Egypt, Sudan considering 'all options' regarding GERD dispute with Ethiopia

Ahmed Morsy , Wednesday 7 Apr 2021

Sudan has asked the UN to replace the Ethiopian soldiers in the UNSFA mission in the Sudanese Abyei region with other nationalities, Sudanese foreign minister said

File photo: Water flows through GERD as it undergoes construction works (photo: Reuters)
File photo: Water flows through GERD as it undergoes construction works (photo: Reuters)

Two separate statements released by Egypt and Sudan on Wednesday said that "all options are possible" in the decade-long dispute over the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD).

Egypt's President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi called on Ethiopia on Wednesday not to compromise Egypt's share of Nile water, saying “all options are possible,” while stressing that “cooperation is better than fighting.”

"I say to our Ethiopian brothers, [we] should not get to a point where you infringe upon a drop of Egypt's water because all options are open… cooperation is better… to build with each other is better than to disagree and tussle," El-Sisi said during the inauguration of a national project in Cairo.

El-Sisi said that Egypt has respected Ethiopia's desire for development provided that Egypt's water interests are not compromised.

The Egyptian president's statement comes against the backdrop of media reports that Ethiopia intends to include a water-sharing deal for the Blue Nile in the GERD talks.

Such a possibility was rejected by Sudan last August, when it had threatened to withdraw from the GERD talks if Ethiopia insisted on linking an agreement on the dam’s filling to a deal on sharing the waters of the Blue Nile.

Sudanese Irrigation and Water Resources Minister Yasser Abbas said last summer that he was “surprised” by Ethiopia’s proposal on the water shares, which he described as “dangerous.”

While in a press conference on Wednesday, Abbas stated that the failure to reach a fair agreement on the GERD threatens regional security and peace, adding that "all options remain open" to Sudan including resorting to the Security Council.

This comes a day after the collapse of recently launched negotiations to revive the GERD talks once again after reaching a stalemate three months ago.

Abbas also accused Ethiopia of stalling to reach the second filling of the GERD — planned by Addis Ababa to take place in July — stressing that the second filling process of the GERD without a prior agreement "directly threatens Sudan and endangers the lives of 20 million citizens."

This, Abbas said, is not a matter of propaganda or media exaggeration, but rather a description of the facts, as the storage capacity of the Sudanese Roseires dam reservoir is seven billion cubic meters (bcm), and it is only 15 km from the Ethiopian dam, while the storage capacity of the GERD is 74 bcm.

Speaking about mitigating the effects of the sudden filling operations of the GERD, the Sudanese minister said that 1 bcm will be reserved behind the Roseires dam to compensate for any shortage in water supplies on the Blue Nile.

One day after being accused of being the reason behind failure of the negotiations, Ethiopia's Minister of Water and Irrigation Slichi Bakli announced on Wednesday his country's readiness to resume the unmediated talks if Egypt and Sudan desire.

On Tuesday, Egypt and Sudan blamed Addis Ababa's "intransigence" for the collapse of this week's three-day talks held in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) under the auspices of the African Union, whose chairperson is DRC President Felix Tshisekedi.

Egypt's foreign ministry said on Tuesday that during the talks, which started on Sunday, Ethiopia rejected all proposals suggested by Cairo and Khartoum.

The Sudanese proposal, which is backed by Egypt but rejected by Ethiopia, was to form an international quartet mediation, made up of the African Union, the United Nations, the European Union, and the US, to resolve the decade-old dispute.

While one of the Egyptian proposals, which is supported by Sudan and was rebuffed by Ethiopia, was to upgrade the role of the current observers (the AU, US and EU) to mediators so they can actively participate in the talks, facilitate negotiations, and bridge the gap.

However, during a press conference on Wednesday, Bakli reiterated Ethiopia’s commitment to the completion of the AU-sponsored GERD negotiations based on “African solutions,” rejecting the proposal to upgrade the role of observers.

This echoes Tuesday's statement by the Ethiopian foreign ministry that upgrading the role of observers would "undermine the AU-led process and take the issue out of the African platform."

Although Egypt and Sudan have repeatedly voiced their rejection of any unilateral move by Addis Ababa before a legally binding agreement is reached, the Ethiopian irrigation minister affirmed on Wednesday that his country has proceeded with the process of the second filling of the GERD's reservoir, and "no one can change the date [of it] because it is a process that is technically related to construction."

The second filling of the GERD aims to fill the reservoir by 18.4 bcm of water, up from the nearly 4 bcm secured during the first filling last year.

Regarding Khartoum's concerns about the second filling of the GERD, Bakli said, "What Sudan has raised about the impact by the filling process is not real and contradictory to what it witnessed last year, when the filling process took place naturally."

Sudan said on Tuesday that it has clarified, during the Congolese-sponsored meetings, the potential perils of the second filling of the reservoir and that Ethiopia’s unilateral moves are a clear violation of international law.

Moreover, Khartoum assured on the same day that the first filling caused "grave" damage to the country and caused a shortage in irrigation and drinking water after a total of 3.5 billion cubic metres of water were held in only one week.

In 2020, when the three countries agreed to initiate negotiations under the sponsorship of the AU and to refrain from taking any one-sided move till a deal is reached, Ethiopia concluded the first filling of its dam unilaterally a month later.

Following Tuesday's talks, Sudan said that Ethiopia’s intransigence in the negotiations obliges it to "consider all possible options" to protect its security and its citizens as per international law.

In this regard, Egypt's Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry asserted in TV statement on the same day that Egypt and Sudan would head to the UN and Security Council to brief them on the developments of the dispute caused by the massive $4.8 billion Ethiopian hydropower project.

"At this stage, there is full coordination and unity in position with Sudan. We will start heading to the active international organisations to brief them on the developments [in the GERD dispute] and ask them to shoulder their responsibilities," Shoukry following the collapse of this week's talks.

Escalation in statements

On Tuesday, Sudanese Foreign Minister Maryam Al-Sadiq Al-Mahdi said in TV statements that Ethiopia has shown unacceptable intransigence in the GERD negotiations and that its decision to fill the dam again is contrary to international law.

According to SUNA, she denounced this stance from Ethiopia towards Sudan, which has supported the construction of the dam from the beginning, in addition to its hosting tens of thousands of refugees in a number of camps in the eastern part of the country.

Al-Mahdi also referred to the Ethiopian encroachment on the eastern borders, underlining that there are great interests for Ethiopia in Sudan that must be preserved.

Sudan had asked the UN to replace the Ethiopian soldiers present in the UNSFA mission in the Sudanese Abyei region with other nationalities, because it is not reasonable to have Ethiopian forces in the strategic depth of Sudan at a time when the Ethiopian forces are gathering on the eastern borders of Sudan, the Sudanese minister said.

A week ago, El-Sisi warned that “no one can take a drop of water from Egypt…and if it happens, there will be inconceivable instability in the region that no one could imagine," stressing at the same time that his message is "not a threat."

Egypt’s 100 million-plus population is dependent on the Blue Nile water for more than 95 percent of its renewable water needs. The country fears that the 6,000-megawatt dam will significantly diminish its crucial water supply, which is already below scarcity level.

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