Egypt, Sudan voice concerns over unilateral filling of GERD at start of second round of AU-mediated talks

Mohamed Soliman , Monday 27 Jul 2020

Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia started on Monday the first meeting of the second round of talks mediated by the African Union (AU) over the disputed dam

Gerd (Photo: Reuters)

Egypt and Sudan expressed their concerns over Ethiopia's unilateral initial filling of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD), according to two separate statements released by the downstream countries on Monday. 

Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia started on Monday the first meeting of the second round of talks mediated by the African Union (AU) over the disputed dam. 

The meeting was attended by observers from the US, EU, South Africa and African experts.

The three countries agreed to continue discussions at a second meeting on 3 August for further internal consultations. 

Addis Ababa surprised Cairo and Khartoum last week by announcing that the initial filling of the dam’s reservoir had already taken place without reaching an agreement.

"The Ethiopian unilateral action of filling the dam overshadowed the meeting and raised multiple questions about the benefits of the current path of negotiations to reach a fair agreement on filling and operating the GERD," read a statement by the Egyptian irrigation ministry on Monday.

Following the first round of AU-sponsored talks over the hydropower project that ended without agreement on technical and legal outstanding points, the AU held on Tuesday a mini-summit between the leaders of three countries, who agreed to continue discussions on the filling and operation of the GERD.

After the AU mini-summit, Egypt said it agreed with Sudan and Ethiopia to prioritise reaching a legally binding deal on the filling and operation of the mega-dam, and the AU called on the three countries to "work expeditiously to finalise the text of a binding agreement."

However, Ethiopian foreign ministry spokesman Dina Mufti said at a press conference in Addis Ababa on Friday that Ethiopia wants a guiding agreement on the GERD that is non-binding.

One day later, Egypt’s President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi told his South African counterpart Cyril Ramaphosa, the current AU chair, that Egypt rejects any unilateral action that may compromise Egypt’s right to Nile water.

Sudan's concerns

The Sudanese statement quoted irrigation minister Yasser Abbas as saying that "the Ethiopian action is a worrying and harmful precedent in the path of cooperation between the concerned parties." 

Abbas added that “Ethiopia's unilateral measure is unacceptable and has caused multiple negative impacts on Sudan.”

Sudanese authorities had recorded a decline in water levels on the Blue Nile coming from Ethiopia a few days before Addis Ababa announced the completion of the initial filling of the GERD.

During a press briefing in Khartoum following the meeting, Abbas said the second meeting was postponed for one week upon Sudan's request for further internal consultations and as an expression of Sudan's reservations against Ethiopia unilateral filling of the dam.

Abbas pointed out his country still believes negotiations are "the best and safest way to reach a fair and balanced agreement for all parties and we hope this experience doesn't happen again."

He said the 4.9 billion cubic metres of water Ethiopia retained "is not a large amount... it makes up 10 percent of the output of the Blue Nile but it was achieved during a brief period of only one week, a matter that caused a decline in water levels on the Blue Nile coming from Ethiopia."

Abbas called on Monday for drawing up a specific and patent agenda and a two-week schedule for the current round of talks  to ensure the success of the negotiations.

He also demanded preparing specific protocols on the exchange of information and reports among all parties. 

Abbas called for giving experts a "greater role" during the next meetings and focusing on the outstanding points concerning the mega-dam without presenting new matters on the table.

Egypt, which relies on the Nile for 95 percent of its fresh water, fears the dam will significantly reduce the river’s flow, especially during the filling stages through periods of drought, extended drought and dry years.

Khartoum said the safety of its Roseires dam will be directly compromised 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.

The ongoing stretched negotiations come months after talks stalled last February during US-sponsored meetings in Washington. The US, represented by the Treasury Department, along with the World Bank, stepped in last year to host tripartite negotiations that began in November and lasted till February after years-long negotiations between the three countries hit a dead end.

Egypt appealed to the UN Security Council in May to intervene to resolve the stalemate to preserve international peace and stability.

The Security Council held an open session on the dam in late June, urging the three ountries to avoid adopting any unilateral actions and to conduct talks based on mutual nderstanding.

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