Egypt should focus on ensuring maximum water security in GERD deal: Analysts

Mahmoud Aziz , Sunday 26 Jan 2020

On Sunday, Egypt's FM Sameh Shoukry travelled to Washington to participate in a final round of talks with the foreign and irrigation ministers of Sudan and Ethiopia over the GERD under US meditation

FILE PHOTO: Ethiopia's Grand Renaissance Dam is seen as it undergoes construction work on the river Nile in Guba Woreda, Benishangul Gumuz Region, Ethiopia September 26, 2019. REUTERS

Ahead of the upcoming round of talks in Washington to secure an agreement on the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD), which has stirred months of disputes and an impasse in negotiations between Cairo and Addis Ababa, water experts and analysts agree that Egypt should stick to its demands on maintaining the maximum possible level of water security.

The foreign and irrigation ministers from Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia will convene in Washington later this week for a final round of talks over the GERD under American meditation. 

The talks, slated for Tuesday and Wednesday, will be held in the presence of US Treasury and World Bank officials and aim to reach a consensus over the filling and operation of the $4 billion giant hydropower dam.

The meeting comes weeks after Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan reached a preliminary consensus in a round of talks held earlier this month in Washington ahead of a critical deadline to finalise an agreement on the disputed dam.

"It is not about reaching an agreement on the GERD's technical issues," Egypt's former minister of irrigation Mohamed Nasr Allam told Ahram  Online, asserting that it is more important to reach an agreement that guarantees the maximum possible level of water security for Egypt.

"It is certain that the American side, as a mediator, will put pressure and ask for compromises, but the main focus for Egypt should be to ensure the highest possible level of water security," Allam says.

"Egypt did not officially address the filling process of the GERD because we know it is a purely technical issue related to natural circumstances," Nasr said. 

The joint statement issued following the last round of meetings in Washington did not lay out the details of many major points like the GERD's water flow under different hydrological circumstances, nor cooperation between the three countries during drought periods, Allam says, adding that all these points will be agreed upon in the final round of negotiations.

The final round will also involve the article related to coordination, cooperation, follow-up and setting up a mechanism to resolve disputes legally and institutionally, Allam adds.

Egypt fears the 6,000-megawatt dam will significantly diminish its supply of Nile water, on which it almost entirely relies for freshwater. Ethiopia, meanwhile, says the project is key to its economic development and goal to be Africa's biggest power exporter.

Last week, Sudan's capital Khartoum hosted a consultative meeting of the technical and legal delegations from Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia on the GERD, where they determined some elements and key terms regarding a final agreement on the dam's operations, as well as the measures to be followed during times of drought so as not to harm Egypt's water quotas.

On the general course of negotiations, water expert Diaa Al-Qousy says it is hard to predict the results of the Washington meeting, as none of the involved countries has made official statements on specific issues, only general points and agreements.

The ministers of foreign affairs and water resources of Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan outlined six points in a statement, stressing that all points are subject to final agreement during upcoming meetings this week.

The ministers also agreed that there is a shared responsibility by the three countries in managing the effects of drought and prolonged drought.

"We just have to wait and see the results of the upcoming round of negotiations and the expected signing of an agreement," Al-Qousy told Ahram Online, adding that he expects that the talks on Tuesday and Wednesday will be decisive in the course of the GERD negotiations.   

Allam affirmed that the US involvement as a mediator reflects an international will and interest to contain possible crises in the region and maintain stability and security in general. 

However, if this week's talks do not yield real progress, the situation will be further compounded.

"The situation is expected to get more complicated and reach an unbearable new deadlock if the three countries fail to reach an agreement this time," Al-Qousy adds. However, he agrees that Egypt should stick to its professed demands, i.e. the gradual filling of the dam according to flood waves and maintaining its current share of 55.5 billion cubic metres of Nile water per year, all of which represent the corner stone of Egypt's water security in the long term.

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