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Diplomatic efforts fail to resolve dispute over Ethiopian dam project

06 August 2021


Supporters in Addis Ababa celebrate the second filling of the dam, in July

Supporters in Addis Ababa celebrate the second filling of the dam, in July

THE latest diplomatic efforts to resolve a dispute over Ethiopia’s Grand Renaissance Dam (EGRD) project have failed (News, 9 April). Tension is rising between Ethiopia, on the one side, and Egypt and Sudan, on the other.

The President of Egypt, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, has said that his country’s security is a red line, and that he regards the EGRD project as a potential threat to that security.

The Ethiopian government has announced the completion of the second phase of storing water behind the dam, reaching about 18 billion cubic metres — less than one third of its total capacity. Reaching this level could take up to seven years.

Egypt depends on water from the Nile for 97 per cent of its needs. It fears that the Ethiopian dam on the Blue Nile, a tributary of the Nile, could threaten long-term water supply. “Every drop of water that is seized because of the dam means a shortage of water used for drinking, irrigation, and production in Egypt, which leads to the collapse of the entire Egyptian state,” President Sisi said.

Egypt, Ethiopia, and Sudan have held several rounds of inconclusive talks, hosted by the African Union (AU). Egypt and Sudan insist that the filling of the dam should have awaited a full agreement outstanding issues, including the measures that Ethiopia would take to allow the flow of some water in the event of a drought.

Egypt and Sudan had hoped to persuade the UN Security Council to intervene in the dispute. The Council acknowledged that the countries involved had legitimate claims to, and concerns about, the use of Nile waters. But, it said, “the three neighbours should negotiate in good faith towards a mutually beneficial agreement on the historic waterway’s sustainable management.” It urged the three to continue engaging with the previous mediation process led by the AU. The latter thus far appears reluctant to get involved again.

The former Archbishop of Alexandria, Dr Mouneer Anis, said: “The refusal of the Security Council to act as mediator is a very serious development. I only hope that the African Union will be firmer in their efforts, not just hosting but also intervening in the talks.”

Dr Anis said that Ethiopia’s actions were “putting the whole region and the wider world at risk of a major conflict”. He wondered why the international community — in particular the UN, the United States, the UK, and the EU — were not doing more to help prevent escalation of the crisis.

Hani Raslan, the head of the Nile Basin Studies Unit at the Al-Ahram Centre for Political and Strategic Studies, in Cairo, told the Al-Monitor news platform that Egypt and Sudan were counting on international intervention. If it becomes necessary, he said, “Egypt will resort to defending its water security, even if it means using military force.”

With an eye on the possibility of reduced water supply, Egypt has begun a programme of rehabilitating its vast network of canals and expanding seawater desalination.

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