THE Bishop of Egypt with North Africa & the Horn of Africa, Dr Mouneer Anis, has called on nations around the world to help to resolve a dispute between his country and Ethiopia which could provoke an armed conflict.
The Ethiopian authorities are ready to start filling a vast dam on the Blue Nile, which feeds into the Nile — the river that Egypt relies on almost totally for its water supplies. The latest round of negotiations involving Egypt, Ethiopia, and Sudan broke down last month. But, last Friday, Ethiopia agreed to delay filling the reservoir until an agreement was reached. The Cairo government has called on the UN Security Council to intervene in the dispute. It had earlier threatened to use “all means available” to protect its access to Nile waters.
“I want the whole international community to intervene to prevent any possible conflict,” Dr Anis said. “Peacemaking now will be relatively easier than later. I am convinced that if the governments intervene to help make peace they will succeed.”
The Council of Anglican Provinces in Africa echoed the belief that a deal could be reached, and expressed regret that negotiations thus far were “not leading to a satisfactory solution with regard to the filling of the dam reservoir”. It urged the three countries involved to show respect to one another and ensure “that no nation suffers as a result of the building of the dam or any other related activities”.
Ethiopia announced plans in 2011 to build the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam at a cost of £4 billion: it is the biggest hydroelectric venture in Africa. Egypt, at the time, expressed alarm at the size of the project and the implications for the flow of the Nile. Egypt relies on the vast river for 97 per cent of its water supply. Sudan stands to benefit from the scheme by having access to electricity generated by the dam.
Many rounds of talks involving the three riparian states have resolved several issues. But no agreement has been reached on measures that Ethiopia would take to regulate flow in the event of drought; and on a dispute-resolution mechanism. Egypt favours international arbitration, and Ethiopia wants direct negotiations. In February, the United States and the World Bank suggested compromises that were accepted by Egypt. They were rejected by Ethiopia on the grounds that the proposals favoured Egypt.
The International Crisis Group speaks of a “short window to embrace compromise” before Ethiopia starts filling the dam. “The parties should stop looking at the negotiations through the prism of narrow national interests and mutual suspicion and adopt a consensus-seeking mindset.”
Despite the breakdown of talks again last week, Dr Anis says that he still has hope that a deal will be reached, because “we pray that God may guide the three governments involved to put peace and good relationships as a top priority. They all need to understand that the Nile is a gift from God to all people who live on its banks.”
If no deal was reached, he continued, “We will suffer from a definite famine and economic depression. This will be disaster not only for Egypt but for all the Middle East, because Egypt plays a pivotal role in the stability of the region.”
Dr Anis believes that his government “will do everything possible to avoid bloodshed. Egypt over the centuries never initiated war against our neighbours. However, our government would also do everything to protect our people from famine and suffering.”