest reservoir in Africa, without limiting the water supplies in Sudan and Egypt, which the downstream countries see as a threat to their citizens’ livelihood and economies.

But after ten days, Ethiopia’s Minister for Water, Irrigation and Energy, Dr Seleshi Bekele, said there had been no breakthrough, and blamed Khartoum and Cairo for raising new demands.

“Unchanged stances and additional and excessive demands of Egypt and Sudan prohibited the conclusion of this round of negotiation by an agreement,” Dr Seleshi said in a statement on Tuesday.

“The countries have managed to reach an understanding on their interests instead of reiterating their positions. Ethiopia would like to stress that a negotiated agreement is the only way out,” he said.

Both Ethiopia and Egypt admitted the absence of a comprehensive agreement will “pose a challenge.”

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But while both pledged to remain flexible in the talks, Addis Ababa said Khartoum and Cairo do not want to compromise on a number of issues.

GERD has a projected capacity of 6,000 megawatts of electricity upon completion and has been built at a cost of $4.5 billion. The project, however, has been contentious over its filling and operation. Sudan and Egypt demand specified technical arrangements to ensure the volume of water downstream is not cut or reduced.

Sticking points

Sudan’s Minister of Irrigation and Water Resources Yasser Abbas told the media on Monday that more talks will be held after the three countries and the mediators – President Ramaphosa, the Bureau of African Union – review the report of the first phase of negotiations.

Sudan said there are “four or five sticking points” on technical arrangements such as the volume of water to be allowed through the dam every day. Riparian countries argued for more daily discharge water compared to Ethiopia’s position, he said.

For his part, Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry said that his country “regrets” the lack of agreement.

"Cairo has shown much flexibility and understanding over GERD issues and Ethiopian needs, but once again the round ends with no agreement," Mr Shoukry told Egyptian media on Monday night.

“We were looking forward to a change in some of Ethiopia's positions, but they remained the same and we didn't reach consensus," he noted. Cairo rejected a proposal from Addis Ababa to postpone settlement of disputes until after signing of an agreement to fill and operate the dam.

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