NEW YORK: Egypt Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry said on Thursday that his country, “a nation of 100 million souls,” was facing an existential threat from the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) on the River Nile.
Shoukry said that while Egypt is committed to the principles of the UN and will continue to demonstrate flexibility and to support the negotiating process, he warned that, if the interests and livelihoods of its citizens are threatened, Cairo will defend them “with all means available.”
At a Security Council meeting, Shoukry described the massive hydroelectric dam as “a colossal wall of iron and steel (that) has arisen along the banks of a great and ancient river and has cast a long and dark shadow over the future and fate of the people of Egypt.”
The meeting came days after Addis Ababa began the second stage of filling the reservoir behind the dam.
The downstream nations of Egypt and Sudan have brought the decade-long dispute to the council, with Shoukry asking the 15-member body “to intercede expeditiously and effectively to prevent an escalation of tensions and to address the situation which could endanger the maintenance of international peace and security.
“We have come to this chamber out of an abiding faith in the value of international law and an unwavering belief in the virtue of multilateralism as a vehicle for promoting peace and preventing conflict and strife.”
Ethiopia opposes any UN involvement in the water dispute and insists that the talks should resume only under the auspices of the African Union (AU).
The Ethiopian minister of water and irrigation called the session “a waste of the Security Council’s time.”
US Ambassador to the UN Linda Thomas-Greenfield told the council that the solution to the dispute begins with the urgent resumption of negotiations which “should be held under the leadership of the African Union, the most appropriate venue to address this dispute.”
However, Shoukry told the diplomats that a year of AU-led talks have failed, calling Ethiopia’s filling of the reservoir a “blatant act of unilateralism (that) is not only a manifestation of Ethiopia’s irresponsibility and its callous indifference to the damage that this dam could inflict upon Egypt and Sudan, but it also illustrates Ethiopia’s bad faith and its attempt to impose a fait accompli in defiance of the collective will of the international community.”
Shoukry urged council members to consider the matter “not from the narrow lens of your national interests but in light of your collective responsibility to act on behalf of the international community to preserve peace and uphold the principles of equity and justice.”
He called on the council to adopt the draft resolution circulated by Tunisia that requests Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia to resume negotiations, brokered by the AU chairman and UN Secretary-General, with a view to finalizing a legally binding agreement on filling the reservoir and operating the dam.
The draft resolution, seen by Arab News, says the deal must ensure Ethiopia’s ability to generate hydropower without inflicting damage on the water security of Egypt and Sudan.
It urges Ethiopia “to refrain from continuing to unilaterally fill” the dam’s reservoir and calls on the three nations to refrain from making inflammatory statements or taking any action “that may jeopardize the negotiation process.”
Shoukry asserted that Egypt “remains committed to Ethiopia’s stability and prosperity,” but said that any legally binding agreement “must include provisions to mitigate the adverse effects of this dam, especially during periods of drought. It must prevent the infliction of significant harm on the riparian interests of Egypt and Sudan. And must ensure that Egypt’s water security is not imperiled.”
This is not “insurmountable, nor is it beyond reach.”