Ethiopia must halt unilateral dam filling: Arab leaders

Amr Kandil , Saturday 20 May 2023

Arab leaders at the 32nd Arab Summit held in Jeddah on Friday called on Ethiopia to refrain from the unilateral filling and operation of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD), which would harm the water interests of Egypt and Sudan.

A general view of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) in Guba, Ethiopia. AFP


The Arab leaders stressed the importance of negotiating in good faith in order for the three countries to urgently reach a fair and balanced legally binding agreement on the filling and operation of the Ethiopian dam, according to a statement issued at the end of their summit.

Such an agreement should ensure the joint interests of the three countries, including the water rights of Egypt and Sudan, the Arab leaders said.

They expressed appreciation for the African Union-led negotiation process, but voiced serious concerns over the lack of progress due to Ethiopia’s intransigence.

The Arab leaders called for the UN Security Council to shoulder its responsibilities in taking the required measures to reach a peaceful settlement to the GERD issue. This includes implementing the Security Council’s 2021 presidential statement encouraging Ethiopia, Sudan and Egypt to restart the AU-led negotiations “to finalize expeditiously a mutually acceptable and binding agreement on the filling and operation of the GERD.”

The leaders emphasized the imperative for all three countries to adhere to the principles of international law. These include rules prohibiting harm to the water usage of countries sharing transboundary rivers; the promotion of equitable and reasonable use of international waterways; and an emphasis on cooperation, prior consultation and notification among the nations involved.

The Jeddah summit called for the Arab members of the Security Council and the Arab League’s committee on the isssue formed in 2020 to follow up on developments on the issue and coordinate with the Security Council to enhance their efforts. It also emphasized the importance of maintaining strong coordination with Sudan and Egypt to take necessary actions in the future.

In March, Egypt’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Sameh Shoukry – in his role as the head of the Arab League Council’s meeting for Arab foreign ministers – approved a decision to place the issue of the Ethiopian dam as a permanent topic on the Arab League Council agenda.

Both Egypt and Sudan have repeatedly called for Ethiopia to sign a legally binding agreement on GERD in order to ensure the two downstream countries’ water rights and interests.

However, Ethiopia has continued the unilateral filling and operation of its megadam despite the two countries’ concerns and objections.

Egypt has argued that the dam is an existential issue that affects the lives of millions of Egyptians and Sudanese, highlighting the necessity of resolving the GERD dispute to preserve regional stability.

Egypt has resorted to the UN Security Council three times over the past three years, as Ethiopia has been filling the dam since 2020.

However, Shoukry said earlier in May that Egypt has no intention of taking the GERD issue to the Security Council again, as Ethiopia gears up for the fourth filling of the dam’s 74-billion-cubic-metre reservoir this summer.

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