A general view of the the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD), near Guba in Ethiopia (AFP)
Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed said on Thursday his country will start the second phase of filling the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) during the rainy season of August 2021.
The announcement was made despite the fact Ethiopia is still in talks with downstream countries Egypt and Sudan over the disputed hydropower project.
The three countries have been engaged in negotiations mediated by the African Union (AU) to reach a legally binding agreement on GERD -- a demand Egypt and Sudan have repeatedly stressed.
In its Thursday statements reported by Saudi-owned Al-Arabiya news website, Ahmed said the second-phase filling target is expected to reach 18.4 billion cubic metres of water.
He added the work progress on the dam from September to August 2021 will be crucial for completing the construction of the dam by 2023.
The Ethiopian announcement was made during a meeting Ahmed held on Thursday with GERD officials and workers on the occasion of completing the first year filing target of the mega dam’s 74 billion-cubic-metre reservoir.
In July, Addis Ababa declared it achieved the first-year filling (4.9 billion cubic metres) due to the rainy season flooding of the Blue Nile.
The move has angered Egypt and Sudan that have reiterated their rejection of any unilateral action that may undermine the path of the tripartite negotiations.
The Ethiopian step stalled the current AU negotiations for one week, from 27 July to 3 August, as Egypt and Sudan have been seeking a legally binding agreement before the dam was filled.
During Thursday meeting, GERD project manager Kifle Hora told the Ethiopian prime minister that 78 percent of the total work on the dam was finished, while the completion of the construction work has reached 75 percent.
Hora noted that the project has so far cost the upstream country nearly $3.3 billion, up by $1.1 billion from the initial cost allocated for the project.
He expected the final cost to reach $4.4 billion by the end of the project.
Renewed AU-sponsored talks over the dam resumed on Sunday after Sudan had requested the suspension of talks for one week in rejection of the proposal put forward by Addis Ababa containing only guidelines on filling the dam -- as opposed to the bases to which Cairo and Khartoum agreed to participate in the current talks.
The downstream countries are seeking a legally binding, comprehensive deal on the filling and operation of the dam.
Two legal and technical representatives from each country are currently working on compiling proposals from the three sides on the filling and operation of the dam with the aim of reaching a draft agreement.
The draft agreement is set to be presented to the ministers of irrigation of the three countries by Friday to continue the negotiations.
The mega-dam, built 15 kilometres from the Ethiopian border with Sudan, has been a source of contention between the three countries.
Cairo fears the project will significantly cut its crucial water supplies from the River Nile, while Sudan fears it could endanger the safety of its own dams.
Ethiopia says the massive project, which it hopes will make it Africa’s largest power exporter, is key to its development efforts.