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.