Friday,21 September, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1237, (12 - 18 March 2015 )
Friday,21 September, 2018
Issue 1237, (12 - 18 March 2015 )

Ahram Weekly

Progress stalls again

Negotiations between Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan over the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam are continuing, writes Reem Leila

Al-Ahram Weekly

Improving coordination between Nile Basin states and confidence-building measures around the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) were the subject of discussions between Foreign Minister Sameh Shourki and Irrigation Minister Hossam Moghazi and Moghazi’s Sudanese and Ethiopian counterparts during three days of meetings in Khartoum that ended on 5 March.

“During the meetings I conveyed to Ethiopia’s irrigation minister our serious concerns about the impact of the dam on Egypt’s share of Nile water,” said Moghazi.

The talks came as part of ongoing efforts to reach a consensus over the principles of water cooperation between Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia. GERD is set for completion by 2017.

“Ethiopia has no intention of harming the interests of downstream countries,” said Ethiopian Foreign Minister Tedros Adhanom. “We are seeking to protect the welfare of all Nile Basin states.”

Consultancy firms from France, Australia, Holland and Germany have submitted tenders to evaluate the studies Ethiopia has already conducted. The name of the successful firm was expected to be made public on 9 March but has now been delayed.

“We now anticipate the announcement will be made within the next few days,” says Moghazi.

The principles agreed in Khartoum will pave the way for further cooperation between all three states, said Shoukri. But details of any potential deal resolving the dispute over the Ethiopian dam are thin on the ground.

“What we have taken is a step towards strengthening relations between Egypt and Ethiopia. This month’s meeting was held in a positive spirit that reflects the strength of political will in both Addis Ababa and Cairo to resolve the dispute,” he added.

Egypt’s share of Nile water — set at 55.5 billion cubic metres — is enshrined in colonial-era international treaties. Egypt also extracts five million cubic metres of underground water annually. With a population of 90 million Egypt is already facing a shortfall in its water supply.

“We are already 30 billion cubic meters short of meeting the internationally accepted minimum requirement of 1,000 cubic meters of water per person annually,” says water expert Diaa Al-Qousi. Following the completion of the dam some experts have warned that Egypt’s share of Nile water could fall by as much as 12 billion cubic metres.

Al-Qousi warns about the consequences of Ethiopian control of Egypt’s major source of water.

“Egypt must raise the matter in front of the international community. It should file a complaint with the UN Security Council stating clearly that the dam, which is already 40 per cent built, represents a threat to regional peace and security.

“Egypt can request the Security Council to adjudicate between Egypt and Ethiopia and appoint a team of experts to examine the issues. The experts’ recommendations should be binding on all parties.”

Additional meetings will be redundant as long as Ethiopia continues to refuse any compromise, Al-Qousi says. “Egypt must now internationalise the case. Ethiopia has so far refused to budge and insists on setting its own conditions.

“It does not want any further studies of the dam, its height or even the capacity of its reservoirs. Issues do not get resolved this way. Ethiopians are seeking development but this cannot come at Egypt’s expense.”

Nader Noureddine, a professor of agricultural resources at Cairo University, worries that despite intensive diplomatic efforts no real progress has been made in resolving the dispute between the two countries. Ethiopian officials, he says, simply repeat the mantra that the dam will not cause significant harm to Egypt’s interests.

“But the fact is that the harm will be enormous. Ethiopia wants to choke Egypt by controlling its main source of water and force Cairo to buy the electricity the dam will generate,” says Noureddine.

“If Egypt refuses to buy the electricity then the turbines will be closed, cutting the flow of Nile water. Any reduction in the flow would have the knock on effect of disabling the High Dam’s turbines, leaving Egypt facing a severe shortage of electricity.”

Cairo should push for the signing of an agreement that at a minimum protects the current annual flow of 72 billion cubic metres of Nile water into Egypt, says Noureddine.

“As long as this is protected Ethiopia can build whatever dam it wants. If Ethiopia refuses to agree to the guaranteed flow, Egypt should petition the International Court to halt construction work on the dam and then arbitrate the dispute.

“The court’s verdict,” he adds, “should be binding.”

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