The GERD (Photo: Reuters)
Egypt, Ethiopia, and Khartoum have shown "consensus" regarding filling the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam’s (GERD) reservoir “over a period of up to seven years,” according to Sudan’s Irrigation Minister Yasser Abbas.
This signals a breakthrough in the talks over the hydroelectric dam, which has generated much tension between Egypt and Ethiopia over the past few years.
According to local Sudanese media outlets, Sudan’s Minister Abbas said the talks in Addis Ababa held on 15-16 November made progress on six issues that were put on the table in the most recent GERD meeting in Khartoum last October, which had ended in stalemate.
Abbas added that the negotiations addressed “permanent operations of the dam and its effect on the dam systems in Egypt and Sudan.”
The Addis Ababa meeting is one of four rounds of talks being held in accordance with an agreement reached in a US-brokered meeting between the three parties in Washington earlier this month.
According to the Washington agreement, Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan are to hold a series of urgent trilateral meetings to break the deadlock in the GERD negotiations with the participation of representatives from the US and the World Bank.
These urgent meetings aim at reaching an agreement between the three countries - on operating the dam and filling its reservoir - by 15 January 2020.
Egypt has not provided details on the outcomes of Friday and Saturday’s meetings, maintaining in a statement hours after the conclusion of the talks that they involved technical discussions on the rules of filling and operating the GERD, as well as how to deal with cases of drought or prolonged drought that might occur in the future.
"Our trilateral meeting on GERD filling and operation ended 16th Nov 2019 evening. It progressed well, surmounting previous obstacles. We have organized our agreeable and yet to be resolved issues of the three countries in one document, signed minutes, and communicated jointly," Seleshi Bekele, Ethiopia’s minister of water, Irrigation and energy tweeted on Sunday.
An Ethiopian source with knowledge on the matter told Ahram Online that “no specific agreement” has been reached yet on filling the dam, though he described the talks as “productive.”
He did say, however, that the parties have identified points of agreement and disagreement for future consultations.
Representatives from the three countries are set to meet on 2-3 December in Cairo to continue technical talks over outstanding matters.
The timeframe for filling the dam has been among the major obstacles in past tripartite talks, often causing negotiations to break down.
Egypt has proposed a seven-year timeframe, which would keep water levels in the country's Aswan High Dam above 165 metres.
Egypt also wants guarantees from Ethiopia of an annual flow of a minimum of 40 billion cubic metres, a suggestion which Ethiopia says does not respect its sovereignty nor its right to develop its resources.
Addis Ababa wants an annual flow of 31 million cubic metres, while Sudan suggests 35 billion cubic metres, according to a statement issued last week by the Sudanese irrigation ministry.
Ethiopia hopes that the $4.8 billion GERD project on the Blue Nile, which started in 2011, will pave the way for its economic development and allow it to become Africa’s biggest power exporter.
Egypt, however, fears that the Ethiopian dam, which is 70 percent complete and set to be fully operational by 2022, will diminish its share of Nile water, on which the country depends for 85 percent of its water resources.