Egypt says GERD dispute needs four-party mediation; current path won't lead to breakthrough

Ahram Online , Friday 11 Jun 2021

The Egyptian irrigation minister said Cairo and Khartoum will never accept any unilateral action by Ethiopia concerning the filling and operation of the dam

Photo shows an aerial view Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam on the Blue Nile River in Guba, northwest Ethiopia. Photo: AFP

Egypt's Irrigation Minister has said the current path of African Union (AU) sponsored negotiations between Cairo, Khartoum and Addis Ababa regarding the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) will not lead to a breakthrough, calling for widening the mediation to include the US, the EU, and the UN.

Mohamed Abdel-Ati emphasised Cairo's eagerness to continue negotiating with the aim of reaching a legally binding agreement that preserves Egypt's water rights and fulfils the development objectives of all parties involved.

"The current path of negotiations under the aegis of the African Union will not lead to a remarkable progress," Abdel-Ati told delegations from the Maat Foundation for Peace, Development and Human Rights, and the Nile for Peace Initiative during a meeting in Cairo on Friday.

"Egypt and Sudan demanded the formation of an international quartet led by the Democratic Republic of the Congo and with the participation of the United States, the European Union and the United Nations to mediate between the three countries," Abdel-Ati reiterated.

The quartet proposal was first put forward by Sudan with Egyptian backing, but was brushed aside by Ethiopia.

Ethiopia's rejection of the attempt to improve the decade-old negotiation mechanism led to the collapse of the latest round of AU-brokered talks held in Kinshasa in April.

During Friday's meeting, the Egyptian minister blamed Ethiopian "intransigence" for the faltering of the negotiations over the last 10 years.

In a surprise move, Ethiopia unilaterally retained 4.9 billion cubic metres in July 2020 without coordinating with Egypt and Sudan despite the AU negotiations taking place at the time.

"Negotiations should be characterised by effectiveness and seriousness to maximise their chances of success," the minister assured.

He added that Egypt and Sudan will never accept any unilateral act by Ethiopia concerning the filling and operation of the near-complete dam.

Abdel-Ati reviewed what he described as "severe" damages inflicted upon Sudan following the first-year filling of GERD's reservoir, which he said led to drought and flood as well as affected water purity in Sudan.

"Sudan suffered a severe drought, followed by a massive flood because Ethiopia executed the first filing [of the GERD] without coordinating with downstream countries," said the irrigation minister.

"Then Ethiopia released huge quantities of silt-laden water in November without informing the downstream countries, a matter that caused an increase in turbidity in drinking water stations in Sudan," he went on saying.

Tensions have escalated recently between downstream countries and Ethiopia over the latter’s plan to go ahead with the second filling whether or not a deal is reached.

Ethiopia plans to hold 13.5 billion cubic metres of water during the second filling of the GERD’s reservoir in July, despite the objections of Egypt and Sudan to the move in the absence of a legally binding agreement.

The three countries have resorted to international diplomacy in the past weeks, briefing regional and international counterparts on their stances and developments in the latest deadlock in negotiations.

On Wednesday, following a meeting in Khartoum between the Egyptian and Sudanese foreign and irrigation ministers, the two downstream countries released a joint statement urging concerted international efforts to help settle the GERD dispute with Ethiopia.

Egypt and Sudan called on the international community to recognise the dangers associated with the ongoing Ethiopian policy, which is based on forcing a fait accompli on the downstream countries.

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