South Africa will host a virtual mini-summit on the disputed Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) on Tuesday with the leaders of Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan, after talks brokered by the African Union earlier this month failed to reach an agreement.
The summit will see the participation of the leaders of the three countries and of South Africa, with five other African heads of state as observers.
Trilateral virtual talks were held earlier this month on the differences on the rules of filling and operating the hydropower project Addis Ababa is building on the Blue Nile, but ended without an agreement.
Egyptian negotiators have voiced their concern over Ethiopia's failure to address rules regulating the filling and operation of the GERD during drought and dry years.
Egypt is also concerned about future projects on the Blue Nile, a main tributary of the Nile, and demands binding dispute settlement mechanisms, which Addis Ababa has refused to include in a deal.
The three countries presented their final reports on the latest round of talks to South Africa – the current African Union chair -- last week, ahead of Tuesday’s planned mini-summit.
Tensions escalated last week after reports that Ethiopia had begun filling the dam’s reservoir, based on an official’s claim that was later retracted.
Ethiopian state TV had quoted the country’s Water Minister Seleshi Bekele as saying that the country had started to fill the GERD’s reservoir. Hours later, however, the minister denied that the filling process had started.
Satellite images of the Ethiopian dam showed its swelling reservoir, while Sudan said it had recorded a decline in the water level of the Blue Nile coming from Ethiopia.
Ethiopia later denied that it had begun the filling process and Ethiopian state television apologised for what it described as a “misinterpretation” of statements made by Bekele.
Ethiopia has repeatedly said it would start filling the dam’s reservoir this month, with or without an accord with Egypt and Sudan.
Both countries have warned about the consequences of Addis Ababa taking any unilateral action on the project, including beginning the filling process.
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.