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 (Photo: Reuters)
Egypt said on Friday it has lodged a formal complaint with the UN Security Council over Ethiopia’s controversial dam on the Blue Nile after Addis Ababa said it would go ahead and start filling the dam’s reservoir even without a deal.
The latest round of talks over the giant $4.8 billion hydropower project, which also involved Sudan, stalled this week after Ethiopia rejected to enter into a binding agreement on its operation.
Egypt has asked the Security Council to “intervene to affirm the importance of the three countries resuming the negotiations with goodwill…to reach a fair and balanced solution” over the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD), the foreign ministry said in a statement late on Friday.
It said the move came after the recent talks have been halted “as a result of Ethiopian stances that are not positive.”
Egypt, which is almost entirely reliant on the Nile for agriculture and drinking water, fears the filling of the dam will significantly cut the river’s flow, while Ethiopia says the project is key to its development efforts.
The announcement came just hours after Ethiopian Foreign Minister Gedu Andargachew said it was “not mandatory to reach an agreement” before starting filling the dam, confirming that Addis Ababa would “commence the filling process in the coming rainy season.”
“We are working hard to reach a deal, but still we will go ahead with our schedule whatever the outcome is,” he said in an interview with the Associated Press.
The senior Ethiopian diplomat accused Egypt of playing a “political gamble” and seeking to control the river.
In response, Egypt’s Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry said he “regrets” Ethiopia’s “hostile and aggressive” tone, while stressing that Cairo is always “seeking political solutions, negotiations and middle grounds.”
Shoukry, in TV comments, urged the Security Council to “act promptly” to stave off tension between the two countries that would threaten international peace and security.
In its letter to the UN Security Council -- a copy of which was seen by Ahram Online -- Cairo said moving forward with the filling “would represent an alarming attempt by Ethiopia to establish and exercise unfettered control over the transboundary river.”
It requested to take part in the UN body's meeting that would discuss the matter.
The flaring tensions come weeks ahead of Addis Ababa's plans to start filling the reservoir of what is set to be Africa's largest dam in July.
Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan resumed talks on 9 June via video conference after more than three months of deadlock, but the renewed negotiations failed to strike a deal.
Sudan then requested the matter be referred to the prime ministers of the three countries to restart the talks and solve the impasse, a proposal Egypt said had been rejected by Ethiopia.
Major contentious points include agreeing on the amount of water that will be released downstream from the dam during prolonged periods of dry years and drought.
Khartoum has repeatedly stressed a deal between the three nations should be signed before the start of the filling of the dam. It said it would be significantly affected by the project, located around 15 kilometers from the Sudanese borders, as it fears it could endanger its own dams.
The United States intervened late last year to broker a deal, but Ethiopia skipped a meeting in February that was due to result in a final accord, and accused Washington of siding with Egypt. Imperil
The US National Security Council said this week that “257 million people in east Africa are relying on Ethiopia to show strong leadership, which means striking a fair deal.”
Last month, Egypt sent a letter to the Security Council to inform it about the developments of the years-long diplomatic spat, but had stopped short of demanding an intervention. Both Sudan and Ethiopia sent similar letters to the UN body.
Some 85 percent of the Nile waters that reach Egypt flow from Ethiopian highlands, mainly from the Blue Nile, one of the Nile’s two main tributaries.
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.
The country 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.