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Dam progress dries up in Egypt

13 November 2020

The Archbishop of Alexandria warned that, without an accord, ‘Egypt faces a famine’


The £3-billion Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam project, on the Blue Nile, in Ethiopia

The £3-billion Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam project, on the Blue Nile, in Ethiopia

A POTENTIAL threat to long-term water security and food supply in Egypt remains, after the breakdown of talks involving Egyptian, Ethiopian, and Sudanese ministers.

At issue is the £3-billion Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam project, on the Blue Nile, in Ethiopia (News, 3 July), a tributary of the River Nile, on which Egypt depends for 97 per cent of its water needs.

Ethiopia says that the dam is vital for the generation of electricity — for both domestic consumption and export to Sudan and other countries. The filling of the reservoir behind the dam has begun. But the three countries involved in the talks cannot agree on both the water-flow measures that Ethiopia would take in the event of drought and a dispute-resolution mechanism. A joint statement after the latest talks said “This round failed to make any tangible progress.”

The longer the three sides fail to agree, Egypt says, the greater the possibility of calamity for the country. The Archbishop of Alexandria, Dr Mouneer Anis, warned on Tuesday that, in the absence of an accord, “Egypt faces the prospect of a famine, because the whole Nile valley depends mainly on the water coming from the Blue Nile.”

President Trump strongly supports Egypt’s position. The Egyptians, he said, could not tolerate the construction of a dam which threatened their vital water supply and might “blow up” the project. Ethiopia responded by saying that it would “not cave into aggressions of any kind. Ethiopians have never kneeled to obey their enemies.”

While some observers believed that the President’s intervention served only to inflame tension between Egypt and Ethiopia, Dr Anis thought that President Trump “wanted to warn Ethiopia of the possible danger in order to be more flexible during the negotiations”.

Another complication is a growing crisis in Ethiopia itself: an armed confrontation has broken out between federal government forces and those in Tigray province. The country appears to be moving towards civil war, and hopes for a peace agreement are fading. Dr Anis believes that, “because of the local tensions, the Ethiopian government wants to distract the attention of the people to more of a national issue — the dam — and show its strength on the international front.”

Despite all the setbacks and complications, Dr Anis believes that an agreement will eventually be reached because “the Egyptian government is very keen to resolve this problem peacefully” — if necessary, taking the issue back to the UN Security Council.

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