Egypt's foreign minister warns unilateralism in GERD dispute will heighten tensions

Menna Alaa El-Din , Tuesday 30 Jun 2020

Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry (Photo courtesy of the Egyptian Ministry of Foreign Affairs official Facebook page)

A unilateral filling and operation of the deadlocked Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) without an agreement would heighten tensions and stir crises and conflicts in an ‘already troubled region’, foreign minister Sameh Shoukry said during a speech in front of an open session by the UN Security Council on the dam.

“If the GERD is filled and operated unilaterally, in the absence of a mutually beneficial agreement that protects the lives and livelihood of downstream communities, it can place further stress on an already severely strained hydrological reality and endanger millions of people in both Egypt and Sudan,” Shoukry said.

The Egyptian foreign minister’s statements came days after Ethiopia remained adamant on filling the dam in July, despite statements by Egypt and Sudan late Friday following an AU brokered meeting that Addis Ababa will delay the filling of GERD, signaling a breakthrough in stalled talks over the dam.

The AU brokered meeting came few weeks after the latest round of talks, brokered by Sudan, collapsed as Ethiopia refused to enter into a binding agreement. Addis Ababa insisted it will begin filling the dam in July with or without agreement with the two downstream countries.

The growing conflict has led to a diplomatic war of words between Cairo and Addis Ababa in the past months that saw the two countries sending memos and letters to the UN Security Council over GERD developments.

Shoukry said a unilateral filling of the dam would further put strain on Egypt which has an annual share of water is no more than 560 cubic meters per person, placing the over populous country well below the international threshold of water scarcity.

On the other hand, Ethiopia ‘have been endowed by divine providence with plentiful water resources’, which include an average annual rainfall of almost 936 billion cubic meters of water, of which a mere 5 percent flow into the Blue Nile and eleven other river basins in which some are shared with neighboring countries, Shoukry said.

He stressed an unwavering commitment to support African nations, especially in the Nile Basin and including Ethiopia in efforts towards greater prosperity, adding that Cairo has cooperated with every Nile Basin state in constructing dams and other projects.

“This reflects our unshakable belief in our common destiny as Africans, and confirms our conviction that the Nile River is not the exclusive property of Egypt or of any riparian state, but the common heritage and sacred trust of all our peoples,” he said.

He affirmed Egypt’s commitment to negotiations on the dam for almost a decade in an aim to reach a fair and just agreement that guarantees that Addis Ababa achieves its developmental objectives while minimizing effects of the dam on Egypt and Sudan.

He detailed main milestones of negotiations throughout the years since Ethiopia ‘unilaterally’ began the construction of the dam, including many trilateral and bilateral summit meetings between the leaders of the three countries and relevant bodies.

All of such efforts came to naught, he said, pushing the countries to agree on 2015’s Declaration of Principles on GERD to ‘overcome hurdles facing negotiations’, with the DoP intended to provide greater political impetus and guidance to the discussions and setting legal obligations upon Ethiopia on studies related to the dam.

The DoP has also reaffirmed Addis Ababa’s political commitment and legal obligation not to fill the dam without an agreement with its two downstream co-riparians, he said.

He said the process of undertaking the studies on the effects and impacts of the dam by a contracted international consultancy firm was ‘obstructed’ and never completed, adding that there are no “unassailable guarantees regarding the safety and structural soundness of the GERD.”

“This means that, in the absence of sufficient scientific data, communities downstream of this great structure, appear condemned to live in the dark shadow of a great unknown,” he said.

Shoukry said that if GERD experienced structural failures or faults, Egypt and Sudan would be placed under ‘unthinkable hazards’ and under ‘unimaginable peril”, respectively.

“It is also deeply disheartening that, throughout the winding path of these negotiations on the GERD, Egypt has been subjected to an unjustifiable campaign of unfounded claims that we sought to bind other parties to agreements from the dark era of colonialism,” he said.

He stressed that Ethiopia have committed during an extraordinary meeting by the AU its commitment not to take any unilateral measures to begin the filling of the GERD before an agreement is reached.

“Any other understanding or interpretation of this commitment would reflect the lack of political will to reach an agreement on the GERD and reveal an underlying intention to impose an unacceptable fait accompli on downstream states and enforce the unilateral will of an upstream state on its co-riparians, and turn any talks into an exercise in futility,” he said.

He called upon the “Security Council to encourage the parties to negotiate in good faith to reach an agreement on the GERD, and to refrain from any unilateral measures until such an agreement is concluded.

He stressed that the UNSC should ‘remain actively seized of the matter’ until efforts are successful towards an agreement.

The Egyptian foreign minister presented a draft resolution for deliberation by the UNSC consistent with the outcomes of the African Union Bureau meeting.

The draft resolution encourages the three countries to reach an accord within two weeks, and avert any unilateral measures related to the dam while affirming the UN’s Secretary General role in this regard.

“This draft resolution is not intended to preempt or forestall any negotiations, but to express, at the highest level, the keen interest of the international community in reaching an agreement on the GERD and its appreciation of the dangers of acts of unilateralism in this matter,” he said.

Ethiopia hopes the massive $4.8 billion megaproject on the Blue Nile, which has been under construction since 2011, will allow it to become Africa’s largest power exporter.

Egypt receives an annual release of 55.5 billion cubic metres from its High Aswan Dam, while it requires over 80 billion cubic metres to meet its needs. The country bridges the gap by water recycling and reuse. 

Short link: