Ethiopia's PM calls on Egypt, Sudan to back GERD's 'narrative towards peace, cooperation' without harming interests

Ahram Online , Thursday 20 Jan 2022

Amid the suspension of African Union-sponsored negotiations for the past nine months due to Ethiopian intransigence, Ethiopia’s Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed called Thursday on Egypt and Sudan to “nurture” the “narrative towards building peace, cooperation, and mutual coexistence” of the disputed Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) without harming the interests of one another.

abiy ahmed
Abiy Ahmed

In an official statement published on Twitter, Ahmed said GERD was constructed “through the earnest contribution of all citizens of Ethiopia,” claiming that it holds “multiple benefits” for Egypt, Sudan and the East African region at large. 

He stressed his country’s intention to construct the dam to allow regular electricity generation throughout the year, adding that the dam does not consume water and allows it to flow to downstream countries uninterrupted. 

“The benefits for downstream countries are often untold,” Ahmed claimed, adding that the dam would provide Sudan with protection from floods and water shortages during drought and dry periods. 

He alleged the GERD will help Sudanese water infrastructure to be operated optimally as the water flow would be regulated. 

“Egypt also benefits from water conservation at the GERD, instead of wastage of billions of cubic metres of water to evaporation and in downstream flood plains. The GERD also helps to prevent future spillage that overtops the Aswan Dam,” he claimed. 

Ahmed stressed that despite the perceived negative impacts during negotiations on the dam, “positive attributes rather outweigh the opposing rhetoric and downplay the potential for cooperation to mitigate negative factors, if such factors exist.”

It is unclear if Abiy’s statement is an invitation to revive African Union- (AU) sponsored talks in Kinshasa with Egypt and Sudan, which reached deadlock in April 2021 owing to Addis Ababa’s “intransigence”, according to the two downstream countries.

Egypt and Sudan have been negotiating for almost a decade now with Ethiopia to reach a legally binding and comprehensive deal on the GERD’s construction, which Addis Ababa started to build on the Blue Nile in 2011.

Despite warnings from Egypt and Sudan about any unilateral steps regarding GERD before an agreement is reached, Ethiopia unilaterally implemented the first phase filling in 2019, and the second phase of filling in July 2021 without the two countries’ consent.

Ethiopia disclosed plans earlier this month to remove 17,000 hectares (40,000 acres) of forest around the dam as part of engineering works for the third filling of the dam’s reservoir, saying it will complete the work within two months. 

Satellite pictures, however, show no sign that construction work in preparation for the third filling or for generating electricity has started. 

The deadlocked talks last year later led to a diplomacy war between Egypt and Ethiopia, extending to the UN Security Council that adopted in September a draft presidential statement calling on the three countries to resume negotiations under the auspices of the AU.

Egypt and Sudan welcomed the UNSC decision, while Ethiopia said it will not recognise any claim that may be raised on the basis of this statement.

Cairo insists on a legally-binding agreement on the filling and operation of the mega dam.

Earlier this month, Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi said at the World Youth Forum that Egypt is keen to reach "a comprehensive legally-binding agreement" on the filling and operation of the GERD which would take into consideration Egypt’s concerns.

He stressed that the crisis should be resolved with dialogue.

Egypt has reiterated that it does not oppose Ethiopia's development goals that depend on its Blue Nile Dam, but without harming the interests of Egypt and Sudan.

Earlier this week, Prime Minister Mostafa Madbouly commented on the GERD dispute, saying Egypt has called for dialogue to resolve the crisis.

"Egypt has always affirmed that we are not against any development in any of the Nile Basin countries and informed the Ethiopian side that we are keen to partake in establishing this dam," Madbouly told BBC Arabic in an exclusive interview. 

Egypt, which is considered one of the most water-scarce countries in the world, receives around 60 bcm annually – mainly from the Nile – while its needs stand at around 114 bcm, placing the over 100-million country well below the international threshold for water scarcity, at 560 cubic metres per person annually.

In previous statements by Egyptian Minister of Irrigation and Water Resources Mohamed Abdel-Ati, he explained the large gap in water resources in Egypt is overcome by importing 54 percent of its virtual water, which is the embedded water required to produce commodities, and reusing 42 percent of its renewable water.

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