East Africa: Ethiopian Dam Negotiations in Deadlock

Khartoum — A digital meeting of the Sudanese, Egyptian and Ethiopian ministers of Foreign Affairs and Water Resources yesterday failed to reach agreement on a formula to continue negotiations on the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam.

The South African Minister of International Relations and Cooperation, Naledi Pandor, who is mediating the negotiations on behalf of the African Union, expressed her regret at the deadlock. She said she would raise the matter with South African President Cyril Ramaphosa, the current President of the African Union.

Sudanese Minister of Irrigation and Water Resources Yasir Abbas said at a press conference at Sudan News Agency (SUNA) yesterday that during the meeting Sudan requested to change the methods of negotiations and enlarge the role of experts so that they can facilitate the negotiations and bridge disputes. He added that experts held constructive bilateral meetings yesterday.

“We cannot continue this vicious circle of discussions to continue indefinitely, given that the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam represents a direct threat to the Roseires Dam reservoir [in Sudan’s Blue Nile state) if the filling of the GERD reservoir is done without an agreement and without a daily exchange of data,” Abbas said.

He said that Sudan has lodged a strong complaint against Ethiopia and the African Union because of Ethiopia’s intention to continue filling the reservoir with 13.5 billion cubic metres of water next July. Abbas stated that this “constitutes a serious threat to the Sudanese water installations and half of the population of Sudan”. Last week, Abbas said that the first filling of about 5 billion cubic metres of water in July 2020 caused significant problems for drinking water stations in Khartoum.

Ethiopia sent a letter to the African Union on January 8, stating they would resume filling the GERD reservoir regardless of whether or not an agreement will be reached. It added that Ethiopia is not obliged to notify the downstream countries in advance about filling the reservoir and operating the dam, nor is it obliged to exchange data.

In early November, the three countries again failed to reach an agreement about the GERD after a week of negotiations. The Ministers of Water Resources of the three countries agreed to return the file to the African Union.

At the end of November, the Sudanese Ministry of Irrigation and Water Resources announced that the country will withdraw from the current round of GERD negotiations with Ethiopia and Egypt unless a mediation body will be established.

In April 2011, Ethiopia began building the dam near the border with Sudan. Once completed, the $4.5 billion project will be Africa’s largest hydroelectric power plant.

Egypt, Sudan, and Ethiopia signed a Declaration of Principles in Khartoum in March 2015 as a basis for negotiations, but no breakthrough on the use of the Nile waters has been made since.

Since colonial times, Egypt held the major ownership of the water from the Nile River, and could prevent Ethiopia from constructing a dam until 2011.

The Blue Nile contributes approximately 85 per cent to the volume of the main Nile River. The Roseires reservoir provides irrigation for El Gezira and El Managil agricultural schemes, El Rahad farms in El Gedaref, and El Souki farm projects in Sennar. 70 per cent of Sudan’s agricultural projects depend on the Roseires reservoir as well as 20 million people, who represent 50 per cent of the Sudanese population, according to Professor Mohamed Akoud, member of the Sudanese negotiation delegation on the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD).


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