Sudan calls for 'external' pressure on Ethiopia to return to GERD negotiations, prevent unilateral filling

Mohamed Soliman , Tuesday 6 Jul 2021

Sudanese Irrigation Minister Yasser Abbas said that the GERD issue 'has become complicated and more of a political issue rather than a technical one'

Yasser Abbas
File Photo: Sudanese Irrigation Minister Yasser Abbas during a press conference. photo courtesy of Sudanese news agency (SUNA)

Sudanese Irrigation Minister Yasser Abbas has called for applying “external” pressure on Ethiopia to return to the negotiations table to settle the dispute caused by the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) by reaching a legally binding deal that satisfies all parties as well as prevent filling the dam’s reservoir unilaterally.

In a meeting with France’s Ambassador to Khartoum Emmanuel Platman on Monday, Abbas said that the GERD issue “has become complicated and more of a political issue rather than a technical one,” reported Egypt’s state news agency MENA.

He warned that the benefits of the dam, which drove his country to support the project at the beginning, would turn into “damages and disasters” in the absence of a legal agreement, which Ethiopia refuses to sign and seeks instead a package of non-binding guidelines.

The Sudanese authorities have kept one billion cubic metres of water stored in the reservoir of the Blue Nile Roseires Dam and have not emptied the White Nile Jebal Aulia Dam in a bid to spare the country the consequences of the second filing due to a lack of information and data exchange with Ethiopia concerning the step, according to Abbas.

“Such steps have implications on hydroelectric generation … and that is the reason why Sudan calls for signing a binding agreement with Ethiopia,” he stressed during Monday’s meeting.

Abbas’s remarks were made just hours before Ethiopia announced the resumption of the filling of the GERD reservoir for the second year unilaterally despite the lack of accord with downstream countries Sudan and Egypt, the other parties of the dispute.

The Ethiopian step could further escalate the ten-year-old tensions with the downstream countries, who have raised the matter with the United Nations Security Council (UNSC), which is set to convene to discuss the issue later this week.

The decision to resort to the UNSC was made by Sudan and Egypt as there seems to be no sign that an agreement is on the horizon after 10 years of tripartite talks, including last year’s African Union (AU) sponsored rounds.

Ethiopia, which hopes the controversial multi-billion-dollar hydropower dam will support its economic development goals, seeks to sign non-binding guidelines on the dam’s filling and rules of operation, as opposed to both downstream countries, who seek a binding deal.

Sudan fears the unilateral filling of the reservoir would threaten the lives of millions of its people living downstream of the dam, jeopardise the operational safety of its own dams, and consequently risk Sudan’s national security.

Egypt, which depends on the Nile for over 95 percent of its fresh water, fears the dam will significantly affect its water share if a legally binding deal is not reached.

The Sudanese irrigation minister asserted Khartoum will not engage in any negotiations unless the methodology of the process is changed and observers and experts are given a greater role.

The AU sponsored tripartite negotiations with Ethiopia, which saw the participation of the US and EU as observers, reached a deadlock in February, with Addis Ababa refusing to upgrade the observers’ role.

Earlier this year, Addis Ababa also rejected a proposal made by Khartoum and backed by Cairo to include the US, the EU, and the UN in the talks as mediators alongside the AU to revive the stalled talks.

The proposal of resorting to quartet mediation is not an “alternative” to the African Union, Abbas stressed to the ambassador of France, who will preside over the anticipated UNSC session on the issue.

The three African countries, said Abbas, reached an agreement on 90 percent of the outstanding points before the onset of the AU negotiations in June 2020.

“Now, after the [AU sponsored] rounds of talks were over, the percentage of points of disagreement ratcheted up,” he pointed out.

Abbas also reiterated his country’s refusal to discussing the Nile River’s quotas in the GERD negotiations, saying the GERD talks should only focus on the dam’s filing and operation rules.

“The [GERD] negotiations have been limited to the filling and operation process only for nearly 10 years, but Ethiopia shifted its position starting July 2020 by talking about water quotas,” MENA cited Abbas as saying at Platman’s meeting.

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