Egypt, Ethiopia, Sudan agree to delay dam filling

Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan have agreed to delay the filling of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) until a final deal is reached, the Egyptian presidency said. (File/Reuters)
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Updated 27 June 2020

Egypt, Ethiopia, Sudan agree to delay dam filling

  • In an interview, former Egyptian irrigation minister Mohammed Nasr Allam described the decision as a political victory for Egypt
  • Through the dam, Ethiopia is hoping to become a major power exporter for Africa

CAIRO: Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan have agreed to delay the filling of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) until a final deal is reached, the Egyptian presidency said on Friday.

The three countries decided to form a committee of legal and technical experts to draft a final deal, and will “refrain from taking any unilateral measures, including the filling of the dam, before the agreement is reached.”

The announcement came after an emergency African Union online summit of leaders of the three countries, chaired by South African President Cyril Ramaphosa.

In an interview, former Egyptian irrigation minister Mohammed Nasr Allam described the decision as a political victory for Egypt.

“Cairo demanded a halt to any unilateral decision taken by Ethiopia regarding the rules for filling the Renaissance Dam. The Ethiopian retreat came because they know Egypt has a prominent place in the Security Council. I expect the decision will be in the interests of Egypt,” he said.

Last week, Ethiopia said it would begin filling the dam in July, even without the approval of the two downstream countries.

However, on Saturday Ethiopia said it will reach a final agreement with Egypt and Sudan on “a few pending matters” over the disputed $4.8 billion dam within the next two weeks.

“Ethiopia is scheduled to begin filling the GERD within the next two weeks, during which time the remaining construction work will continue. It is in this period that the three countries have agreed to reach a final agreement on a few pending matters,” the Ethiopian prime minister’s office said.

Mohamed Besheer, a political studies and international relations expert, told Arab News the agreement is an important step “only if Ethiopia decides to comply with international law. It may be the start of a major crisis in the region if Ethiopia continues the policy of maneuvering and time wasting.”

He added that the statement issued on Saturday by the Ethiopian government differs from statements issued by Egypt, Sudan and the African Union.

Sudanese Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok said that the three leaders have agreed to “postpone the filling of the dam until an agreement is signed.”

The technical committee will try to strike a deal within two weeks, as suggested by Ethiopia, said Hamdok’s office.

The committee will also include leaders of Kenya, Mali and Congo, as well as international observers, including the US, EU and South Africa.

Last week Egypt called on the UN Security Council to intervene in order to restart talks on the mega-project, and warned that filling the dam without a deal would “threaten international peace and security.”

Sudan joined Egypt in voicing concerns to the UN body, saying in a letter on Wednesday that the unilateral filling of the dam, located around 15 km from the Sudanese border, could “cause substantial risks” to Khartoum and endanger the lives of millions of people living downstream.

Through the dam, Ethiopia is hoping to become a major power exporter for Africa, while Egypt is concerned the project will significantly curtail its water supply if filled too quickly.

The arrival of the rain season is bringing more water to the Blue Nile, the main branch of the Nile, and Ethiopia sees this as an ideal time to begin its filling of the dam’s reservoir.

But Sudan fears the giant Ethiopian dam will put its own Roseires Dam at risk if it is not properly designed, filled and operated.

Egypt relies on the Nile for 95 percent of its fresh water. Experts and officials warn the dam will significantly cut the river’s flow, affecting Egypt’s share of water and causing agricultural damage.


UN fails to find consensus after Russia, China veto on Syrian aid

A woman talks with a soldier of the Syrian army during distribution of humanitarian aid from the Russian military, in the town of Rastan, Syria. (AP)
Updated 16 min 9 sec ago

UN fails to find consensus after Russia, China veto on Syrian aid

  • Russia and China argue that the UN authorization violates Syria’s sovereignty, and that aid can increasingly be channeled through Syrian authorities

NEW YORK: The UN Security Council failed to find a consensus on prolonging cross-border humanitarian aid to Syria on Friday after Russia and China vetoed an extension and members rejected a counter proposal by Moscow.
Without an agreement, authorization for the transport of aid to war-torn Syria, which has existed since 2014, expired Friday night.
Germany and Belgium were working on a final initiative to save the effort, with hopes of bringing it to a vote this weekend.
“We are ready to work round the clock, and call on others to think of the millions of people in Syria waiting for the Security Council to decide their fate,” said German Ambassador Christoph Heusgen, who holds the rotating presidency of the Security Council this month.
After Moscow and Beijing wielded vetoes for a second time this week, only three countries joined Russia in backing its proposal to cut the number of aid transit points from two to one.
China supported Russia, but seven countries including the United States, Britain, France, Germany and Belgium voted against, with four abstentions.
An attempt by Russia to pass a similar resolution also failed earlier this week.
The NGO Oxfam had warned that stopping cross-border aid would be “a devastating blow to the millions of Syrian families who rely on this aid for clean water, food, health care and shelter.”
Thirteen countries voted in favor of an earlier German-Belgian draft, but Moscow and Beijing opposed the extension because they favor a more limited proposal.
European countries and the US want to maintain two crossing points on the Turkish border — at Bab Al-Salam, which leads to the Aleppo region, and Bab Al-Hawa, which serves the Idlib region.
The UN authorization allows the body to distribute aid to displaced Syrians without needing permission from Damascus.
Russia and China argue that the UN authorization violates Syria’s sovereignty, and that aid can increasingly be channeled through Syrian authorities.
The latest proposal by Russia, which claims to want continued aid for the insurgent Idlib region, would have kept only the Bab Al-Hawa access point open, and for one year.
Moscow claims that more than 85 percent of current aid goes through Bab Al-Hawa and that the Bab Al-Salam entry point can therefore be closed.
Western countries oppose it, with the US having described two entry points as “a red line.”
In January, Moscow, Syria’s closest ally, succeeded in having the crossing points reduced from four to two and in limiting the authorization to six months instead of a year.
According to Washington’s ambassador to the UN, Kelly Craft, keeping only one border crossing open would cut off 1.3 million people living north of Aleppo from humanitarian aid.
Another diplomat noted that “if the authorization is renewed a few days late, it is not the absolute end of the world. It suspends the convoys for a few days, it does not put them in danger.”
For the UN, keeping as many entry points open as possible is crucial, particularly given the risk of the coronavirus pandemic, which is spreading in the region.
In a report in June, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called for a one-year extension of the aid to include the two current access points.
When asked Thursday if the UN would be satisfied with a single entry point into Syria, body spokesman Stephane Dujarric said: “We need more aid to go through the border. We do not need less to go through.”
David Miliband, president of the International Rescue Committee, called it a “dark day” for Syrian civilians and the UN.
He added it “defies logic or humanity to dismantle a system designed to bring life-saving aid to Syrians in the form of food, health supplies, vaccines, and now critical COVID-19 provisions.”