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Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam: Tripartite Talks Resume

Via Future Directions International, an update on the recently restarted discussions over the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam:

Talks about the GERD froze in January this year, after Sudan publicly expressed support for the construction of the dam. Egypt and Ethiopia agreed to meet again in Khartoum on 25 August, to discuss issues and concerns about the impact of the GERD. Despite previous failures to reach an agreement, it seems that the three riparian states are now ready to co-operate to enhance water security in the region.

Comment

Ethiopia and Egypt met in Equatorial Guinea on 26 June, during the African Union Summit, and decided to resume talks over the GERD, which is expected to be the biggest hydroelectric dam in Africa. Initially planned to take place in Cairo, the latest talks were held in Khartoum, Sudan. The two countries agreed on a common framework for the resumption of talks. The recently-elected Egyptian president, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, showed a willingness to renew co-operation over the distribution of the Nile’s water. This could be a turning point, both for the project and for regional water sharing agreements, as Egypt was previously a fierce opponent of the construction of the dam. Egyptian Irrigation Minister Hossam Moghazi said that the first day of talks was satisfactory.

The construction of the GERD on the Blue Nile has been a major concern for Egypt since its beginnings. The Blue Nile is the main tributary of the Nile and Egypt fears that the dam’s construction will decrease downstream flows. Egypt is 97 per cent dependant on the Nile for its water needs.

Egypt’s fears are reasonable. Ethiopia unilaterally began construction in 2013 and has already constructed 36 per cent of the dam. In a statement, issued on 31 March 2014, the NGO International Rivers warned Ethiopia against an ‘aggressively accelerated schedule’; in fact, it recommended halting construction. The NGO also highlighted several potential issues on safety, negative environmental impacts and consequences for the downstream flow. Although Ethiopia’s eagerness to develop economically is understandable, it needs to wait for the completion of feasibility studies before going any further.

The Nile waters have historically created tensions between the riparian countries. Ethiopia has always refused to acknowledge Egypt’s historic right to the Nile, as set out in colonial era treaties. Those treaties, signed in 1929 and 1959, recognise Egypt’s right to two-thirds of the Nile waters. The Nile Basin Initiative, an organisation gathering the Nile’s riparian states, advocates a more equitable allocation of the water and has tried to diminish Egypt’s control in this matter.

Egypt and Ethiopia have already agreed on a common framework for the talks. This includes respecting international law and the promotion of co-operation to meet the growing demand for water in the region. They have also committed themselves to respecting the results of the technical studies and Ethiopia has again assured Egypt that the project will not harm its water use.

One outcome of these talks will be the creation of a committee, composed of nationals from Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan, which will initiate two feasibility studies. Those studies are of major importance and include both a hydrology simulation model and a trans-boundary social, economic and environmental impact assessment.

Despite those encouraging signs of increased co-operation, there are still fears that the talks will again lead to a stalemate. Past disagreements between these two different and strongly affirmed national interests, have failed to have a positive outcome and this could very possibly happen again.



This entry was posted on Wednesday, August 27th, 2014 at 6:04 am and is filed under Egypt, Ethiopia, Nile, Sudan.  You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed.  Both comments and pings are currently closed. 

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