Egypt, Sudan, and Ethiopia should agree on a time frame to reach a deal on the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD), Regional Spokesman for the US State Department Samuel Werberg said.
During a phone-in with Sada El-Balad satellite channel on Tuesday night, Werberg pointed out that the three parties should avoid taking unilateral measures until they reach an agreement on GERD.
Throughout the decade-long negotiations over GERD, the two downstream countries Egypt and Sudan have been seeking a legally binding deal on the filling and operation of the GERD to no avail due to Ethiopia’s “intransigence.”
Ethiopia has been evading a legal deal, preferring instead a set of “guidelines” that can be modified any time at its discretion. It has also opposed international mediation, led by the African Union (AU) and including the US, EU, and UN, which was proposed by the two downstream countries to facilitate negotiations and bring the views closer.
Werberg indicated that the US recognises the importance of the Nile water for Egypt and Sudan, stressing it is necessary for the three countries to reach a deal. He added that the UN Security Council believes that the AU is the most appropriate entity to deal with the dam crisis.
The two downstream countries have expressed concerns about their water rights and people’s lives, especially in times of drought, in case the GERD was filled without a binding deal, and have earlier accused Addis Ababa of attempting to prolong the negotiations to impose a fait accompli.
Egypt, which relies on the world’s longest River Nile for more than 95 percent of its renewable water resources, fears that the unilateral filling and operation of the massive hydropower project will significantly diminish its water supply, which at 560 m3 per person annually is already well below the international threshold for water scarcity.
Unlike Ethiopia, whose annual floods is estimated around 900 billion cubic metres (bcm) and has around nine major rivers, Egypt is considered one of the most water-scarce countries in the world, as it receives around 60 bcm annually — mainly from the River Nile — though its needs stand at around 114 bcm.
“The US is ready to provide assistance in order to restore the course of negotiations, and supports the continuation of [GERD] negotiations between the three countries to resolve the crisis,” Werberg said, adding that the US will engage in dialogue with the three countries to resume negotiations.
The year-long rounds of AU-sponsored GERD negotiations to reach an agreement have failed. The latest $4.8 billion Ethiopian hydropower project’s session of talks — which was sponsored by the AU and aimed to revive the already stalled negotiations since January — was held in the AU’s chair country, the DR Congo, in April but failed to stir the stagnant water.
A week ago, the UN Security Council held a session on the GERD at the request of Egypt and Sudan in an attempt to settle the dispute over the near-complete dam that Ethiopia has been building since 2011 on the Blue Nile.
Three days before the session, Ethiopia had already commenced its second-year filling of the GERD, which both downstream countries condemned, with Cairo describing it as a "blatant and dangerous" violation of international laws as well as the Declaration of Principles signed in 2015.