Friday,15 December, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1265, (8 - 14 October 2015)
Friday,15 December, 2017
Issue 1265, (8 - 14 October 2015)

Ahram Weekly

Time tactics on the dam

Negotiations on the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam face another hurdle as Ethiopia asks for a postponement of this week’s tripartite meeting, reports Doaa El-Bey

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Al-Ahram Weekly

“Ethiopia is repeatedly relying on time tactics. They seem to work perfectly for it,” said Maasoum Marzouk, former assistant foreign minister, describing the current status of the tripartite negotiations on the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD).

On Sunday, Sudan and Ethiopia requested that Egypt postpone the 9th round of this week’s tripartite meeting, scheduled for 4-5 October, to later in the month. The meeting had been called to discuss the consultancy firm commissioned to evaluate the impact of the dam, according to Egypt’s Minister of Water Resources and Irrigation Hossam Moghazi.

Controversial points were also to have been dealt with, ahead of conducting technical studies to determine the impact of building the dam on Sudan and Egypt. The reason for the adjournment was the government reshuffle in Ethiopia, Moghazi added.

Egypt had already sent official invitations to the meeting, to be chaired by the Egyptian National Committee of the Grand Ethiopian Dam, to Sudan and Ethiopia, along with representatives from the consultancy firm studying the impact of the dam.

“It is just another setback in a series of setbacks in the negotiations to reach an agreement on the dam. The meeting was supposed to be held in the second half of September, or possibly earlier, to discuss the impact of the withdrawal of one of the consultancy firms,” said a diplomat who asked to remain anonymous.

It is no wonder that officials are not pleased with the outcome of the negotiations, assuming that there were any, the diplomat added. He was referring to an official from the Irrigation Ministry who told Al-Shorouk newspaper that the ministry has submitted a number of reports stating that it is not possible to continue with the “present scenario of futile meetings.”

The official, who preferred not to give his name, told Al-Shorouk, “Even though the agreed studies are carried out by the French consultancy firm, there will not be any results for at least 11 months, and in the light of the continued construction of the dam, and its imminent partial operation, the results of the studies will be useless, especially those related to the height and size of the dam.”

The situation now needs a decision to be taken and no more procrastination, he stressed. Marzouk agreed that it is high time to stop the negotiations and resort to one of two scenarios: either the three parties meet to discuss controversial points like the direct impacts of the dam, the storage capacity and the filling time, and reach a compromise on these matters, or they take the matter to the African Union and the United Nations.

“We should resort to the UN in order to try to resolve a problem that is manageable at present, before it changes into a situation that threatens the peace and security of the Nile Basin countries,” he said.

Postponing the 9th round of discussions has not been the only hurdle that has recently faced the negotiations. Last month, the two consultancy firms that were supposed to submit their studies on the dam failed to meet the deadline for the second time.

One of them withdrew from the studies, leaving Egypt with the possibility of having to choose another firm, which may take another six months.

The studies are being commissioned by the TNC, made up of Ethiopia, Sudan and Egypt. The committee includes four representatives and experts from Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan.

Conflict over the dam goes back to the period before the 25 January Revolution, when Egypt attempted several times to prevent the construction of the dam due to concerns over its effect on the Nile water quota reaching Egypt.

The differences took a sharp turn when Ethiopia diverted the course of the Blue Nile to start the building process in May 2013.

The dam and its effect on Egypt’s water quota remained a cause of difference between Egypt and Ethiopia until President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi held talks with his Ethiopian counterpart, Mulatu Teshome, earlier this year. The two countries then decided to open a new chapter of cooperation and confidence-building measures.

In March, Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan met in Sudan and signed a Declaration of Principles on the GERD that included cooperation between the three countries regarding their water needs, with the aim of improving sustainable development and regional economic integration. All three countries also agreed to not cause harm to any of the signatories.

Marzouk does not regard the agreement as a legally binding document, however. “It is a declaration of good intentions that allowed Addis Ababa to carry on the building process and not take any measures to guarantee Egypt’s share of the Nile water after the completion of the dam,” he said.

After the signing, the three countries agreed to sign contracts with the French and Dutch consultancy firms to carry out studies of the dam’s possible effects on the accessing of water by the downstream countries. The studies are also expected to determine the time period it will take for the dam to be filled and the possible environmental and social impacts on Egypt and Sudan.

The Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam, scheduled to be completed in 2017, will be Africa’s largest hydroelectric power plant, with a storage capacity of 74 billion cubic metres of water and a height of 145 metres.

Egypt has voiced concerns about its share of the Nile’s water, since the country depends on the Nile for 95 per cent of its water needs. As stipulated in a 1959 treaty, Egypt currently receives 55.5 billion cubic metres of Nile water and Sudan gets 18 billion cubic metres.

According to the Irrigation Ministry, Egypt is already suffering from a water deficit of 20 billion cubic metres a year, which means it cannot accept any other possible fall in its water quota.

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