Ethiopia pours water on Egypt’s Nile rights claim ahead of crunch dam talks

Ethiopia's Grand Renaissance Dam is seen as it undergoes construction work on the river Nile in Guba Woreda, Benishangul Gumuz Region, Ethiopia. (Reuters/File)
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Updated 28 May 2020

Ethiopia pours water on Egypt’s Nile rights claim ahead of crunch dam talks

  • The tripartite negotiations, which have been stalled for several months, are close to resuming

CAIRO: Ethiopia has opened the floodgates to further controversy over a giant dam scheme by rejecting Egypt’s historic claims to the waters of the Nile.

Ahead of the anticipated resumption of stalled talks over the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) project, two Ethiopian ministers poured water over the Egyptian stance on river rights.

In a speech to political party representatives and religious leaders regarding the latest developments in GERD negotiations, Ethiopian Minister of Water, Irrigation and Energy Seleshi Bekele said the talks, also involving Sudan, were being “clouded by Egypt’s tendency to recall and confirm the so-called (historic rights) in water, which can never be accepted by Ethiopia or Nile-sharing countries.”

Ethiopian Minister of Foreign Affairs Gedu Andargachew added that his country’s position was firm with regard to utilizing its water resources in a fair way “in accordance with the agreed cooperation principles and not causing any major damage.”

Meanwhile, Ethiopian religious leaders have called on the government to press ahead with the construction of the dam while negotiating with Nile-sharing countries.

Ethiopia’s official news agency ENA, reported that a statement issued during a press conference by the Ethiopian inter-religious council of seven institutions, “underlined Ethiopia’s natural right in developing the Nile.” The council also called for the resumption of tripartite discussions.

Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church Patriarch Abune Mathias said the government needed to continue with construction of the dam on the basis of mutual understanding with upstream countries and without any foreign intervention.

Mathias pointed out that the Ethiopian people had played a big part in funding the project in the hope of improving their living conditions and seeing the development for their country, adding that work should carry on “for the sake of the people” without causing any damage to Nile-sharing countries.

Cardinal Berhaneyesus Demerew Souraphiel, head of the Ethiopian Catholic Church, said that Ethiopia had “the right to develop its rivers in order to provide electricity for millions of its citizens, just like Egypt did. Egyptians are provided with electricity better than the Ethiopians. In our situation, students and families do not have electricity.

“Upstream countries must know that the Ethiopian people do not have the intention to harm Egypt or Sudan,” he added.

Ethiopian Islamic Affairs Supreme Council Secretary-General Sheikh Qassem Mohammed Tag El-Din also agreed that Ethiopia should carry on with building the dam “in the best interest of its people who are living in darkness and who do not have electricity.

“Concerning the dam, we need to stand together in harmony and even make sacrifices if this is what it takes to complete the project,” he added.

The tripartite negotiations, which have been stalled for several months, are close to resuming.

The Sudanese Ministry of Irrigation announced that two separate meetings were recently held between Sudanese Minister of Irrigation and Water Resources Yasser Abbas and his counterparts from Egypt and Ethiopia, Mohammed Abdel-Ati and Bekele, respectively.

The ministry added that two members of the delegation from each country attended the meetings which had been set up to pave the way for fresh GERD negotiations.

In a statement, Sudan’s irrigation ministry said that the ministerial meetings had followed recent talks held between Sudanese Prime Minister Abdullah Hamdok and his Egyptian and Ethiopian counterparts.

Abbas Sheraqy, professor of water resources at Cairo University’s faculty of African studies, said Ethiopia’s attempts to return to the negotiation table to settle the GERD issue had swung between resumption and manipulation.

He pointed out that Ethiopia was ready to resume GERD discussions despite having failed to attend the final day of the last round of negotiations in Washington in February last year, when it was due to sign an agreement, drafted by the US in collaboration with the World Bank, on the filling and operation of the dam.

Ethiopia’s U-turn did “not befit a sovereign state that is a UN member under the pretext that it needed more consultations, as if nine years of negotiations were not enough,” he added.

Sheraqy underlined the need to resume the talks in Washington and not to allow Ethiopia to cancel them which, he said, was its precondition to resuming them. He added that Ethiopia recently called for allowing downstream countries to attend the negotiations under the umbrella of the African Union.

Addis Ababa, he noted, was aiming to waste time and further complicate the GERD issue and was pushing Egypt into a new issue with downstream countries.

Egypt has stressed during its negotiations with Ethiopia the need to maintain its historic rights to the Nile waters. A 1929 treaty (and a subsequent one in 1959) gave Egypt and Sudan rights to nearly all of the Nile waters. The document also gives Egypt veto powers over any projects by upstream countries that would affect its share of the waters.

Ethiopia launched construction in 2011 on the Blue Nile in the northern Ethiopian highlands, from where 85 percent of the Nile’s waters flow.

One of Egypt’s main worries is that if the water flow diminishes, it could affect Lake Nasser, the reservoir further downriver, behind Egypt’s Aswan Dam.

Ethiopia said that 73 percent of the GERD project had been completed. Its government is to start deliberations within a month on a date to start filling the dam.


Lebanese farmers sow seeds for new cannabis growers’ syndicate

Updated 40 min 50 sec ago

Lebanese farmers sow seeds for new cannabis growers’ syndicate

  • Ministers, MPs rumored to be buying agricultural land after law legalizes production for medical, industrial uses

BEIRUT: A group of Lebanese farmers have sown the seeds for the setting up of a growers’ syndicate for the production of cannabis plants.

The move to establish a founding committee of agricultural sector representatives followed a decision by the Lebanese Parliament in April to legalize the use of cannabis for medical and industrial purposes.

In doing so, Lebanon become the first Arab country to pass a law allowing the cultivation of the plant for specific non-recreational uses.  

Farmers from the Baalbek-Hermel Governorate in eastern Lebanon announced plans for the formation of the new committee during a press conference held at a tourist complex in the region.

Former president of the Tobacco Growers’ Association in Baalbek-Hermel, Ahmed Zaiter, told Arab News: “Through the founding committee that we intend to form from representatives of families in the region who work in agriculture in general, we wanted to move the law enforcement mechanism in preparation for obtaining licenses to start planting cannabis, knowing that there are those who grow hashish in the region and we do not yet know whether this plant is the same one that was legislated.”

The new Lebanese law will provide for the formation of a government-monitored regulatory body to manage the cultivation, production, and export of cannabis. The cultivation process produces the drug tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and industrially fibers from the plant can be used for making products such as clothes and cars.

A 2018 study by US consulting firm McKinsey and Co. estimated that Lebanon could generate $1 billion annually from legalizing cannabis cultivation.

Zaiter pointed out “the importance of the birth of a syndicate of cannabis growers to organize this cultivation, the need to grant licenses to farmers, start preparing for seed insurance, and receive this plant from the state.”

He added that farmers would be demanding that priority was given to the agricultural sector in the Bekaa Valley and the Baalbek-Hermel region and for the syndicate, when established, to join the Union of Agricultural Syndicates in Lebanon.

A body is to be set up to monitor and regulate all activities related to cannabis and its derivatives, including planting, cultivation, harvesting, production, possession, export, storage, marketing, and distribution.

Cannabis is known in the northern Bekaa as “green gold” and its cultivation was active during the civil war in the 1970s in remote areas of the region where armed mafias were formed to guard and smuggle it abroad.

During the early 1950s, about 300 tons of cannabis was produced every year in border regions between Lebanon and Syria.

Under international pressure, state agencies began the process of destroying cannabis crops in the 1990s.

During the press conference, farmers discussed claims circulated on social media that ministers and MPs had been buying agricultural land in the Baalbek-Hermel region.

Zaiter said: “These farmers have expressed their fear that the new owners aim to engage in this agriculture in the future and monopolize its production and sale.”

Baalbek official, Haider Shams, told Arab News that land purchases, especially in remote parts of the region, were on the rise. “The price of 1 meter ranges from $5 to $10. Many people are buying in Majdaloun and Taybeh, but I don’t think it has anything to do with the cultivation of cannabis.”

Zaiter said: “So far, none of the MPs who legislated the law know what kind of Indian hemp (cannabis) they allowed.

“One of the specialists showed us a plant with few green leaves, which is not the one grown by cannabis growers in Lebanon, which means that there are many types of this plant, and if the legalized plant is the one with few leaves, I do not think that anyone will accept its cultivation because it is a losing cultivation.”

Meanwhile, the Lebanese Army Command announced on Monday that gunmen had killed one soldier during a dawn attack on an army patrol and military centers in Talia, Pretal, Al-Khader, and Douris.

The military has linked the raids to an incident the day before when fugitive Abbas Al-Masri fired shots into the air at an army checkpoint in Douris while trying to drive through. Checkpoint personnel shot and injured Al-Masri and a passenger in his vehicle and both casualties were transferred to a hospital in Baalbek for treatment.