Water ministers in Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan selected on Thursday two international consultancy firms to conduct studies determining the impact of Ethiopia's Grand Renaissance Dam, which has caused tensions over regional Nile river water shares.
The announcement came after a two-day series of meetings in Addis Ababa between the ministers and members of a tripartite committee of experts from the three states, through which the river runs, to choose a firm to investigate the hydraulic, financial and social effects of the hydropower dam on the largest tributary of the Nile.
According to a joint statement quoted by Egypt's state news agency MENA, the officials agreed on hiring "two European consultancies" for the mission without specifying the names of the firms.
However, a source inside the Egyptian irrigation ministry said earlier on Thursday that both the French Artelia group and another Dutch company, might be signed.
The mega project has been a source of contention for Egypt which fears that filling its 74 billion cubic metre reservoir would drastically diminish its water supply.
But Addis Ababa has repeatedly affirmed the 6,000 MW dam, which will be Africa's biggest hydro station, would not harm downstream countries Egypt and Sudan.
Egyptian Irrigation Minister Hossam Al-Moghazi told MENA that the studies will be conducted in a time frame of 11 months, describing the agreement as "a step forward in the march of cooperation between the three states."
The signing with the selected firms will take place in Addis Ababa early in May after they give a final approval to their selection, Al-Moghazi added.
Leaders from Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan signed last month a cooperation pact, or a "declaration of principles," on sharing the water from the Nile and diplomatic cooperation over the dam, a move hailed by officials as "historic".
Additional studies were recommended by a panel of specialists including international experts that concluded that insufficient assessment was made on the dam's downstream impact on the Nile flow.
Ethiopia has repeatedly refused Egyptian calls to halt the construction of the mega project that is planned to be Africa's largest power station when completed in 2017.