Sudan records drop in Nile water levels amid reports of GERD filling

Zeinab El-Gundy , Wednesday 15 Jul 2020

A handout satellite image shows a closeup view of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) and the Blue Nile River in Ethiopia July 12, 2020 Reuters

Sudan’s Ministry of Irrigation announced on Wednesday that it has recorded a decline in the water level of the Blue Nile coming from Ethiopia, amid contradictory reports over whether Addis Ababa has started filling the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) unilaterally.

“The Ministry of Irrigation asked specialised agencies to measure the level of the Blue Nile to confirm the accuracy of this news, and it is evident from the flow measured at the Dimim border station with Ethiopia that there is a decline in the water level equal to 90 million cubic metres per day. [This confirms] the closure of the GERD’s gates,” the Sudanese irrigation ministry said.

The ministry asserted in the statement its total rejection of any unilateral action by any party, especially with the GERD negotiations still ongoing under the auspices of the African Union.

The statement came shortly after reports by Ethiopian media said that Addis Ababa had started the process of filling the reservoir of the GERD, which prompted Cairo to demand Ethiopia issue a clarification about the matter.

Both Egypt and Sudan said that they were following the matter closely.

Ethiopia’s water ministry is denying the local Ethiopian media reports that the country has started filling the reservoir.

In a statement to The Associated Press, Water Minister Sileshi Bekele said that his country has not started filling the dam, and that the swelling of the dam’s reservoir, which has been captured in satellite images, is the result of heavy rains.

Following his statements to AP, Bekele said on his Twitter account in English, “The GERD construction has reached level 560m compared to level 525m last year this time. The inflow into the reservoir due to heavy rainfall and runoff exceeded the outflow and created natural pooling.This continues until overflow is triggered soon.”

“The dam is yet to be constructed to level 640m in the following years. In fact, predicted heavy rain this year is expected to cause huge flooding in the region,” he added.

Ethiopian State TV has also apologised for what it described as a “misinterpretation” of statements made by the country’s water minister, who was reported as saying that the filling process had begun, quickly prompting responses from Egypt and Sudan.

In statements reported later by the official Ethiopian Broadcasting Corporation, Ethiopia’s Minister of Water, Irrigation and Energy Sileshi Bekele said that the GERD negotiations will continue “not only for the benefit of the current generation, but also for the benefit of future generations.” 

Despite Bekele’s denial that his country has started filling the dam, he did not deny other statements made to local media that the storage capacity of the dam’s reservoir will be 4.9 billion cubic meters of water in its first stage of filling.

He also added the filling of the dam would “go hand in hand” with the dam’s construction.

Ethiopia has repeatedly said it would start filling the dam’s reservoir this month, with or without an accord with downstream countries Egypt and Sudan.

Both countries have warned about the consequences of Addis Ababa taking any unilateral action on the project, including beginning the filling process.

The Ethiopian announcements come two days after the end of the latest round of GERD talks between Ethiopia, Egypt and Sudan, which were held under the auspices of African Union (AU) and attended by observers from the European Union, the United States and the World Bank.

After 11 days of online talks that started on 3 July 2020, the three countries announced that no agreement was reached concerning the major points of disagreement, despite Sudan and Ethiopia indicating that there was limited progress in the talks.

The three countries presented their final reports on the progress of the talks to President Cyril Ramaphosa of South Africa, who is the current chairman of the AU. Ramaphosa is expected to hold a mini-summit of AU officials and heads of member states to discuss the next steps.

Cairo, which relies on the Nile for 95 percent of its fresh water, fears the dam will significantly reduce its share of water, especially during the filling stages through periods of drought and dry years. 

Khartoum has said that the safety of its Roseires dam will be directly impacted by the operation of the GERD, which is located around 100km from the Sudanese dam. Ethiopia, on the other hand, says the project is key to its development efforts.

A previous round of negotiations in June had failed to produce an accord due to Ethiopia's refusal to enter into a legally binding agreement and its announcement that it would begin filling the dam in July, with or without the approval of the two downstream countries.

Egypt, as a result, presented a draft resolution for deliberation to the UN Security Council, which encouraged the three countries to reach an accord within two weeks and refrain from any unilateral actions related to the dam.

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