Ethiopia s unilateral filling of the GERD is in breach of the Declaration of Principles photo: AFP
“It is with great pleasure that I announce the successful completion of the fourth and final filling of the Renaissance Dam,” Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed wrote on X this week.
“Congratulations to all... Our national perseverance against all odds has delivered.”
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs responded by highlighting that the unilateral filling is in breach of the Declaration of Principles (DoP) signed by Egypt, Ethiopia, and Sudan in 2015 which stipulates that the three countries should agree on the filling and operation of the dam.
“Ethiopia’s unilateral measures disregard the interests and rights of the two downstream states and their water security as protected by international law,” the ministry said in a statement. It added that Addis Ababa’s behaviour threatens to undermine recently resumed negotiations, scheduled to last for four months.
Hopes were raised of a breakthrough when President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi and Ahmed met on the sidelines of the Sudan Neighbours Meeting in July and agreed to resume long stalled negotiations to reach a final agreement on the dam within four months. And though satellite pictures showed the fourth filling had been ongoing since July, a diplomat who follows the negotiations closely said Ahmed’s declaration had come as a bombshell because it was issued in the midst of a renewed diplomatic attempt to reach an agreement and “provided ample proof that negotiations will not lead to any results”.
The first round of the latest negotiations was held last month and failed to produce any progress.
Egypt and Ethiopia nonetheless agreed to another round of talks in Addis Ababa in late September.
Former minister of irrigation Mohamed Nasreddin Allam said Ahmed’s statement had served to compound Cairo’s frustration at the lack of progress made in the first round of the resumed negotiations at a time when some observers were cautiously awaiting a breakthrough.
Abbas Sharaki, professor of geology and water resources at Cairo University, argues that whether this is the last filling, as Ahmed said, or an error in translation, an agreement remains essential to avoid future problems regarding any refilling of the dam and to regulate the building of new dams on the Blue Nile.
Ethiopia stored 24 billion m3 this year, almost 50 per cent of the Blue Nile’s flow in an average year and more than Sudan’s yearly quota. While the fourth filling has already caused Sudan major problems this year, Egypt managed to compensate the reduction in flow with water from the High Dam and recently built desalination plants and efficient re-use of its water and other water saving methods.
Cairo has repeatedly called on Addis Ababa to sign a legally binding agreement on the filling and operation of GERD.
Egypt depends on the Nile for irrigation and drinking water, and the Blue Nile accounts for more than 80 per cent of its flow. Sudan draws two-thirds of its water supplies from the Nile and regularly suffers from massive flooding during the rainy season. In the absence of coordination with Ethiopia, the flooding threatens Sudan’s own dams.
The first three of Ethiopia’s unilateral dam fillings took the total water stored in the reservoir to 17 billion m3. In 2020 and 2021, Egypt referred the dispute to the United Nations Security Council. In September 2021, the Security Council issued a statement calling for a resumption of negotiations led by the African Union to reach a “binding agreement on the filling and operation of the GERD”.
“In the AU-sponsored talks, international observers were allowed to attend without taking part. If they are allowed to mediate, they can talk with the participants from Egypt and Ethiopia and help reach a compromise. That might possibly lead to a breakthrough in the next round,” said Sharaki.
* A version of this article appears in print in the 14 September, 2023 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly