Ethiopia not seeking a deal on Nile dam and not offering an alternative: Egyptian minister

Mahmoud Aziz , Ayat Al Tawy , Tuesday 10 Mar 2020

The irrigation minister said Egypt is ready to face the situation, should Ethiopia start filling the GERD reservoir in July

Minister of Water Resources and Irrigation Mohamed Abdel-Ati (Al-Ahram)
Minister of Water Resources and Irrigation Mohamed Abdel-Ati (Al-Ahram)

Ethiopia seeks no agreement over its giant dam project and has not provided any alternative, Egypt's irrigation minister has said, adding that Cairo will "to a great extent" be prepared to contain the impact of the filling of the dam’s reservoir if Ethiopia begins the process in July.

Tensions between the two countries mounted last month after Ethiopia withdrew from the latest round of US-sponsored talks, which were expected to generate a final deal between Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan, another downstream country, over the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam. The deal, drafted by the US, which is mediating the talks, was initialled by Egypt but not signed by the other two states.

"The Ethiopian side does not want an agreement and has not offered an alternative," Irrigation Minister Mohamed Abdel-Ati told an Egyptian talk show on Monday.

"Every time we inch closer to a deal, we then go ten steps back," the minister said about Ethiopia's stance on the long-drawn-out talks.

He said he expects, however, that the crisis "will be solved."

Egypt is seeking to secure a minimum win that would guarantee an uninterrupted water supply from the Nile, its major source of fresh water, according to Abdel-Ati.

"In negotiations you can't win everything but there is minimum you obtain. We seek to achieve sustainability of water, especially during the times of drought and extended drought," Abdel-Ati told the Al-Hekaya show on MBC Masr channel.

The US Treasury Department stepped in last year to mediate talks between Ethiopia, Egypt and Sudan after Egypt reached out to Washington.

The US has called on Ethiopia to sign the deal "at the earliest possible time" and said the filling of the dam's reservoir "should not take place without an agreement."

But Ethiopia has said it plans to begin filling the dam in July this year.

In his comments, the Egyptian minister aimed to reassure the public about possible repercussions.

"To a great extent the impact could be under control" during the first year of the filling, Abdel-Ati said, adding that Egypt will opt to overcome the shortage from the Lake Nasser reservoir of the Aswan High Dam.

Egypt said that the countries had agreed that the dam should be filled through a staged-based process that would lead to filling over a period of six-seven years under normal conditions.

The deal requires Ethiopia to halt the filling of the dam during drought until conditions return to normal. "And they [the Ethiopians] had agreed on that," the minister said.

Cairo is concerned about drought times and low water levels, and does not mind Ethiopia accelerating the process of the filling during flood time, the minister said.

The agreement will also allow Ethiopia to generate 75 percent of targeted electricity through the giant dam during severe drought, according to Abdel-Ati.

The agreement "fulfilled the [demands] of all sides," he said, adding that Sudan had approved "every letter" of the deal throughout the course of negotiations, although it did not sign it in the end.

The minister predicted that the massive 6,000-megawatt hydropower project would generate only 30 percent of that capacity, citing Ethiopian scientists.

Responding to speculation that the US is favouring Egypt in the dispute, Abdel-Ati said the US Treasury had been "pressuring" both sides during negotiations over the past months to hammer out a resolution.

"We want development, agreement, integration between countries and prosperity for people. [We want] to eliminate poverty in Ethiopia and help them generate electricity," the minister said.

"We had very big hopes…all have been shattered. I don't know whose interest that is in.”

Ethiopia had accused the US of being "undiplomatic" about its efforts to resolve the row with Egypt, but said it is committed to engagement with Egypt and Sudan to address outstanding issues.

But the Egyptian minister said they have not specified when they will return to the negotiation table.

Egypt accused Addis Ababa of not attending the last round of talks in Washington last week to deliberately hinder the path of negotiations.

Ethiopia hopes the massive $4.8 billion mega-dam on the Blue Nile, which has been under construction since 2011 and is now 70 percent complete, will allow it to become Africa’s largest power exporter.

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

On Sunday, Egypt's Supreme Committee for Nile Water said it would remain in permanent session to discuss the latest developments on the GERD, following a meeting chaired by Prime Minister Mostafa Madbouly.


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