New round of GERD talks to start Saturday; Ethiopia starts deforestation in preparation for second filling

Mohamed Soliman , Wednesday 31 Mar 2021

Ethiopia is insistent on moving forward with the second filling of the dam’s reservoir in July despite the lack of an accord with Egypt and Sudan


As efforts are underway to revive negotiations between Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia to solve the long-running dispute caused by the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD), Addis Ababa is embarking on deforesting large spaces to unilaterally start the second filing of its dam.

Congolese officials said on Wednesday that the foreign ministers of Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia are to meet in Kinshasa on Saturday in an effort to re-launch a fresh round of talks on the ten-year-old dispute, according to AFP.

The officials added that the anticipated talks, set to last into Monday, will be attended by Congolese President Felix Tshisekedi whose country took over the presidency of the AU last month, succeeding South Africa, which mediated in vain the talks over the past year.

Negotiations between Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan have kept hitting a deadlock over the past years, with both downstream countries laying blame on Ethiopia for the failure of past rounds of talks, including the last one mediated by the AU, which stalled in January.

Ethiopia, on the flip side, is still adamant to go on with the second filling of the its dam in July despite lack of accord with Egypt, Sudan as the Ethiopian News Agency (ENA) has said that
Addis Ababa is going about clearing forest to allocate new swathes to accommodate the second phase filling of GERD.

The Ethiopian government is planning to clear area covering 4,854 hectares (48.5 km²), official at Ethiopia's Regional State Technical and Vocational Job Creation Agency, which is assigned with the task, told ENA on Saturday.

The deforestation process, which would take a month, would cost the Ethiopian government over 81 million Ethiopian Birr ($2 million).

Egypt has repeatedly expressed concerns that Ethiopia's swift filling of the GERD jeopardises its share of Nile water. The country, which is dependent on the Nile water for 95 percent of its renewable water needs, fears that the $4.8 billion Ethiopian hydropower project will significantly diminish its crucial water supply, which is already below scarcity level.

Also, Sudan fears the GERD will put the operation of its Roseires dam – which is located nearby the GERD – and the lives of Sudanese citizens – approximately 20 million Sudanese people – at “a very high risk” if an agreement regulating its operation and filling is not reached before the second filling.

Egypt and Sudan have repeatedly pursued reaching a legally binding agreement on the rules for filling and operating the dam, but the step has been repeatedly dodged or rejected by the upstream country.

Egypt and Sudan have been pushing for international quartet mediation, made up of the AU, the United Nations (UN), the European Union (EU), and the US, to break the deadlock, but Ethiopia balks at such a step.

The international mediation, first proposed by Khartoum, aims to introduce the UN to the talks and turn the four parties into mediators rather than mere observers. The proposal was endorsed by Cairo, but Addis Ababa said it prefers African solutions instead.

The announcement of the Congolese-sponsored meeting comes a day after Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi said "No one can take a single drop of Egypt's water, adding that “If it happens, there will be inconceivable instability in the region.”

“A compromise to Egypt’s water share is a red line, and our response [if our water share is affected] will affect the stability of the whole region,” El-Sisi had told reporters on Tuesday in comments over the continued deadlock in negotiations with Ethiopia over the GERD. 

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