Egypt and Sudan have to stick to reaching a binding agreement on the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD), even amid reports that Addis will perform the second-year filling with less amount of water than previously planned, experts say.
With only three weeks before the GERD’s scheduled second-year filling, Ethiopia's water and irrigation minister reportedly said Thursday the construction of the GERD’s body has not reached the previously planned height needed for a full second-year filling.
“The current height of the GERD is 565 metres and construction works are underway to reach 573 within the coming 20 days,” Ethiopian Minister of Water Seleshi Bekele was quoted as saying, according to Ethiopia-based news company Fana Broadcasting Corporate (FBC).
Addis Ababa’s officials have repeatedly announced they would unilaterally fill GERD’s 74 billion cubic metres (bcm) reservoir with 13.5 bcm in July and August to raise the build-up amount of water to 18.4 bcm, up from the 4.9 bcm it secured in 2020.
Abbas Sharaky, Professor of Geology and Water Resources at Cairo University, explained that the targeted 573 metres is down by 22 metres from the previously planned height of the GERD - 595 metres - appropriate for the amount of water intended for the second-year filling.
“Every one metre in [GERD] height is equivalent to half to 1bcm of water. Hence, by reaching 595 metres, if they [Ethiopians] could, their maximum storage of water in the second-year filling would be 4 bcm while the minimum would stand at 2 bcm,” Sharaky told MBC Misr channel on Friday.
Egypt and Sudan are pushing for signing a comprehensive and legally binding agreement with Ethiopia over GERD. However, Addis Ababa refuses and rather seeks mere guidelines that can be modified any time at Ethiopia’s discretion.
Ahmed Al-Mufti, a Sudanese expert on international law and a former member of the Nile Basin Initiative negotiations held between 1994 and 2012, believes that if Ethiopia had been well-intentioned, it would have suspend the second filling at the current point until an agreement was reached.
“I advise that Sudan and Egypt announce that they refuse any amount of filling, unless a binding agreement has been concluded, and that there is no return to negotiations, unless Ethiopia stops all its [construction] activities in the dam, until that agreement is forged,” Al-Mufti wrote Friday on his official Facebook page.
While Addis Ababa argues the GERD issue is a matter of Ethiopian national sovereignty, Egypt’s Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry made it clear in early May that “there is no sovereignty when it comes to an international river.”
The top diplomat also stressed that Egypt would not accept harm caused by irresponsible behaviour, and would steadfastly defend its water rights.
Though GERD’s second-year filling is likely to be less than what was stored in 2020, Sharaky stressed that stances of Egypt and Sudan remain unchanged by the amount of filling.
“The position of Egypt and Sudan has not been changed and will not change with the amount of current storage, even if it is only 1 bcm, because without an agreement this is an infringement on the Egyptian and Sudanese rights,” Sharaky said.
Ethiopia previously rejected the downstream countries’ water rights of “colonial agreements” when its Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Dina Mufti said in April that “it is unacceptable” for Egypt and Sudan to use historical accords of Nile shares as reference points during GERD’s negotiations, which has deadlocked since April.
In response, Sudan threatened that disavowing these agreements means “compromising sovereignty” over the Benishangul region on which Addis Ababa is building the controversial dam, urging Addis Ababa to commit to the international agreements it signed as “an independent state."
The Anglo-Ethiopian treaty was signed in 1902 between the United Kingdom – representing Egypt and Sudan – and Ethiopia – represented by Emperor Menelik II of Abyssinia. While the agreement has prohibited the Ethiopian construction of any waterworks across the Blue Nile that would affect the river’s natural flow, it has granted sovereignty of the then Sudanese Benishangul region to Ethiopia.
“The Ethiopian claim that the relevant agreements are an insignificant colonial legacy is an explicit fallacy of historical facts, indicating that Ethiopia was an independent, sovereign state and a member of the international community at the time of the conclusion of those agreements, while Sudan was subject to bilateral colonialism (of the Ottomans and the British),” Sudan’s Foreign Ministry said.
The US State Department issued a statement on 14 May urging the resumption of African Union-mediated negotiations in line with the 2015 Declaration of Principles and the outcomes of the July 2020 AU summit on GERD, saying that the US “is committed to providing political and technical support to facilitate a successful outcome”.
By including references of the 2015 Declaration of Principles and the 2020 summit, Washington was backing a comprehensive and legally binding deal before the filling, according to experts.