Ethiopia’s first year of filling the reservoir behind its disputed Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) will not affect Egypt this year, the Egyptian irrigation ministry spokesman said.
Last week, Addis Ababa said it achieved the first-year filling of the dam’s reservoir due to the rainy season flooding the Blue Nile, meeting its target of 4.9 billion cubic metres of water retained so far.
Egyptian irrigation ministry spokesman Mohamed El-Sebaie said in TV comments late on Saturday that the step is not expected to impact Egypt this year due to the water reserves at its own High Aswan Dam.
The filling “will not affect [Egypt] this year… because we have taken [water] from the reserves of Lake Nasser that had been saved over the past years," El-Sebaie said, referring to the reservoir behind the Aswan dam.
He said plans adopted by Egypt to reduce water consumption have helped increase reserves in Lake Nasser, which can be used in case of a drought caused by lack of seasonal rainfall or the filling of the GERD.
Ethiopia has started filling the dam's reservoir, which has a capacity of 74 billion cubic metres, despite the lack of a deal with downstream countries Egypt and Sudan. Negotiations mediated by the African Union (AU) are still ongoing to resolve outstanding issues on the rules for filling and operating the dam.
The spokesman said the ministry’s rainfall forecast centre has reported “above average” rainfall this year, which is an indication that there will be no drought or below average rainfall affecting Egypt.
Nevertheless, he stressed that any reduction in water flow caused by the GERD's filling process would negatively affect Egypt's share of water at varying degrees, depending on the volume of rainfall and periods of drought.
The spokesman said that although Egypt can bear a certain degree of harm for the sake of allowing Ethiopia to achieve its development goals, the country will not tolerate excessive harm caused by years of drought, which would affect the amount of water reserved behind the Aswan dam.
"This is the major point of contention [with Ethiopia]… we need to cooperate during the dry years," he said.
The spokesman explained that the Nile water level in Sudan declined after Ethiopia started filling its dam because the reservoirs of Sudan’s dams were near empty as Khartoum prepared for the rainfall season.
Egypt, on the other hand, has not been affected, since “we have reserves that we can manage well and at good levels that can meet our needs in the coming period.”
Egypt, which relies on the Nile for 95 percent of its fresh water, fears the dam will significantly reduce the river’s flow, especially during the filling stages through periods of drought or dry years. Ethiopia, on the other hand, says the project is key to its development
After the last round of AU-brokered talks last week, Egypt said it had agreed with Sudan and Ethiopia to prioritise reaching a legally binding deal on the filling and operation of the mega-dam, and the African Union called on the three nations to "work expeditiously to finalise the text of a binding agreement".
However, Ethiopian foreign ministry spokesman Dina Mufti said during a press conference in Addis Ababa on Friday that Ethiopia wants a guiding agreement on the GERD that is non-binding.
On Saturday, Egypt’s President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi told his South African counterpart Cyril Ramaphosa, the current AU chair, that Egypt rejects any unilateral action that may compromise Egypt’s right to Nile water.