Egypt stalls dam talks with Ethiopia and Sudan

Above, officials and stakeholders during the press conference on the Renaissance Dam project in Ethiopia.
Updated 18 November 2017
0

Egypt stalls dam talks with Ethiopia and Sudan

CAIRO: Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn confirmed his county’s determination to complete the Renaissance Dam on schedule during a recent visit to Qatar.
However Egypt has announced that it is studying the necessary measures to protect its water rights after Ethiopia and Sudan refrained from signing a preliminary report submitted by the French Consultative Office on the dam’s impact on Egypt.
“The current status of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) negotiations is alarming given that water security is a key component of Egypt’s national security and harming it is not an option,” said the Egyptian Foreign Minister, Sameh Shoukry.
He said, “Egypt will seek to overcome the complexity of negotiations through reaching out to Ethiopia and Sudan as well as the rest of the Nile countries and the international community.”
In a joint press conference with his Tunisian and Algerian counterparts in Cairo on Wednesday, Shoukry said, “Egypt did not expect the technical course of the GERD negotiations to take so long and become so complicated.”
“Egypt is committed to the tripartite framework agreement signed by Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia and believes it is enough to govern the relations of the three countries and respect international law with respect to international rivers,” he said. “The aim of the technical negotiations was to achieve common interests, but this never happened.”
Egypt’s Water Resources and Irrigation Minister Mohamed Abdel Ati said that the 17th meeting of the Tripartite National Technical Committee, which brought together the Egyptian, Sudanese and Ethiopian ministers of water in Cairo on Nov. 11 and 12, did not result in any agreement on the adoption of the introductory technical report submitted by the French consultancy firm hired to conduct impact studies of the dam on the downstream countries.
After the technical committee’s meeting on Nov. 12, Abdel Ati said that although Egypt had initially approved the introductory report in light of the fact that it was consistent with the studies’ references on which the three countries agreed, the committee’s two other parties did not approve the report and demanded amendments that were beyond the agreed-on references and that to reinterpret basic and pivotal provisions in a way that affects the studies’ outcomes made its content of no value.
The Egyptian Ministry of Water Resources and Irrigation announced the stalling of all technical talks with Ethiopia and Sudan on Monday.
“The reasons for the dispute over the introductory report is the so-called baseline, which sets Egypt’s share of the Nile’s water at 55.5 billion cubic meters and Sudan’s share at 18.5 billion cubic meters, and this is unacceptable for Ethiopia, which does not recognize the 1959 Nile Waters Agreement that specified water allocations to Egypt and Sudan,” said Mahmoud Abu-Zeid, President of the Arab Water Council and former Minister of Water Resources and Irrigation.
However, an official Egyptian source linked to GERD revealed that Egypt had rejected the amendments requested by Ethiopia because they were incompatible with Article 5 of the Declaration of Principles.
Article 5 includes agreement on rules for the dam’s first filling and operation, as well as the expected time period for filling the dam’s reservoir with the Nile’s water. Egypt demands that this period be 7 to 10 years while Ethiopia insists on a maximum of 3 years.
In a statement published on its official website, Ethiopia’s Ministry of Water, Irrigation and Electricity said: “Although the three countries are trying to reach a common understanding, Egypt has again rejected the draft report to be sent to the consultancy firm.”
The Sudanese ambassador in Cairo, Abdel Mahmoud Abdel Hamid, slammed the statement of the Egyptian Minister of Water Resources and Irrigation and said, “Egypt’s reaction of announcing the negotiations were stalled raises doubts about its future.”
He explained that “even though the statement addressed Egyptian public opinion, it paves the way for actions that will not bring Cairo— nor the other negotiating parties— any good.”
“Sudan had a vision for resolving disputes in this meeting and has the right to do what it sees fit for its people’s welfare; yet it remained positive throughout all meetings and worked hard to save the technical and political courses of GERD negotiations,” he said.
The Sudanese ambassador denied that Sudan had introduced amendments to the introductory report, as said in the statement of the Egyptian Ministry of Water Resources and Irrigation, and said: “It was Egypt that added several references and amendments to the report since the first meeting, not Sudan, and, contrary to what the statement reflected, all meetings were held in a friendly, harmonious atmosphere.”
Reverting to political negotiations
The Cabinet of Egypt did not specify the measures that could be taken, but the Foreign Ministry’s official spokesperson, Counselor Ahmed Abu Zeid, said: “Stalling the technical negotiations must be followed by reverting to political negotiations to resolve disputes in the tripartite relations of Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia in the context of the Declaration of Principles signed by the three countries which stipulates the necessity of their agreement.”
“Egypt has a clear plan for dealing with the Renaissance Dam matter,” he said. “Egypt’s embassies abroad were assigned to explain the negotiations’ outcomes and Egypt’s flexibility during these negotiations, in addition to explaining the need to hold onto the Declaration of Principles and clarify which party was responsible for stalling negotiations.”
He stressed that this step was important to inform the international community of the negotiations’ details before taking political steps to pressure the party responsible for stalling negotiations.
The Egyptian Foreign Ministry’s spokesperson revealed that there was direct contact at the time between the foreign ministers of Egypt and Ethiopia. “President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi will meet with Ethiopian PM Hailemariam Desalegn during the meeting of the joint Egyptian-Ethiopian higher committee in December,” he said.
He said that the Egyptian Foreign Minister, Sameh Shoukry, had discussed with his Saudi counterpart, Adel Al-Jubeir, during their meeting in Riyadh on Tuesday, Nov. 14, the stalling of GERD technical negotiations and said: “Saudi Arabia has been following the development of this matter for a while, and there was a discussion about the recent stalling of technical negotiations,” and he added, “Saudi stresses the necessity of respecting the tripartite framework agreement.”
Controversy over the internationalization of the GERD crisis
There have been different speculations by Egyptian experts on the most suitable options for Egypt in its fight against the Renaissance Dam after Ethiopia continues to build the dam and announces its intention to start filling the reservoir and generate power during the current Ethiopian year, which ends in October.
Hani Raslan, an expert on the Nile basin and Sudanese affairs at Al-Ahram Center for Strategic Studies, and former Egyptian Deputy Minister for Irrigation and an expert on water resources and irrigation, Diaa Uddin Al-Koussi, urged Egypt to lodge a complaint to the UN Security Council because the conduct of Ethiopia and Sudan threatened international peace and security given the importance of water issues to Egypt.
“Egypt has done everything in its power during technical negotiations, and President El Sissi intervened more than once, which leaves us no other option but to seek legal help to preserve our rights,” Al-Koussi said.
“Ethiopia’s extreme intransigence has caused the failure of the tripartite negotiations,” he said, “Addis Ababa does not wish for the report to see the light because it’ll be proof of the technical risks of building the dam and its negative impact on the environment and the economy of the downstream countries.”
Mahmoud Abu-Zeid, President of the Arab Water Council and former Minister of Water Resources and Irrigation, warned against internationalizing the issue at this stage and called for political negotiations between presidents, governments and foreign ministers.
“If Egypt sought the help of the United Nations or the Security Council there won’t be political negotiations, and this contradicts Egypt’s keenness for maintaining good relations with its African neighbors and resolving the issue through negotiations,” he said.
Meanwhile, Raslan said: “Seeking to inform the international community of the Renaissance Dam’s negative impact on Egypt and seeking an international guarantee of Egypt’s rights and security do not contradict the continuing of political negotiations between the three countries.”
However, Raslan doubted that Ethiopia would commit to any political consensus or legal agreements, explaining that it seeks to prolong negotiations to pursue a fait accompli policy through completing the dam’s construction.
The Ethiopian Prime Minister visited Qatar on Nov. 13 and 14 and signed several agreements to improve cooperation between the two countries, among which was an agreement on defense cooperation.
This visit came seven months after the visit of the Emir of Qatar, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani, to the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa.
During his visit to Qatar, Ethiopia’s PM denied receiving funds from Qatar for GERD and stressed that the mega-project was “self-financed.”
The visit raised doubts among Egyptian journalists about its association with the crisis of GERD negotiations, but the Egyptian Foreign Minister said there were no indicators of this association, “especially since such visits get scheduled some time ahead.”
He also stressed that Egypt had been working for the last three years to maintain good relations with Ethiopia, “and we look forward to resolving this crisis in accordance with international law.”


Cyclone Mekunu intensifies, Salalah to be hardest hit

Updated 40 min 37 sec ago
0

Cyclone Mekunu intensifies, Salalah to be hardest hit

JEDDAH: Oman said Friday that Cyclone Mekunu, which wreaked havoc in the Yemeni island of Socotra, has intensified into category 2 as it bore down on the south of the sultanate.
“Latest observations show that tropical Cyclone Mekunu has intensified to category 2,” with high wind speeds, Oman’s Directorate General of Meteorology said on Twitter.
The center said in its latest warning that the eye of Mekunu was expected to hit Salalah, Oman’s third-largest city and home to some 200,000 people close to the Yemeni border, at around 1600 local time (1200 GMT).
The impact on the city and Dhofar province was expected to last several hours with wind speeds of 170 kilometers (106 miles) per hour.
Heavy rains and strong winds have already been pummelling Dhofar province and authorities have urged residents to stay indoors.
Five people were killed and at least 40 missing on Socotra on Friday as Cyclone Mekunu pummelled the area then made its way toward the Arabian Peninsula’s southern coast.
The five dead included four Yemenis and one Indian national, while the missing including Yemenis, Indians and Sudanese.
Yemen declared a state of emergency on Thursday for Socotra, after officials said Friday that over 230 families had been relocated to shelter in sturdier buildings and other areas, including those more inland and in the island’s mountains.
Socotra Gov. Ramzy Mahrous said one ship sank and two others ran aground in the storm, initially saying authorities believed 17 people were missing.
“We consider them dead,” the governor said.
They say floods swept Socotra streets, washed away thousands of animals and cut electricity and communication lines. Some humanitarian aid from Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates arrived just hours after the cyclone receded.
Saudi Ambassador to Yemen Mohammed Al-Jabir, who also serves as Supervisor of Yemen Reconstruction Program and Executive Director of Yemen Comprehensive Humanitarian Operations (YCHO), confirmed in an official statement that “The Saudi Reconstruction Team in Yemen at the Socotra office is working with the local authority to deal with the aftermath of Cyclone Mekunu, open roads and assist those in distress, in anticipation of the arrival of relief aid and shelter, that was hindered today by weather conditions.”
He added: “Saudi Joint Forces planes carrying tens of thousands of tons of relief, shelter and medical supplies from the Kingdom through KSrelief are preparing to head to Socotra to assist as soon as the weather conditions improve.”‏
The officials say heavy rains are now pummeling Yemen’s easternmost province of Al-Mahra, on the border with Oman. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to the media.
The government declared the island in the northwest Indian Ocean, part of a UNESCO-protected archipelago for its rich biodiversity, a “disaster” zone.
Socotra Gov. Ramzy Mahrous said one ship sank and two others ran aground in the storm, initially saying authorities believed 17 people were missing.
“We consider them dead,” the governor said.
The Yemeni high relief agency met with international humanitarian organizations in Aden late Thursday to discuss the situation, the Saba news agency reported.
They decided to set up 11 relief centers in Socotra to provide shelter for people forced to evacuate their homes.
The meeting also discussed measures to provide aid to residents of three provinces in southeast Yemen expected to be hit by the cyclone.
Omani forecasters warned Salalah and the surrounding area would get at least 200 millimeters (7.87 inches) of rain, over twice the amount of rain this city typically gets in a year. Authorities remained worried about flash flooding in the area’s valleys and potential mudslides down its nearby cloud-shrouded mountains.
Conditions quickly deteriorated in Salalah after sunrise Friday, with winds and rain beginning to pick up. Strong waves smashed into empty tourist beaches.
Across the border in Oman, authorities have placed police and army on alert and closed schools until Monday in preparation for the cyclone.
“Of course, for the citizen there is going to be a sense of fear of the consequences that can happen,” said Brig. Gen. Mohsin bin Ahmed Al-Abri, the commander of Dhofar governorate’s police. “We have been through a few similar cases and there were losses in properties and also in human life as well. But one has to take precautions and work on that basis.”
State-run television said authorities had evacuated hundreds of residents from a small island off Salalah, the town where Oman’s Sultan Qaboos was born.
As torrential rains poured down, local authorities opened schools to shelter those whose homes are at risk. About 600 people, mostly laborers, huddled at the West Salalah School, some sleeping on mattresses on the floors of classrooms, where math and English lesson posters hung on the walls.
Oman’s civil aviation authority announced that Salalah airport would be closed for 24 hours from midnight (2000 GMT Thursday).
Many holidaymakers fled the storm Thursday night before Salalah International Airport closed. The Port of Salalah — a key gateway for the country — also closed, its cranes secured against the pounding rain.
Streets quickly emptied across the city. Standing water covered roads and caused at least one car to hydroplane and flip over.
Later, a municipal worker on a massive loader used its bucket to tear into a road median to drain a flooded street, showing how desperate the situation could become.
Mekunu was expected to weaken to a tropical storm before reaching southeastern Saudi Arabia on Saturday, according to the Kingdom’s meteorological authority.
Powerful cyclones are rare in Oman. Over a roughly 100-year period ending in 1996, only 17 recorded cyclones struck the sultanate on the eastern edge of the Arabian Peninsula. In 2007, Cyclone Gonu tore through Oman and later even reached Iran, causing $4 billion in damage in Oman alone and killing over 70 people across the Mideast.
The last hurricane-strength storm to strike within 160 kilometers (100 miles) of Salalah came in May 1959, according to the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s archives. However, that cyclone was categorized as a Category 1 hurricane, meaning it only had winds of up to 152 kph (95 mph).
Mekunu, which means “mullet” in Dhivehi, the language spoken in the Maldives, is on track to potentially be the same strength as a Category 2 hurricane at landfall. It also comes just days after Cyclone Sagar struck Somalia.