Egypt is not against the filling of Ethiopia's giant hydropower dam on the Blue Nile, but rather opposes Addis Ababa's insistence on sticking to a fixed timeframe for completing the process, the spokesman for Egypt's Irrigation Ministry said.
In an interview over phone with Sada El-Balad TV channel late Saturday, Mohamed Ghanim said Ethiopia insists on filling the reservoir of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam over a certain number of years – whether 3 or 5 years – but Egypt wants the process to be flexible according to the hydrology of the river.
"It is possible that the years of the filling, regardless of their number, fall on the time of drought. Thus, this will prevent the water flow to Egypt," he pointed out.
The spokesman stressed that Egypt will not relinquish its historic rights to the Nile River, and it has been negotiating to reach a legally binding deal on the rules of filling and operating the dam.
Some 85 percent of the Nile waters that reach Egypt flow from Ethiopian highlands, mainly from the Blue Nile, one of the Nile’s two main tributaries. Under two water treaties dating back to 1902 and 1929, Egypt's share of the Nile stands at 55.5 billion cubic metres.
Ethiopia has been trying to impose the idea of sharing the Nile waters on the agenda of the decade-long negotiations, a matter that Egypt and Sudan, whose share stands at 18.5 billion cubic metres, reject.
Egypt and Sudan have rejected a proposal by Ethiopia to “nominate focal dam operators to exchange data between the three countries with regards to the second filling of the dam, scheduled to take place in July and August 2021.
"Any attempts to come up with formulas, like exchanging data on the second filling, only aim to provide a political and technical umbrella to impose a fait accompli on us, a matter that Egypt does not accept," Ghanim said. "The exchange of data should take place only after reaching an agreement, not before, he stressed.
Sudan has also rejected Ethiopia's call for sharing data on the dam.
“Any exchange of data without a legally binding deal is deemed a [work] of charity from Ethiopia that can be suspended anytime it wishes,” said Sudan's Foreign Minister Mariam Al-Sadiq, stressing the gravity of the issue on Khartoum’s agricultural projects and strategic plans.
Despite objections of Egypt and Sudan for commencing the second filling of GERD in the absence of a legally binding deal, Ethiopia repeatedly announces its intention to start the process in upcoming rainy seasons with or without a deal.
Ghanim believes that Addis Ababa seeks to waste more time so as to complete the second filling without a deal, adding that Egypt with its all institutions knows what should be done and the appropriate time to take its decision.
Addis Ababa aims to fill the reservoir by 18.4 billion cubic metres of water, up from the nearly 4 billion secured during the first filling last year, which Ethiopia said it was done in accordance to the 2015 Declaration of Principles.
Ghanim refuted such Ethiopian allegations, saying that the Declaration of Principles requires reaching a legally binding agreement before the start of filling the dam. "The first filling was done without even notifying the downstream countries," he said.
Since last week’s stalemate in the African Union-sponsored talks on GERD, which aimed to revive the already stalled negotiations since January, tensions have mounted over the decade-old dispute with both Egypt and Sudan blaming Ethiopia’s "intransigence."
The spokesman blamed the "Ethiopian intransigence" for the collapse of last week's Kinshasa-hosted talks, and for the failure of the negotiations over the last 10 years.
Ghanim explained that Egypt showed flexibility in order to reach a legally binding agreement with the Ethiopians, but they had no political will.
"Egypt has proposed 15 scenarios to resolve the crisis and reach a deal, but due to the Ethiopia's intransigence, they were all rejected," he added. "If there were good intentions, a deal would have been signed in two hours."
Egypt and Sudan are seeking a legally binding agreement for filling and operating the near-complete GERD, rather than the “guidelines” which Ethiopia is seeking.
Egypt's Minister of Irrigation Mohamed Abdel-Ati said in statements on Saturday that it is good for Ethiopia to reach an agreement on the dam, otherwise a problem would arise. "The problem would not affect one party, but rather all," he said.
Egypt’s 100 million-plus population relies on the River Nile for more than 95 percent of its renewable water resources. It fears the massive $4.8 billion hydropower project will significantly diminish its supply.
Egypt 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, according to a formal complaint Egypt filed with the UN Security Council over Ethiopia’s controversial dam in 2020.
The country releases 55.5 billion cubic metres of water annually from its High Aswan Dam, while it needs over 80 billion cubic metres. It bridges the gap by water recycling and reuse.
During Saturday's interview, Abdel-Ati highlighted the recycling water projects the country have been working on over the past years to tackle the water problem, besides the negotiations over the GERD, underscoring that the Egyptian state nor the Egyptian citizens will never allow a water crisis to spark in Egypt.