Ethiopia lacked 'sincere' will to reach agreement on GERD dispute in a decade of negotiations: Egypt's irrigation minister

Ahram Online , Tuesday 21 Sep 2021

The minister said that Egypt has consistently shown throughout those years a strong political will and good faith to reach a legally binding agreement on the rules for filling and operating its hydropower projects

File photo: the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam. REUTERS
File photo: the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam. REUTERS

Egyptian Irrigation Minister Mohamed Abdel-Ati said on Tuesday that Addis Ababa lacked a “sincere” political will and intention to reach a deal with Egypt and Sudan in the dispute over the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD). 

In contrast to Addis Ababa, Abdel-Ati stressed that Cairo has consistently shown throughout those years a “strong” political will and “good” faith to reach a legally binding agreement on the rules for filling and operating its hydropower projects.

Abdel-Ati’s statement came in a speech he gave during the 5th Annual Arab Water Forum that is being held from 21 to 23 September in Dubai.

The minister affirmed that throughout years of negotiations, Egypt has offered several scenarios for filing and operating the GERD that ensure the generation of up to 85 percent of the total power Ethiopia seeks to reach by its project, even during periods of extreme drought.

Addis Ababa considers the multibillion-dollar hydropower near-complete GERD — which has been under construction since 2011 — a key project for the country’s development and power generation.

Both Egypt and Sudan do not oppose Ethiopia’s development goals, however, they are seeking a legally binding agreement that regulates the rules of filling and operating the dam, as Egypt fears the unilateral filling and operation of the dam would have an impact on its water supply and Sudan is concerned about regulating flows to its own dams and their safety.

The latest rounds of talks between the two downstream countries and upstream Ethiopia collapsed in April after Addis Ababa refused to address Cairo and Khartoum’s concerns by reaching a binding agreement on the dam’s filing and operation, seeking instead mere guidelines that can be modified at any time at its own discretion.

Ethiopia unilaterally completed the first and second fillings of its controversial dam during the past two years despite the absence of an agreement, a step that further angered both Cairo and Khartoum.

Minister Abdel-Ati said that unilateral measures on international rivers should be dealt with “seriously”, in reference to Ethiopia’s behaviour.

In mid-July, Ethiopia announced the completion of the second filling of the GERD, which both downstream countries condemned, with Cairo describing it as a “blatant and dangerous” violation of international laws as well as the Declaration of Principles signed in 2015. This came a year after its Ethiopia completed its first unilateral filling of the dam, which also received much condemnation from both downstream countries.

“Unilateral measures and faulty information could complicate the situation,” Abdel-Ati said.

“Reaching a binding legal agreement could pave the way for economic integration and comprehensive development for all countries.”

Following a United Nations Security Council push, the African Union is planning to resume talks between the three African countries in a new bid to end the GERD row.

Egypt is one of the most water-scarce countries in the world, as it receives around 60 bcm annually, mainly from the Nile. However, its needs stand at around 114 bcm.

Egypt’s annual share of water per capita is about 560 m3, which is a great deal below the international standard of 1,000 m3, the Egyptian Minister added.

He added that more than 97 percent of Egypt’s freshwater resources come from outside its borders, in reference to the Nile River.

To fill the gap, Egypt depends on recycling agricultural and wastewater more than once, which yields approximately 21 billion m3 per year, he added.

The country also annually imports water intensive crops and food commodities, also known as virtual water, with a total value of up to 34 billion m3 of water to fill the rest of the deficit, according to Abdel-Ati.

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