Egypt could file complaint with UN Security Council if Ethiopia insists on filling GERD in July: Experts

Menna Alaa El-Din , Saturday 16 May 2020

Despite the adamant rejection by Egypt and Sudan, Ethiopia told the UNSC it 'does not have a legal obligation to seek the approval of Egypt to fill the dam'

FILE PHOTO: Ethiopia's Grand Renaissance Dam is seen as it undergoes construction work on the river Nile in Guba Woreda, Benishangul Gumuz Region, Ethiopia September 26, 2019. REUTERS

Egypt could file an official complaint with the UN Security Council (UNSC) over the disputed Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD), analysts say, as Addis Ababa remains committed to filling the dam’s reservoir in July without Cairo’s approval.

On 14 May, Ethiopia sent a 22-page letter to the UNSC regarding the status of negotiations between Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan after Cairo brought the dispute last week to the 15-member body to preserve its rights.

Egypt had rejected, along with Sudan, an Ethiopian proposal sent last month amid the ongoing discord, where Addis Ababa proposed a “partial agreement” that would only cover the first stage of the filling.

The Ethiopian letter to the UNSC is mainly concerned with Ethiopia’s construction of the dam, history, facts and “the truth about the tripartite negotiation with Egypt and the Sudan.”

Despite the adamant rejection by the two countries, Ethiopia told the UNSC it “does not have a legal obligation to seek the approval of Egypt to fill the dam.”

It stressed that its proposal, which sees the impoundment of 18.4 billion cubic meters of water in two rounds, would cause no significant harm on Egypt.

Addis Ababa is eyeing a first stage filling that would take up to two years to complete, allowing the dam reservoir to retain 18.4 billion cubic meters of water.

The impoundment is to be carried out over two years, with 4.9 billion cubic meters of water in the first year and 13.5 cubic meters in the second year, it said.

“Ethiopia is in full compliance with the DoP and made a remarkable and generous gesture in offering an agreement to Egypt,” it said.

But as Ethiopia shows no restraint in preserving what it describes as its right to development and survival through the dam, Egyptian analysts believe Egypt should now involve the international community in the Ethiopian “paradox.”

Egypt has been abiding by the rules of international law since the onset of negotiations over the GERD despite Ethiopia's intransigence and sudden withdrawal from the last round of talks in Washington earlier this year held to sign the final agreement over the rules of filling and operating the GERD.

Washington, which had been brokering talks since last year, failed to secure signatures from the three countries at the end of February, stressing that the filling of the 6,000-megawatt dam "should not take place without an agreement.”

It stressed that the US and the World Bank played only an observer’s role during the recent negotiations after it decided to pull the plug on the talks.

“Egypt should engage the international community in Ethiopia’s falsification… and show Ethiopia’s true colours to the world. This would lead to international pressure on Ethiopia on the importance of coordination over the GERD,” Nader Noureldin, professor of water resources and land reclamation at Cairo University’s Faculty of Agriculture, told Ahram Online.

Noureldin believes Addis Ababa continues to violate the 2015 Declaration of Principles (DoP) on the dam by pressing with its plans in the upcoming rainy season despite rejection by Cairo and Sudan.

He said “Ethiopia remains bent on the first filling and construction, as if the Nile were not an international river, or as if it were a private river which belongs only to Addis Ababa". 

“Egypt would submit its complaint to the UNSC at a later stage if Ethiopia doesn’t commit to the DoP’s principles [and continues with filling plans],” he said, describing the move as an “only” resort.

The talks have taken their toll on Cairo and Addis Ababa’s relations, resulting in a constant tug-of-war and accusations over the collapse of talks.

In its letter to the UNSC, Ethiopia has asked the international community to encourage Egypt “to continue the tripartite negotiation on the first filling and annual operation of the GERD in the spirit of good faith and to reach a mutually beneficial agreement.”

It called on Egypt to “abandon its insistence to preserve its self-proclaimed historic rights and current use and desist its relentless efforts to politicise and internationalise the remaining technical negotiations.”

The Ethiopian letter came in response to Egypt’s letter to the UNSC, which said that any agreement on the GERD must be comprehensive and must regulate the complete process of filling the dam and its operation.

Cairo, in a 17-page letter to the UNSC, blamed Ethiopia for trying to establish a deal without taking the interests of downstream countries into consideration.

Some 85 percent of the Nile waters that reach Egypt flow from the Ethiopian highlands, mainly from the Blue Nile.

Ethiopia hopes the massive $4.8 billion megaproject on the Blue Nile, which has been under construction since 2011, will allow it to become Africa’s largest power exporter.

Egypt receives an annual release of 55.5 billion cubic metres from its High Aswan Dam, while it needs over 80 billion cubic metres. It bridges the gap by water recycling and reuse.

Cairo fears the dam will diminish its water supply from the Nile, on which it relies for the vast majority of its fresh water.

The populous country currently has a water share of around 570 cubic metres per person annually, well below the water scarcity level of 1,000 cubic metres per person per year. The figure is expected to drop further to 500 cubic metres by 2025.

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