Egypt hopes for 'win-win' outcome to Renaissance Dam dispute

Dina Ezzat , Wednesday 3 Sep 2014

Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry to visit the Ethiopian capital Thursday to confer with his counterpart and the prime minister of Ethiopia

This April 2, 2013, photo shows the construction of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam in Asosa Region, Ethiopia (Photo: AP)

“We don’t want anyone to suffer; we fully appreciate the development needs of our Ethiopian friends and we are genuinely hoping that they – for their turn – do appreciate our concern over water resources; we could work out a win-win formula if there is serious political will,” argued Mohamed Idris, Egypt’s ambassador to Ethiopia.

Idris spoke ahead of the anticipated visit of Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry to the Ethiopian capital tomorrow whereby the top Egyptian diplomat is expected to confer with his counterpart and the prime minister of Ethiopia.

Shoukry’s visit comes only a few days after a three-way meeting between Egypt, Ethiopia and North Sudan in Khartoum to discuss the developments and possible side-effects of the Renaissance Dam that Addis Ababa is constructing. Egypt has expressed concern that the dam will have a negative effect on its water share.

The Khartoum meeting, according to Egyptian sources, failed to deliver a breakthrough or change in Addis Ababa’s position on the construction of the dam. Egypt is concerned the dam suffers serious structural deficiencies that could cause it to eventually sustain cracks that will diminish its – already insufficient – share of Nile water.

Addis Ababa, however, in the Khartoum meeting agreed to an Egyptian demand to commission a team of experts to write a report on the design of the dam and ways to ensure that the build-up of the water reserve could be done without resulting in a major reduction in Egypt’s share.

The Ethiopian perspective on the outcome of the Khartoum meeting, as has been reflected in the statements of its press and diplomats, is that the Khartoum meeting resulted in the end of the Egyptian resistance to the construction of the dam, which is almost 30 percent done.

A source at the Egyptian irrigation ministry confirmed that this was “true but with a caveat that we are not forced to suffer serious harm for severe water shortage or to be faced with serious risks of a massive inundation should the dam crack.”

In Addis Ababa tomorrow, Shoukry will try to follow up on the conclusions of the Khartoum meeting.

Shoukry will stress options for cooperation. “We could reach a formula by which the Ethiopians could fill their reserves on a longer than the already suggested six-year term and with an eye to the volume of Nile flow which goes up and down,” said the irrigation ministry source.

Meanwhile, Egypt, according to informed diplomats, has been appealing to concerned world capitals – iincluding Rome where Shoukry attended talks earlier in the week – to provide technical support and diplomatic help to find a happy ending to the otherwise potentially explosive dispute.

“What we really want is cooperation not dispute with Ethiopia as with the other Nile basin countries,” said Idris. He added that high-level talks had so far reflected the potential for cooperation “and we should be seeing more high-level talks between Egypt and Ethiopia in the near future,” he added.

President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi and Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalgne had met earlier in the summer. The two could be meeting again later this month on the fringe of the UN General Assembly in New York.

In New York too, the delegations of the Nile basin countries might be holding a meeting to discuss the “entire issue of the Nile water shares” and the prospects to reach a comprehensive agreement by which upstream and downstream countries have sufficient shares – “without causing serious harm to one another”.

Tanzania is offering to host a meeting later this year on the same issue to help conclude an agreement that has proven to be hard-to-reach in view of the contradicting views of the upstream and downstream countries.

Ethiopia is the source of over 80 percent of Egypt’s annual share of water. It has managed to develop considerable international support for its wish to build a dam to help generate electricity.

It might be in the coming few months that it would, according to the source at the ministry of irrigation, start cutting down water to fill in the reserve of the dam under construction.

“We are committed to Egypt not suffering major harm but we are also committed to completing the construction of our dam,” said an Ethiopian diplomat. He added that it is not an option for Ethiopia to consider reducing the capacity of the dam.

The Ethiopian argument is that Egypt could do “a lot” to improve its use of water resources by advancing its irrigation methods, altering its agricultural choices and improving the efficiency of its water usage.

According to a government official, President El-Sisi, has already demanded a comprehensive study on the matter and the possible choices for Egypt to be more economic and efficient in managing its water resources as well as on its diplomatic and legal options to “defend Egypt’s water right.”

“The Renaissance Dam is a file that the president is giving utmost attention; he is well aware of what it could mean for Egypt,” said a presidential source.

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