Egypt accuses Ethiopia of buying time, evading legal responsibility to continue unilateral GERD filling

Ahram Online , Thursday 13 Apr 2023

Egypt has accused Ethiopia of attempting to "buy time" to continue filling the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam unilaterally without reaching a deal, while also emphasising that Addis Ababa’s continued claim of Egyptian "politicisation" of the GERD issue is an attempt to "evade legal responsibility."

File Photo: The Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam. AFP


“It is regrettable that Ethiopian officials continue to express their willingness and desire to resume negotiations under the auspices of the African Union (AU) in a new attempt to buy time and continue filling the dam without an agreement,” Egypt’s Deputy Foreign Minister for African Affairs Hamdy Loza said on Wednesday.

Egypt and Sudan have been negotiating for over a decade 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.

The two downstream countries have repeatedly affirmed that "Ethiopian intransigence" was behind the failure of the AU-sponsored GERD talks, which had been initiated in 2020’s summer and stalled in April 2021.

“The continuation of the negotiations for ten years without result is evidence of the Ethiopian intransigence,” a statement by the ministry quoted Ambassador Loza as saying.

Loza’s remarks came in response to the Ethiopian minister of state for foreign affairs’ recent claims that Egypt attempts to “politicise” the Nile River water file and the GERD issue, the statement read.

The ministry condemned the Ethiopian minister’s remarks by saying, “Ethiopia’s continued claim of Egypt’s politicisation of the GERD issue is an attempt to evade legal responsibility and reflects [Ethiopia’s] indifference to the principles of the international law and good neighbourliness.”

It is not the first time Ethiopia has made such claims. In 2021, the Ethiopian Foreign Minister claimed that Egypt and Sudan attempted to exert unnecessary pressure on Ethiopia through the “internationalisation and politicisation” of technical issues concerning the dam."

At the time, Egypt's Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry responded by saying: “If there is internationalisation, then it has happened with the consent of Ethiopia and the involvement of the African Union... Moreover, Ethiopia agreed and participated willingly in the [GERD] negotiations last year [in 2020] in Washington".

Ethiopian media quoted on Wednesday the Spokesperson of the Ethiopian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Meles Alem, as saying that Addis Ababa “has no obligation to request permission from anyone to fill the Renaissance Dam."

Alem added in a press conference that Ethiopia is committed to resolving the dam dispute with Egypt and Sudan under the auspices of the AU, rejecting Egypt’s attempts to “internationalise” the issue.

The spokesperson also claimed that GERD has not caused any harm to the two downstream countries, saying that Egypt and Sudan should have helped Ethiopia build the dam.

In response, Loza affirmed in the foreign ministry statement that Egypt’s concerns regarding GERD’s repercussions on Egyptian water security are “genuine and based on documented scientific studies”.

Ethiopia's remarks regarding its absolute freedom to continue the dam filling regardless of the downstream countries’ rights are “another evidence of unilateralism that goes beyond the scope of negotiation,” Loza said.

Despite the Egyptian and Sudanese concerns regarding the dam, Ethiopia has continued the unilateral filling of the dam’s 74-billion-cubic-metre reservoir over the past three years and is preparing for the fourth phase of filling the dam in July.

Ethiopia also started generating electricity from the dam in 2022 without reaching a deal with both countries.

During his speech at the UN 2023 Water Conference in March, Egypt’s Minister of irrigation and Water Resources Hani Sewilam said that the building of the dam has been ongoing “with no consultation and without conducting adequate studies on safety or its economic, social and environmental effects on the riparian countries."

Sewilam said Ethiopia has unilaterally begun the GERD’s building, filling and operating process.

“These unilateral, non-cooperative practices violate international law, including 2015’s Declaration of Principles and are not inconsistent with 2021’s Security Council presidential statement. Moreover, their continuation could pose an existential threat to 150 million citizens [of Egypt and Sudan]…and could have a disastrous effect,” Sewilam said.

Egypt, whose annual share of water has reached 500 m3 per person at a time when the United Nations defines water scarcity at 1,000 m3 of water per person per year, has repeatedly voiced concerns regarding the "existential threat" that the GERD poses to its people if a deal is not reached on the filling and operation of the dam.

More than 98 percent of Egypt’s renewable waters flow from the River Nile, 75 percent of which meet the nutritional needs of the 104.7 million Egyptians through agricultural production, Sewilam said.

Egypt has a water deficit of up to 55 per cent of its water needs, which is 120 billion cubic metres, according to Sewilam.

On Monday, Sewilam emphasised that the GERD places "significant pressure" on Egypt's water resources during a meeting held by the American Chamber of Commerce (AmCham) in Cairo titled "Water Management Strategy in Egypt".

However, he affirmed that discussions with Ethiopia regarding the dam and efforts to find ways to cooperate are still ongoing.

"Egypt continues to engage in negotiations and discussions with Ethiopia, presenting various proposals to address the issue and solutions to provide energy," Sewilam stressed.

Throughout the decade-long negotiations, Egypt proposed 15 different scenarios that guaranteed the GERD would continue to generate at least 80 percent of Ethiopia's electricity output, even during the worst droughts, but Addis Ababa rejected them all, former Egyptian irrigation and water resources Mohamed Abdel-Ati said in 2021.

In 2022, Abdel-Ati reiterated that Egypt supports development in Africa and is not against the construction of dams, including the GERD but “only seeks to reach a legally binding agreement on the Ethiopian dam.”

“Egypt is keen that the operation of the GERD is in accordance with international agreements,” the former Egyptian stressed.

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