Thursday,25 April, 2019
Current issue | Issue 1395, (24 - 30 May 2018)
Thursday,25 April, 2019
Issue 1395, (24 - 30 May 2018)

Ahram Weekly

Reasons for hope?

Will the document issued at the end of last week’s nine-party meeting put the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam one step closer to a resolution, asks Doaa El-Bey


The heads of intelligence, ministers of foreign affairs and irrigation of Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan
The heads of intelligence, ministers of foreign affairs and irrigation of Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan

The heads of intelligence, ministers of foreign affairs and irrigation of Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan met last week in Addis Ababa for their second nine-party meeting aimed at resolving differences facing the technical track of the negotiations over the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD).

A document issued at the end of the meeting drew up a number of mechanisms for cooperation and set various dates for further future meetings.

“It is a diplomatic document that reflects good relations between the three countries,” Abbas Sharaki, a professor at Cairo University’s Institute for African Research and Studies, said. “But in reality, there is no progress regarding the dam. The document’s articles do not touch upon the main controversial issues.” However, Mohamed Hegazi, former assistant foreign minister, believes the document renews hope for cooperation among the three countries by reiterating their commitment to the Declaration of Principles.

The document supports the vision of dealing with the Nile as one unit that must be developed in the interests of all the Nile Basin states, away from confrontation and conflict, Hegazi explained.

Following the meeting, “the ministers reiterated the commitment of the three countries to the Agreement on Declaration of Principles on the GERD signed in Khartoum in March 2015 to achieve its object and purposes,” the document said. It was issued at the end of last week’s 15-hour meeting on Tuesday which lasted until the early hours of the following day.

The three countries have repeatedly voiced their full commitment to the principles of the 2015 agreement that ensures fair and equitable distribution of Nile water among them and emphasises that no country should cause harm to the others.

Hegazi said the five-point document, titled “The outcome of the second nine-party meeting of ministers of foreign affairs, water and heads of intelligence of Egypt, Ethiopia and the Sudan”, provided a mechanism for various levels of cooperation. The first point organised “the convening of regular summits of the three leaders every six months on the basis of rotation in their respective capitals”.

In the second point, Hegazi elaborated, the ministers agreed to bring together high-ranking officials from the three countries to establish an infrastructure fund “to provide for joint infrastructure and joint funds and development proposals in the three countries”, the document said. Sudan and Ethiopia have accepted Egypt’s invitation to host a meeting to discuss the outcome of discussions on 3-4 July in Cairo.

Sharaki welcomed the establishment of the fund calling it an important step but did not see how it could resolve the controversial issues with regards to the dam.

He also did not see the point of holding regular summit meetings. “The leaders of the three states meet twice every year during the African Union meetings. Their last meeting was in January on the peripherals of the AU and they are expected to meet next month for the same reason,” he said.

Furthermore, Hegazi saw no point in the third point of the document which allowed the present chairman of the National Technical Committee (NTC) to hand in Sudan and Ethiopia’s observations on the preliminary report to the French consultancy firm which is supposed to reply to these observations within three weeks. That reply will be discussed anyway in the ministerial meeting scheduled to be held back-to-back with the third nine-party meeting in Cairo on 18 and 19 June, he said.

The French consultancy firm that is supposed to conduct studies on the impact of the dam on Egypt and Sudan submitted the preliminary report to the three countries in May last year. The report established the methodology of further impact studies.

Egypt initially had reservations over the report but later accepted it; Ethiopia and Sudan have not. This has been the bone of contention between the three countries for the last few months.

Sharaki noted that the consultancy firm is already aware of these observations and a written reply to them will not help unless the parties are willing to compromise and accept the preliminary report.

Moreover, Sharaki noted, the nine-party meeting is not supposed to be held on a regular basis. “The fact that a third one will be held in June proves that the main controversial issues are still unresolved,” he said.

The fifth article of the document called for establishing a national independent scientific research group responsible for “discussing means of enhancing the level of understanding and cooperation among the three countries with regard to GERD”, according to the document. The group compromises 15 members — five from each country. They should hold nine meetings each for three days and submit the outcome of their deliberations by mid-August. The outcome will be discussed in future meetings.

While Sharaki believes that last week’s document was not very beneficial, Hegazi said the document was not a target in itself, but should go beyond the limitation of resolving the technical issues.

“It is important to take what is agreed upon further into establishing a Nile Basin authority to jointly manage water and go beyond it to more important projects,” he said.

The last meeting of the technical committee was held on 5 May in Addis Ababa and ended with no positive signs of resolving the difference.

The timetable for filling the dam’s reservoir, and the operating protocols of the dam, are two of the contentious issues the three countries need to resolve. Disagreement over the preliminary report and the other issues stymied the last nine-party meeting held in Khartoum last month.

Ethiopia began work on the dam in 2011. Egypt has repeatedly expressed its concerns that the dam will reduce its 55.5 billion cubic metre share of Nile water enshrined in the 1929 and 1959 Nile Water agreements.

Egypt is likely to suffer from a water shortage. Its average water per-capita is expected to drop from 663 cubic metres per year to 582 cubic metres by 2025, according to the Central Agency for Public Mobilisation and Statistics (CAPMAS).

Ethiopia insists the dam, which it says is being constructed mainly to generate electricity, is necessary for Ethiopia’s development and will not harm downstream countries.

Addis Ababa plans to start filling the reservoir later this year. When completed GERD will be the largest in Africa. Its reservoir has a capacity of 74 billion cubic metres.

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