Sudan's FM says Ethiopia's intransigence over GERD may drag region into 'ominous slides'

Ahmed Morsy , Sunday 6 Jun 2021

Foreign Minister Mariam Al-Saddiq Al-Mahdi affirmed Khartoum's endeavour to peacefully settle GERD disputes through the mediation of the African Union

File Photo: The GERD (Photo: Reuters)
File Photo: The Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) on the Blue Nile river in the Benishangul-Gumuz region of Ethiopia (Photo: Reuters)

Sudan's Foreign Minister Mariam Al-Saddiq Al-Mahdi affirmed on Saturday Khartoum's endeavour to peacefully settle the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) disputes through the mediation of the African Union (AU), stressing at the same time that Ethiopia's intransigence may drag the region into "ominous slides".

Al-Mahdi's remarks came during a virtual meeting with her Moroccan counterpart Nasser Bourita, who was briefed on developments in the GERD file, and Sudan's stance on the unilateral measures taken by Ethiopia regarding the second-year filling of the near-complete GERD – which Addis Ababa has been building on the Blue Nile since 2011, a statement by Sudan's foreign ministry said.

Egypt's Irrigation Minister Mohamed Abdel-Ati also expressed on Saturday Cairo's keenness to resume GERD negotiations, which was deadlocked in April, emphasising the state's constants in preserving its water rights.

With three weeks ahead of the GERD’s scheduled second-year filling, Ethiopia's water and irrigation minister was reported by Ethiopia-based channel Fana Broadcasting Corporate (FBC) on Thursday as saying that "GERD's height is currently 565 metres" and construction works were underway to "raise it to 573 metres within the coming 20 days".

According to experts, the GERD's newly-announced targeted height is down by 22 metres from the second phase's formerly intended tallness of GERD – which was 595 metres to be appropriate for coming summer's 13.5 bcm filling –  and would rather let Ethiopia fill the reservoir from 2 to 4 bcm only.

Addis Ababa’s officials had repeatedly announced they would 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, with or without a deal.

In a separate statement on Sunday, according to Sudanese News Agency (SUNA), Al-Mahdi reiterated Sudan's target of reaching a binding legal agreement on filling and operating GERD before commencing the second filling.

From his side, Abdel-Ati affirmed on Saturday that any action taken without reaching a fair and legally binding agreement and without coordination with the downstream countries would be "a unilateral act that is rejected".

While Egypt and Sudan are pushing for signing a comprehensive and legally binding agreement with Ethiopia over GERD, Addis Ababa refuses and rather seeks mere guidelines that can be modified any time at Ethiopia’s discretion.

As Addis Ababa argues the GERD issue is a matter of Ethiopian national sovereignty, Egypt’s Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry made it clear in 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.

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.

Ethiopia was not party to other Nile water accords such as the 1929 agreement between Egypt and Britain, representing Uganda, Kenya, Tanganyika (now Tanzania) and Sudan. The deal allocates 55.5 bcm of water to Egypt and 18.5 bcm to Sudan. Nor did Ethiopia take part in its 1959 supplementary agreement which confirmed Cairo and Khartoum’s annual quota and allowed the construction of Egypt’s Aswan High Dam.

Khartoum has previously noted that it would take legal action if Ethiopia moves forward with the second filling of the GERD without first signing a legally binding agreement as such scenario would threaten the lives of millions of Sudanese people living downstream the dam, jeopardise the operational safety of its dams, and consequently risk Sudan's national security.

Egypt, whose 100 million-plus population relies on the world-longest River Nile for more than 95 per cent of its renewable water resources, fears the massive $4.8 billion hydropower project will significantly diminish its water supply, which at 560 m3 per person annually is already well below the international threshold for water scarcity.

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