The negotiations on the filling and operation of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) have been postponed to next week, on the request of Khartoum – though the Ethiopian prime minister reported on Tuesday that Khartoum, Cairo, and Addis Ababa agreed that Ethiopia can continue filling the dam with rain water.
Talks resumed on Monday, at the invitation of South Africa, the current Chairman of the African Union. Yet, more consultations and a better agenda are required, according to Sudanese Minister of Irrigation and Water Resources Yasir Abbas.
At the outset of the meeting, the minister said Sudan remains reserved of the Ethiopian plans to fill the dam before reaching a binding agreement between the three countries.
Abbas called for working out “a decisive and clear agenda” for the negotiations, in addition to “clear protocols” for the exchange of data and reports. He further stressed the necessity for giving experts a larger role during the next negotiations round.
In March 2011, Ethiopia announced its plans to build a large dam at the Blue Nile, in the Benishangul-Gumuz region, about 15 to 40 km east of the border with Sudan, as a jointly funded, owned, and operated project between the three countries. Egypt and Sudan vehemently opposed the proposal. They claimed adverse effects on their Nile water rights and interests. Khartoum later softened its position.
The countries 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. Months-long talks under auspices of the US administration in Washington earlier this year failed as well.
After renewed talks between the three water ministers, initiated by Khartoum, failed in June, a new round started on July 3, this time mediated by the African Union, which, after 10 days, again ended without tangible results. The main outstanding points are in the legal and technical tracks, the Sudanese Irrigation Minister explained at the time.
Addis Ababa has indicated on several occasions that, even without an agreement, it will start filling the reservoir in July, while construction work continues. It needs more hydropower as only 25 per cent of the population has access to electricity. Cairo however has warned that Ethiopia will not be able to unilaterally fill the dam without consequences. Egypt relies on the Nile for more than 90 per cent of its water.
With the start of the rainy season, the dam is now holding back water. Ethiopia said on Tuesday that the first phase was already achieved because of good rainfall during the rainy season in the Horn of Africa country and the dam is overflowing.
The dam, when finished in 20122, will have a reservoir with a volume of more than 74 billion cubic metres, and a capacity of 6,450 megawatts,
The Blue Nile contributes approximately 85 per cent to the volume of the main Nile River.
Kenya and peers in the Nile Basin want the AU to continue mediating in the dam as they fear external influence may derail the search for a deal.
At a meeting of the AU Bureau of Heads of States on Tuesday, President Uhuru Kenyatta said the three countries should continue working through the AU as each one’s interests will be assured.
“This process has vividly shown that ‘African solutions to African problems’ is the way to go. We can resolve our disputes through negotiations and mediation within the framework of the African Union,” the president said.
In addition to Kenya, White Nile riparian countries like Rwanda, Tanzania, and Uganda support Ethiopia’s right to build the dam.
The Nile Basin Initiative, a multilateral forum for all eleven riparian states (Egypt, Ethiopia, Sudan, Uganda, Kenya, Rwanda, Burundi, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Tanzania, South Sudan, and Eritrea) established in 1999, has been weakened because of the tensions caused by the Ethiopian dam.
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