Issue No.1185, 20 February, 2014      19-02-2014 04:47PM ET

Sticking points

Talks between Egypt and Ethiopia on the Renaissance Dam end in failure, reports Reem Leila

Sticking points
The Blue Nile in Guba, Ethiopia, during its diversion ceremony (photo: AFP)
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Talks intended to resolve outstanding differences between Egypt and Ethiopia over the construction of the controversial Renaissance Dam have failed, says Minister of Water Resources and Irrigation Mohamed Abdel-Moteleb.

Abdel-Moteleb travelled to Addis Ababa on 10 February. But the meetings, he told a press conference, failed to resolve any current sticking points.

Egypt is demanding the participation of international experts in the new mechanism put in place to follow up on Ethiopian studies of the consequences of the dam and has proposed a raft of confidence building measures between the countries of the Eastern Nile Basin —Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia.

“Egypt presented a document detailing guarantees for downstream countries against any negative effects that may be result from the construction of the dam,” said Abdel-Moteleb. It was rejected by Ethiopia.

Ethiopian Ministry of Water spokesperson Dina Mufti said there was no need to include more international representatives on a panel that already contains two members each from Ethiopia, Sudan and Egypt and four others representing the international community.

“It is the same request Egypt raised — and which was rejected by both Ethiopia and Sudan — during tripartite negotiations in Khartoum last December. Egypt failed to present anything new,” insisted Mufti.

She denied reports that Israel and Turkey are playing leading roles in the construction of the dam. “These rumours increased following Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu’s recent visit to Addis Ababa during which he offered to share Turkey’s experience in constructing the Ataturk Dam,” said Mufti.

Rumours of Israeli involvement in the project, she claimed, were being deliberately spread by Egypt in the hope of fanning anti-dam sentiments among Arab states.

“Qatar — a Gulf country — is supporting us while Israel, like any other state, may contract to be supplied with water and electricity. Ethiopia’s stance has always been that it wants a win-win situation in terms of the utilisation of Nile water among riparian states.”  The project, Mufti added, has been designed and financed — and is now being implemented — entirely by Ethiopians.

“I wonder why Egyptian officials are panicking. The new dam will benefit Sudan and Egypt, both of which will be invited to buy the electricity generated.”

Abdel-Moteleb stressed that Egypt will continue to negotiate with Addis Ababa while at the same time internationalising the dispute. There are plans for delegations to be sent to the UN Security Council and the International Court of Justice to put Egypt’s case.

“All options and scenarios are open,” says Abdel- Moteleb. “Each party has the right to defend its interests without compromising the other’s rights.”

During his recent visit to Russia Minister of Defence Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi is thought to have asked for Russian help in solving the dispute.

“Egypt has strong bonds with Russia and Ethiopia has recently upgraded its military coordination with Moscow,” says water expert Diaa Al-Qousi. “Russia is in an excellent position to mediate between the two countries.”

“Egypt is also planning to send delegations to Italy, Japan and China to explain the ramifications of the dam on Egypt’s share of Nile water. Cairo will press these donor countries to pressure Ethiopia to respond to our requests.”

Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn insists Egypt will be on the losing side if it refers the hydroelectric dam project to international arbitration. “We are well prepared for this and will win politically,” Desalegn said. “Egypt is desperate. It is useless to take the dam file to the UNSC or International Court of Justice.”

“The international community sympathises with our just stance. It’s our right to construct the dam to generate electricity. This dam will not be the last. It’s just the beginning.”

Desalegn’s analysis, says El-Qousi, is far from convincing. “There is no room for sympathy. Egypt has legal documents guaranteeing its historic right to its quota of Nile water and studies detailing the negative impact of the dam on the flow of the river.”

The undiplomatic language Ethiopia is using against Egypt, he argues, indicates that Addis Ababa is being supported by Israel, the US and Qatar and this is something “Egypt will not accept”.

“The first phase of the Renaissance Dam is being implemented by Israeli companies. A number of states are using the project to harm Egyptian interests.” 

Should an international dispute develop between Egypt and the other Nile Basin countries there are very few avenues that can be followed in seeking a resolution, says professor of international law Ahmed Abul-Wafa. “There aren’t many alternatives in such a case. Other than political and diplomatic negotiations and international arbitration the only remaining option will be the use of military force.”

Egypt and Sudan’s share of Nile water is enshrined in a number of international treaties, the last of which was signed in 1959 between Egypt and the Sudan. “These historical rights are fully protected by international law,” says Abul-Wafa. 

Until 1959 Egypt’s quota was set at 48 billion cubic metres of water. After the 1959 agreement Egypt’s total share was increased to 55.5 billion cubic metres and Sudan’s to14.5 billion cubic metres. These amounts comprise six to eight per cent of total rainfall over the Nile Basin. Much of the rest is lost through evapotranspiration and seepage.

“The water that is actually made use of is a fraction of the possible total. But to tap this potential there must be a radical overhaul of water management. In areas such as the equatorial lakes the water losses are huge,” says Abul-Wafa.

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