A machine digs a ditch at the Grand Renaissance dam in Guba Woreda, Benishangul Gumuz region (Photo: Reuters)
Egypt for the first time will host a new round of talks over Ethiopia's Grand Renaissance Dam, despite its complaints that the dam will affect its share of Nile water.
In the meeting on Thursday – expected to be attended by irrigation and water resource ministers from Sudan, Egypt and Ethiopia along with 12 experts – the three countries will pick a consultancy firm of experts to produce new studies on the dam's impact.
But experts say this week's round of talks will not offer much progress to the standoff between the three countries, as another expert committee has already offered studies "which Ethiopia did not abide to" and continued building the dam.
In an interview with UK-UAE news channel Sky News Arabia, Ethiopian President Mulatu Teshome said that 40 percent of the dam has been completed.
He added that the first stage of the dam will be operational from June 2015 and will produce 700 megawatts (MW) of electricity. The dam's eventual power generation capacity will be 6,000 MW, making it the largest hydroelectric dam in Africa upon completion.
The project has been a source of concern for the Egyptian government since May 2013, when images of the dam's construction stirred public anxiety about the possible effect on Egypt's potable water supply.
However, Ethiopia maintains that Egypt's water share will not be negatively affected by the successful completion of the project, which is being built on a tributary of the Blue Nile.
Adis Ababa hosted the previous round of talks in September in which the three countries discussed seven points concerning the dam that Egypt's President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi had previously discussed with Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn during a meeting in late June.
The latest consultancy firm should finish its studies within five months of its appointment, which should be before March 2015, Khaled Wassef, spokesman for Egypt's minister of water resources and irrigation, told Ahram Online.
Wassef also explained that each country will propose three international consultancy firms, with one chosen during the meeting in Cairo.
Nader Nour El-Din, a professor of water resources at Cairo University, told Ahram Online that Ethiopia is continuing with the dam project without taking into consideration any research or studies on the dam's impact.
"I don't see the importance of these tripartite meetings as Ethiopia is building the dam without taking into consideration any of the studies," said Nour El-Din, adding that the firms and advisory committees are not binding to Ethiopian officials.
This was echoed by Mohamed Salman, an expert in the matter who is close to the ongoing negotiations.
"In May 2013, an international expert committee formed of experts from Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia, and others from France, Germany and USA, said that Ethiopia's studies on the dam's impact were very basic and that they needed more details. However, Ethiopia turned a blind eye to this international report and went on with constructing the dam," explained Salman.
He added that the real issue is that Egypt thinks there might be a solution to the stand-off.
Nevertheless, a spokesperson for Egypt's irrigation ministry said the Ethiopian government should take into consideration any studies, "or else why would Ethiopia be part of the negotiations and why would it agree from the first place on choosing a consultancy firm?"
Other than the potential threat to Egypt's share of Nile water, Egyptian experts are also concerned about the possibility of a dam collapse, which could have catastrophic consequences for water reaching Egypt.
Egyptian officials have stressed in recent months that relations with Ethiopia have started to improve.
The exact impact of the dam on downstream countries is unknown. Egypt fears a drop in water supply due to the long duration of refueling, with a projected volume of 74 billion cubic meters.
The idea of a great Ethiopian dam dates back to the years 1956-1964, but it was not until 2009 that the Ethiopian government began work on the project.
The plans were approved in November 2010 and the Ethiopian government officially announced the project at the end of March 2011.