Egypt, Sudan call on Ethiopia to actively engage in serious GERD talks to reach legally binding deal

Ahram Online , Wednesday 9 Mar 2022

Egypt and Sudan have called on Ethiopia to actively engage in serious talks on the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) under the auspices of the African Union (AU) to reach a legally-binding deal that meets the interests of the three countries.

This general view shows the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) in Guba, Ethiopia, on February 19, 2022. AFP

The two downstream countries made the remarks in a joint statement on Wednesday less than a month after Addis Ababa announced it was starting operation of the mega dam for power generation, a unilateral step that Egypt and Sudan labeled a “breach" of the Declaration of Principles (DoP) signed in 2015.

The two countries also accused Ethiopia of violating its obligations under the rules of international law. A few days after the announcement, Egypt delivered a letter to president of the UNSC Vassily Nebenzia to object to the step.

Egypt and Sudan have also condemned Ethiopia’s unilateral step of implementing the first two phases of filling the dam’s reservoir over the past two years without the consent of the two downstream countries.

‘Unilateral exploitation of international rivers’

Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry reiterated on Wednesday Egypt’s rejection of Ethiopia’s unilateral step to start the operation of the dam, accusing Ethiopia of “unilaterally exploiting international rivers.”

Shoukry made the remarks in a speech at the 157th ordinary session of the Arab League Council at the ministerial level in Cairo.

“These violations of Ethiopia’s obligations under international law come in light of a firmly-established Ethiopian policy that is based on the unilateral exploitation of international rivers,” Shoukry said.

The Egyptian FM added that this policy has caused severe damage to Ethiopia’s neighbors, including Somalia.

The Shabelle river, which originates in Ethiopia and flows into Somalia, had some sections grow dry over the past decade, with some reports blaming the reduction in water flow on dams built by Ethiopia.

In 2016, the Somali regional state of Ethiopia announced it was stopping the water flow into the Shabelle river, on which scores of Somalis depend for irrigation, for the irrigation of Ethiopian farmland.

In February, head of the Somali parliamentary delegation Saeed Mohamed Mahmoud affirmed Somalia’s support for Egypt’s stance on the GERD as he partook in the 32nd Conference of the Arab Inter-Parliamentary Union in Cairo.

During Cairo Water Week in October last year, Somalia called for Egypt’s support for Somali efforts to build rainwater harvesting dams and to develop Somali irrigation systems.

During his speech on Wednesday, Shoukry called for Arab nations and international partners to continue their efforts to urge Ethiopia to fulfill its commitments and show a spirit of cooperation.

“This should lead to reaching, without delay, a legal, binding and fair agreement on the rules for filling and operating the GERD in line with the presidential statement issued by the Security Council in September 2021,” Shoukry said.

In remarks in March, Egypt’s Minister of Water Resources and Irrigation Mohamed Abdel-Ati warned against the unilateral operation of the mega dam, saying this would disrupt the water management system in both Egypt and Sudan and harm the two downstream countries.

The minister also highlighted the necessity of full coordination on the filling and operation of mega-dams that lie on transboundary rivers, saying achieving cooperation on GERD requires the presence of a political will and seriousness from the Ethiopian side to reach an agreement on filling and operating the dam.

Egypt and Sudan have frequently highlighted the necessity for a legally-binding agreement to be reached with Ethiopia on the filling and operation of the dam, a demand that Ethiopia has repeatedly dismissed.

Egypt, which mainly relies on the Nile for its water needs, fears that the unilateral and quick filling and operation of the GERD would have a negative impact on the country's water supply. Meanwhile, Sudan is concerned about regulating water flows to safeguard its own dams.

Rounds of African Union-sponsored talks on the GERD, the last of which was in DR Congo’s capital of Kinshasa last April, have collapsed several times over the past years, with the two countries blaming the failure on Ethiopia’s “intransigence”.

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