Monday,27 May, 2019
Current issue | Issue 1369, (16-22 November 2017)
Monday,27 May, 2019
Issue 1369, (16-22 November 2017)

Ahram Weekly

Reaching a dead end?

The latest tripartite meeting between Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan on the Renaissance Dam was a failure, writes Doaa El-Bey


Abdel-Ati, centre, at this week’s meeting in Cairo
Abdel-Ati, centre, at this week’s meeting in Cairo

“The minister of irrigation has said the parties failed to agree: if they cannot agree on the guidelines for the preliminary study how can they be expected to agree on more substantive issues,” asks Abbas Sharaki, a professor at Cairo University’s Institute for African Research and Studies.

At the end of this week’s tripartite meeting in Cairo Irrigation Minister Mohamed Abdel-Ati expressed concern over the future of talks. The failure to emerge with any results raised the same questions that have been asked after every tripartite meeting. When will studies on the impact of the dam on the flow of the Nile begin? What will happen if the studies do not start until the dam is fully built and after it starts operating?

Tarek Fahmi, head of the Israeli Research Unit at the National Centre for Middle East Studies, says that in the wake of the latest failure Egypt took a firm stand, broadcasting its concerns to the international community that the meetings will not achieve the desired results. “Cairo is now clearly convinced negotiations on technical matters will lead nowhere,” he says.

Egypt has shown great flexibility in the last few months in the hope of finishing the studies as soon as possible, said Abdel-Ati.

“The constant delays have raised concerns in Cairo about the ability of the three states to agree to work together to ensure Egypt’s water security,” he said.

Abdel-Ati submitted a report on the outcome of the meeting to Prime Minister Sherif Ismail on Sunday.

The meeting was intended to discuss the preliminary report submitted by the French consultancy firms Artelia and BRL and reach agreement on guidelines for assessing the environmental and economic effects of the dam on Egypt and Sudan. 

This week’s meeting was the 17th to be held by the tripartite technical committee. It was held in closed sessions in Cairo on Saturday and Sunday in the presence of the irrigation ministers of Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia.

The technical committee consists of 12 members, four from each of the three countries.

Last month Ethiopia announced 62 per cent of the construction of the dam was complete and that filling its reservoir would start by the middle of next year.

The previous tripartite meeting was held last month in Ethiopia, one day after the first official visit by dignitaries from the three states to the site of the Renaissance Dam. It too concluded without any agreement.

The visit was organised by the Ethiopian government. Abdel-Ati headed Egypt’s delegation visiting the dam which included Minister of Water Resources Moetaz Moussa.

The preliminary report on the planned studies was issued by BRL and Artelia in March. The three countries agreed not to disclose details of the preliminary report though leaks suggest it pointed out to possible negative impacts of the dam.

Studies were scheduled to begin in August 2016, with preliminary reports being issued every three months and a final report after 11 months. Yet after more than 13 months only one preliminary report has been issued.

Egypt has long been worried over the tripartite technical committee’s lack of progress. Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukri expressed Cairo’s concerns to his Ethiopian counterpart Workineh Gebeyehu on the sidelines of the African Union preparatory meetings in June this year. In September, on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly in New York, Shoukri reiterated his worries about the failure to complete the technical studies.

Gebeyehu has repeatedly stressed his country is committed to the 2015 declaration of principles signed by Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia which states that Ethiopia should not begin filling the dam’s reservoir until studies are completed.

When complete the dam will generate 6,000-megawatts of electricity, says Addis Ababa.

Ethiopia and Sudan are moving to impose de facto changes on the ground, says Fahmi. “Both states are buying time until 80 or 90 per cent of the dam is built,” placing Egypt in an extremely awkward position.

One possible option Cairo may follow in search of a breakthrough is to request the mediation of other Nile Basin countries. A second option, which Fahmi believes is less likely, is to internationalise the issue.

“President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi said in last week’s World Youth Forum that the dam is a matter of life and death. That is an important message, but will Addis Ababa get it,” asks Fahmi.

Sharaki points to another possible option — implementing Article 5 of the Declaration of Principles which states the three parties should agree “scenarios for filling the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam reservoir in parallel with the construction of the dam... and the annual operation policies of the Renaissance Dam.”

“If we follow this together with the technical track we can at least keep any harm from the dam to a minimum,” he says.

Since Ethiopia declared it was building the dam Cairo has repeatedly voiced its concerns over the possible impact on Egypt’s annual share of 55.5 billion cubic metres of Nile water.

Addis Ababa insists the dam is necessary for its development and will not harm downstream countries.

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