CAIRO: There was outrage in Egypt and Sudan on Tuesday after Ethiopian authorities resumed flowing water into the reservoir created by the controversial Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam.
Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry and Sudanese Foreign Minister Mariam Al-Sadiq Al-Mahdi held crisis talks in New York, and described the Ethiopian move as a “dangerous escalation.”
A UN Security Council special session on the dam dispute will take place on Thursday, at the request of Cairo and Khartoum.
The 145-meter high mega-dam, construction of which began in 2011, will be Africa’s largest hydroelectric project when completed, with a reservoir capacity of 74 billion cubic meters of water.
Filling began last year, and Ethiopia said in July 2020 it had hit its target of 4.9 billion cubic meters — enough to test the dam’s first two turbines, an important milestone on the way to producing energy. The goal is to add 13.5 billion cubic meters of water this year.
The dam has been the subject of a decade-long diplomatic standoff between Ethiopia, and Egypt and Sudan.
Egypt depends on the Nile for almost all its irrigation and drinking water, and views the dam as an existential threat. Sudan hopes the project will regulate annual flooding but fears its own dams would be harmed without agreement on the Ethiopian operation.
Cairo and Khartoum are seeking a legally binding agreement on the filling and operation of the dam that preserves both countries’ water rights.
Ethiopia says the dam on the Blue Nile is crucial to its economic development and to provide power to its population.
The pace of the dam’s refilling will depend on seasonal rainfall in Ethiopia, Egyptian Irrigation Ministry spokesman Mohamed Ghanim said. “We won’t see any effect now on the Nile. We have a month or six weeks ahead of us,” he said.
Egypt’s Foreign Ministry said Ethiopia’s latest move violated international laws and norms governing the exploitation of river resources. “This step is a dangerous escalation that reveals Ethiopia’s desire to impose a fait accompli on the two downstream countries, and its indifference to the negative effects and damage they may suffer due to the dam’s unilateral filling,” it said.
Shoukry has held several meetings in New York with world envoys in the lead-up to the Security Council session.
Ethiopia says it is finally exercising its rights over Nile water long controlled by its downstream neighbors. Its ambassador to Sudan said the issue was not a matter of peace and security, and should not be brought before the Security Council.
Nicolas de Riviere, France’s ambassador to the UN, said the council could do little apart from bringing the sides together.
“We can open the door, invite the three countries at the table, and encourage them to get back to the negotiations and find a solution,” he said.
Earlier, Mohamed Abdel-Aty, Egypt’s minister of irrigation, sent an official letter to his Ethiopian counterpart, condemning Addis Ababa’s unilateral measure as “a clear and dangerous breach of the Declaration of Principles Agreement.”
He said Egypt lacked water resources and was one of the driest countries in the world, while Ethiopia had adequate rainfall, huge water resources, and large volumes of water stored in dams and natural lakes.
Its projects must comply with international law and take into account the concerns of downstream countries, the minister said.