Nile dam deal ‘on the horizon’ after mini-summit

Nile dam deal ‘on the horizon’ after mini-summit
African leaders on Tuesday held a virtual meeting on a decade-long dispute between Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan over a mega-dam on the Nile River, the South African presidency said. (AFP)
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Updated 22 July 2020

Nile dam deal ‘on the horizon’ after mini-summit

Nile dam deal ‘on the horizon’ after mini-summit
  • Egypt looks to alternative water sources despite ‘mutual understanding’ with Ethiopia

CAIRO: The rainy season contributed to the initial filling of the Renaissance Dam reservoir, Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed has said.

His comments came during Tuesday’s mini-African summit between the leaders of Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia, which was sponsored by South Africa. The leader said that precipitation and surface runoff of river water led to the filling of the first stage of the reservoir.

Following the meeting in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa, a statement said an agreement between the three countries is on the horizon.

Ahmed’s office said Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan had reached a “great mutual understanding that paves the way for a huge agreement on the dam project.” The statement added that leaders of the three countries agreed to further technical discussions on filling the dam until a comprehensive agreement is reached.

Bassam Radi, Egypt’s presidential spokesperson, said that the main focus will be developing a binding legal agreement on the rules for filling and operating the Renaissance Dam, provided that the parties later work on reaching an agreement on the use of Nile water.

Radi added that Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi stressed Cairo’s desire to make progress on issues of disagreement.

Egypt recently decided to prevent the cultivation of crops requiring lots of water, including corn and certain types of rice. The country also pushed for faster construction of seawater desalination stations.

Spokesman for the Egyptian Water Resources and Irrigation Ministry, Mohamed El-Sebaie, said Egypt wants to maximize water efficiency in light of the dam project.

“The Nile River represents 97 percent of water resources. Because of water challenges and the Ethiopian Renaissance Dam, the Egyptian state is implementing projects to maximize the utilization of water resources through treatment of agricultural wastewater and providing spare parts for domestic use. These measures will provide between 40 to 45 percent of the water used by people in their homes,” he said.

He said Mohamed Abdel-Ati, the water minister, met Assem El-Gazzar, Egypt’s housing minister, to review a detailed plan for the expansion of desalination plants within the framework of the National Water Strategy of 2037.

The spokesman added that the strategy aims to meet water needs through greater efficiency and the expansion of desalination stations, especially in coastal regions.

A member of the Egyptian Negotiating Committee on the Renaissance Dam, Alaa El-Zawahiri, said Egypt is unlikely to face a water crisis as a result of filling the dam, but added that problems could occur during prolonged drought.

He cited the situation between 1979 and 1989 when a drought lowered water levels in the Blue Nile and the High Dam.

El-Zawahiri said the potential for drought concerns Cairo, and Egypt will impose new rules on Ethiopia to extract enough water to meet demand. He added that negotiations are taking place to ensure that no water problem occurs in Egypt for 120 years.

Mohamed Hegazi, the Egyptian former assistant minister of foreign affairs, said: “All the parties are leaning towards continuing the negotiations, which means that there is hope in reaching an agreement.”

He added: “No party can assume it can single-handedly impose its rules and decisions without the agreement of the rest of the partners.”

Hegazi said that Egypt is not against the first stage of filling in principle but is opposed to the filling of the dam without reaching subsequent agreements.

“If that happens, there are international diplomatic tools that can be deployed, especially the UN Security Council, since it is the institution concerned with security and peace in this type of conflict,” he said.

He added that during the talks Egypt asked Ethiopia to promote development goals for both countries.