Ethiopia's Grand Renaissance Dam powerhouse is seen as it undergoes construction work on the river Nile in Guba Woreda, Benishangul Gumuz Region, Ethiopia (Reuters)
Egypt and Sudan have refused an agreement proposed by Ethiopia on its controversial giant hydropower dam on the Blue Nile, sources told Ahram Online, citing a letter Egypt sent last week to the United Nations Security Council.
Ethiopia has dismissed a deal crafted by the US on the filling and operation of its $4.8 billion Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) in late February, which was only initialed by Egypt.
Instead, Addis Ababa drafted its own proposal which it sent to Egypt and Sudan last month.
Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed sent a letter to Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi and Sudan’s Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok on 10 April proposing a “partial agreement” that would only cover the first stage of the filling, according to the letter Egypt sent to the Security Council President Sven Jürgenson dated 1 May.
The Ethiopian proposal was rejected by both countries, it said.
El-Sisi replied in a message five days later to reiterate Egypt’s “unwavering commitment to concluding a mutually beneficial agreement on the GERD,” and Sudan sent a similar letter to the Ethiopian leader on the same day.
In its 17-page letter, Egypt said that any agreement on the GERD must be comprehensive and "must regulate the complete process of filling the dam and its operation," the sources said.
Ethiopia hopes the massive 6,000-megawatt dam it is building some 20 kilometres from its border with Sudan will allow it to become Africa’s largest power exporter.
But Egypt, which depends on the Nile for almost 98 percent of its freshwater, fears the project will cut its already scarce supplies.
According to one source, the Egyptian letter blamed Ethiopia for trying to establish a "fait accompli" and exercise "unfettered control over the Blue Nile" without taking into account the interests of downstream countries.
Ethiopia says it will begin the initial filling of the dam in July, before an agreement is reached with downstream countries Egypt and Sudan, though under a deal signed between the three nations in 2015 they should reach an agreement on the guidelines governing the filling and annual operation of the dam.
Egypt urged the Security Council member countries to “call on Ethiopia to respect its international obligations” and “not to undertake any unilateral measures” including the filling of the giant dam, now about 70% complete.
It called on the international community to "encourage Ethiopia to reconsider its position" and accept the deal drafted by the US Treasury Department and the World Bank after more than four months of negotiations in Washington to end the years-long dispute.
During the Washington talks earlier this year, the three nations initially agreed on mitigation mechanisms to adjust the filling and operation of the dam during dry periods and drought. Ethiopia later backtracked, though the measures ensure the dam would generate power at a minimum of 80 percent of its capacity in all conditions, including during severe drought, Egypt said.
Some 85 percent of the Nile waters that reach Egypt flow from Ethiopian highlands, mainly from the Blue Nile.
Egypt says it currently has a water share of around 570 cubic metres per person annually, well below the water scarcity level of 1,000 cubic metres per person per year. The figure is expected to drop further to 500 cubic metres by 2025.
Egypt releases 55.5 billion cubic metres of water annually from its High Aswan Dam, while it needs over 80 billion cubic metres. It bridges the gap by water recycling and reuse.
Egypt said the impact of the project could be catastrophic.
“Millions of jobs would be lost, thousands of hectares of arable land would disappear, cultivated land would experience increased salinisation, the cost of food imports would increase dramatically, and urbanization would sky-rocket," the sources quoted the letter as saying.