Egypt said on Wednesday that there is a "real opportunity" to make progress during the current talks in Addis Ababa to overcome the dispute over a giant dam project Ethiopia is building on the Blue Nile.
"I think there is a real opportunity to make progress in our meeting today and tomorrow to overcome differences," Egypt's Irrigation Minister Mohamed Abdel-Ati told a meeting between officials from Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia on Wednesday.
"We hope to come up with a draft agreement on filling and operating the [Grand Ethiopian] Renaissance Dam (GERD)."
Abdel-Ati's remarks came during the last of the four technical meetings between the water ministers of the three countries to resolve the dispute over the $4 billion hydroelectric project.
During his speech to the gathering, Abdel-Ati said that the key components of a final agreement between the three countries involve: the filling of the dam, drought alleviation measures, "fair and balanced" operation rules that sustainably enable Ethiopia to generate hydroelectric power while maintaining the operation of Egypt's High Dam, as well as establishing an effective mechanism for the implementation of the agreement.
"We agreed on these basic components, and our differences lie in the approach to implementing these elements and in some numerical values, such as drought limits, and some differences with regard to the operation of the Renaissance Dam under different hydrological conditions," the Egyptian minister said, according to a statement by his ministry.
"I sincerely believe that we can bridge the gap between us on these issues," the minister said.
The two-day meeting was attended by the irrigation ministers of Ethiopia and Sudan and technical delegations from the three countries, with the participation of the World Bank.
It is part of a roadmap agreed upon during a US-brokered meeting in Washington last November to break the deadlock inthe negotiations.
Abdel-Ati expressed hope that the GERD, as a new water structure in the eastern Nile system, would be integrated in a joint management process with Aswan's High Dam to "preserve the resilience of the water system to meet the harsh conditions" that may arise from filling and operating the dam.
Egypt fears that the Ethiopian dam, which is 70 percent complete and set to be fully operational by 2022, will diminish its share of Nile water, which provides the bulk of the country’s water resources.
Egypt's water supply is already scarce. The country is suffering from a significant water shortage of 21 billion cubic meters a year, a crisis that the country is tackling through the treatment of agricultural and sewage water, according to Abdel-Ati.
Ethiopia started constructing the dam in 2011 on the Blue Nile in the northern Ethiopia highlands, from where most of the Nile's waters flow. Ethiopia aims to become the continent's biggest power exporter by generating more than 6,000 megawatts through the dam.
The Egyptian Water and Irrigation Ministry spokesperson told Ahram Online last December that Egypt is holding to its demands regarding the regulations for filling and operating the GERD, dismissing news reports that Egypt had agreed to the release of 35 billion cubic meters of water.
According to the Declaration of Principles signed by Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia in 2015, if the three countries failed in resolving the dispute through negotiations, they can ask for mediation or refer the matter to their heads of states or prime ministers.
The first meeting of the US-sponsored talks was held in Addis Ababa in mid-November 2019, the second was in Cairo in early December 2019, and the third was in Khartoum in late December 2019.
The foreign ministers of Egypt, Ethiopia, and Sudan should meet on 13 January in Washington in the presence officials from the US Treasury and the World Bank to try to finalise an agreement to resolve the dispute.