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Sudan says 'deeply' concerned about GERD filling without prior deal in letter to UN Security Council

Sudan urges UNSC to prevent any unilateral action concerning GERD

Ahmed Morsy , Thursday 25 Jun 2020
This satellite image taken Thursday, May 28, 2020, shows the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) on the Blue Nile river in the Benishangul-Gumuz region of Ethiopia (Photo:AP)

Sudan said in a letter to the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) on Wednesday that it is “deeply concerned” about Ethiopia’s decision to start filling its controversial dam on the Blue Nile without prior agreement with downstream countries Egypt and Sudan.

Egypt's southern neighbour urged the international body to "discourage" all parties from any “unilateral action."

In its three-page letter, which was seen by Ahram Online, Khartoum said the unilateral filling of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) will put the operation of the Sudanese Roseires dam, whose reservoir is located 15 km away from the Ethiopian dam, and the lives of millions of people living downstream at "a very high risk."

"Sudan is deeply concerned about Ethiopia's decision to start filling the GERD reservoir in the absence of an agreement," said the letter by Sudan’s Foreign Minister Asmaa Mohamed Abdallah.

Khartoum said that despite the potential positive impacts of the Ethiopian dam on Sudan, including increased hydropower generation and better management of the country’s irrigation system, the project can carry “substantial risks” without an agreement regulating its operation and filling.

Those negative impacts include threatening the operational safety of Sudanese dams and the flood-plain agricultural system of Khartoum as well as possible socioeconomic and environmental harms, it said.

Khartoum believes "there has to be an agreement in place with Ethiopia on how it intends to fill and operate GERD, otherwise the GERD stands to cause substantial risks to Sudan."

Sudan said the GERD "will completely change the flow regime of the Blue Nile" by flattening its hydrograph and with its gigantic size it "can poses substantial negative impacts on Sudan if not properly designed, constructed, filled and operated."

The GERD's negative impacts on Khartoum also encompass the operational safety of the Sudanese dams, one of which is the Roseires dam that is located only 100 km downstream the Ethiopian dam.

Such harmful impacts, Sudan says, would "threaten the lives and safety of millions of Sudanese citizens."

Sudan's letter to the UNSC came after Egypt sent a letter to the Security Council on 19 June requesting its intervention to resolve the dam dispute with Ethiopia.

Egypt's letter to the Security Council came after talks stalled last week and Addis Ababa declared it will go ahead with the filling of the dam in July, even without a deal.

Khartoum told the UNSC a draft agreement it submitted on 14 June to Egypt and Ethiopia has successfully brought divergent views closer. The agreement was based on the consensus reached during Washington talks - that stalled in mid-February - as well as the output of previous discussions throughout the past years.

Despite what Sudan sees as "significant" technical progress, it emphasised that divergence on some "fundamental legal issues" still persisted.

Egypt, however, stated that disagreements were not merely related to the legal terms but also included technical issues, including regulating the operation of the dam during drought and extended drought. Cairo blamed Ethiopia's "intransigent positions" for the collapse of the talks.

Khartoum proposed at the end of last week's negotiations the referral of pending legal issues to the prime ministers of the three countries to allow the negotiations to resume.

Egypt accepted the proposal but blamed Ethiopia for objecting against it leading to a deadlock.

Binding agreement

Among the legal disputed terms that Sudan mentioned in its letter is the "binding nature of the agreement", Ethiopia’s insistence to include water-sharing issues in the agreement, and a lack of a binding dispute resolution mechanism.

Khartoum called upon Cairo and Addis Ababa to adopt the draft agreement it proposed during talks earlier this month as a basis for finalising a deal. The agreement would regulate the filling and long-term operation of the GERD and adopt drought mitigation and safety measures.

Khartoum's proposed agreement "ensured that the agreement to be signed will be legally binding and cannot be amended or terminated without the agreement of all three parties."

However, Sudan's letter said Ethiopia proposed a document of "guidelines" that can be revised and in some cases terminated.

Ethiopia's insistence not to commit to a legally-binding agreement was previously highlighted by the Egyptian irrigation ministry which said Ethiopia insisted on drafting “guiding rules that [it] can unilaterally amend."

Sudan urged the UNSC to call upon the three countries to “demonstrate their political will and commitment by resolving the remaining issues and to conclude an agreement.”

"The draft is comprehensive, fair, and balanced and it paves the way for concluding a comprehensive and final deal," Sudan said describing its draft agreement, adding that with the political will and commitment from the parties "we can conclude this historic agreement."

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