Sudan has called on the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) to support its call for engaging mediators in order to reach an amicable agreement on the filling and operation of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD).
In a letter to the council sent on April 12, Sudan said the mediation is needed to "defuse tension" between the three riparian countries, and push GERD negotiations forward by setting them up in a productive and fruitful framework.
With the lack of mediators, Sudan and Egypt have failed to reach a comprehensive and legally binding deal with Ethiopia since they started the GERD talks 10 years ago.
The US and the World Bank had been involved in the talks as observers from November 2019 to February 2020, and later the US has been playing the role of observer in addition to the European Union (EU) since the beginning of the African Union (AU)-sponsored talks in June.
Due to the failure of the AU-led talks, Sudan has recently proposed an initiative, which was encouraged by Egypt and rejected by Ethiopia, to include the United Nations (UN) to the talks and turning the four parties – the US, the AU, the EU and the UN – into mediators, rather than mere observers.
"The AU-led [GERD negotiations] process, which started in June 2020, has been of no significant progress due to the lack of good will to explore efficient methods. Ethiopia has always rejected all alternative options proposed by Sudan to give more productive role to international partners, namely the UN, the EU, and the US, in facilitating negotiations and mediating between the three parties or even setting a specific timetable for finalizing the outstanding technical and legal issues, which do not exceed 10% of the whole agreement," read the Sudanese letter to the UNSC.
The "major failure" of the last AU-sponsored round of GERD talks, which was held earlier this month in the Congolese capital Kinshasa, has supported Sudan's view of the necessity to modify and expand the negotiations umbrella, according to the Sudanese letter.
"Sudan has been negotiating in good faith for nearly a year, but the Ethiopian side's intransigence and its steadfast policy of evasion and obstruction led also to the stumbling and failure of these negotiations," Sudan added.
The two downstream countries – Sudan and Egypt – are seeking a legally binding agreement for filling and operating the near-complete GERD, rather than the “guidelines” which Ethiopia is pursuing.
Negatives of second filling on Sudan
Despite the objection of the two downstream countries for commencing the second filling of GERD in the absence of a legally binding deal, Ethiopia has repeatedly announced its intention to start the process in upcoming rainy seasons with or without a deal.
Khartoum has stressed in the letter that the three countries "are in dire need to conclude urgently a comprehensive agreement before Ethiopia begins the disastrous second filling process of the dam."
"We reiterate that the GERD will completely change the hydrological system of the Blue Nile by flattening it hydrograph. Of this huge size, the dam could cause significant negative impacts in Sudan if not properly designed, constructed, filled and operated," Sudan said, adding that Addis Ababa's unilateral second filling is contrary to the Declaration of Principles, which was signed between the three riparian countries in 2015.
Addis Ababa aims at collecting around 18.4 billion cubic metres (bcm) of Blue Nile water during the second phase of GERD's reservoir filling, up from the nearly 4 billion secured in last year's first filling.
Sudan has affirmed that Addis Ababa's second filling of the GERD's 74 bcm reservoir unilaterally before reaching a final and binding agreement would threaten the lives of millions of Sudanese people living downstream the dam, and jeopardize the operational safety of the Sudanese dams, and hence risk its national security, which is inconsistent with the spirit of cooperation among riparian countries that share an international waterway and constitutes a fundamental violation of the existing international legal obligation.
In a previous letter to the council in June, Sudan said it fears the GERD would put the operation of its Roseires dam – whose reservoir is located only 15km away from the Ethiopian dam and is 12 times smaller than the storage capacity of the GERD's – and the lives of 20 million Sudanese citizens at a very high risk if an agreement regulating its operation and filling is not reached.
Filling without agreement will deepen the crisis and miss opportunities to reach amicable solutions which necessitates effective intervention to move the deadlock, Sudan tells the UNSC in April's letter.
Hence, the downstream country requested from the UN's body to encourage all parties to refrain from taking unilateral measures, including the second year filling of the $4.8 billion hydropower project.
Sudan has continued, since 2011, in marathon negotiations to reach a final comprehensive agreement by participating – in good faith – in all stages of GERD-related talks, the letter said.
This has included the organization of main tripartite negotiations rounds in Khartoum (2013-2015), that culminated in the conclusion of the Declaration of Principles Agreement, signed in Khartoum in March 2015.
Sudan added it has participated in the ongoing negotiations which began in 2018 and led to the involvement of the US and the world Bank in 2019 as observers. "Despite the significant progress made in all stages of the negotiations [in Washington], up to February 2020, it was regrettable that negotiations have stalled... as Ethiopia claimed time for internal consultations," the letter said.
In November 2019, the US stepped in to host negotiations after Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia announced that talks on the operation and filling of the dam had reached a dead end. Though the three sides agreed during these talks to entrust the US and the World Bank with the preparation of a draft agreement, Ethiopia skipped the signing meeting in February 2020, citing "domestic reasons."
Based on the draft agreement, which the three riparian countries agreed to in Washington in February 2020, the Sudanese Prime Minister Abdullah Hamdok took the initiative in May that year to refresh the negotiations on the outstanding issues; but unfortunately, it was also rejected by Ethiopia, Sudan said in its letter.
After Khartoum-brokered negotiations had also deadlocked, South African President Matamela Cyril Ramaphosa, the 2020 chairperson of the AU, launched efforts in June 2020 to sponsor and push the negotiation process forward between the three sides. South Africa’s involvement in the negotiations process came a few days before the UNSC was scheduled to discuss the GERD dispute in an open session upon Egypt’s request.
"In pursuit of amicable solution, Sudan agreed and engaged in the African Union initiative, where the Security Council consultations had resulted in the acceptance of [Ramaphosa's] proposal to host the negotiations under slogan 'African solutions to African problems'. The Security Council's statement came out in support of the launch of new efforts [of the AU] to reach an agreement, provided that the position would be re-presented at the time to the Security Council," the Sudanese letter said.
In the same month, an emergency online GERD-focused summit of the AU’s three countries was chaired by Ramaphosa. The three sides agreed in the meeting that they would "refrain from taking any unilateral measures, including the first filling of the dam," before a final agreement was reached in two weeks.
That two-week deadline never materialized, and Ethiopia started immediately after the online summit the first filling of the dam, announcing shortly afterwards that it has completed the initial filling. Such unilateral move was described by the two downstream countries as not only a breach of the outcomes of that AU summits, but was also a violation of its legal obligations, especially the Declaration of Principles in 2015.