File photo of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) (photo: AFP)
Saudi Arabia’s Asharq News said on Wednesday that Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia's foreign ministers would meet next week in Abu Dhabi to discuss the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD), according to an unnamed source.
This would be the first meeting held between the three countries to discuss the GERD dispute since January 2021, after talks sponsored by the African Union (AU) failed to reach a consensus.
Egypt and Sudan have repeatedly demanded that Ethiopia not start the second filling of the GERD’s reservoir until a legally binding agreement over the dam’s operation and filling is signed.
However, Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed announced on Tuesday before parliament that his country would go on with the second filing of the GERD, which is aimed at collecting around 18.4 bcm of Blue Nile water, up from the 4.9 bcm secured during the first filling last year.
Sudan has suggested an international quartet made up of the AU, the United Nations, the European Union and the United States mediate the talks.
Egypt has endorsed the Sudanese proposal, but Ethiopia has rejected it, maintaining that it would stick to the AU-mediated talks.
The AU-sponsored GERD talks, which reached a deadlock in January, had already included the US and the EU as observers. The Sudanese proposal aimed at introducing the UN to the talks and turning the four parties into mediators, rather than mere observers.
Earlier in 2019, the US, with the World Bank acting as an observer, stepped in to host the negotiations after Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia announced that their talks had reached a dead end.
Though the three sides agreed during these talks to entrust the US and the World Bank with the preparation of a draft agreement, Ethiopia skipped the signing meeting in February 2020, citing "domestic reasons."
Egypt’s 100 million-plus population relies on the River Nile for more than 95 percent of its renewable water resources. The country fears that the massive $4.8 billion hydropower project will significantly diminish its crucial water supply, which is already below scarcity level.
Sudan fears the GERD would put the operation of its Roseires dam and the lives of Sudanese citizens – 20 million Sudanese rely on the Blue Nile – at "a very high risk" if an agreement regulating its operation and filling is not reached before the second filling.