Nile dam dispute poses a thorny challenge for Ethiopia and Egypt

Nile dam dispute poses a thorny challenge for Ethiopia and Egypt

The Blue Nile river as it passes through the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) project, near Guba in Ethiopia, above. William Davison, below, a senior analyst on Ethiopian affairs with International Crisis Group. (AFP)
  • Mini-African summit fixed for Tuesday in the latest effort to break protracted deadlock
  • Experts say disagreements run deeper than technical matters and the sharing of water

(arabnews)—DUBAI: When Egyptian, Ethiopian and Sudanese officials meet to resolve their differences on the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) that Addis Ababa is building on the Blue Nile, they instantly run into many thorny issues.

These disputes run deeper than technical matters and the sharing of water, experts and analysts say. Because they are also legal, historical and trust-related, a tripartite agreement has proved elusive. An eventual deal could take longer because major differences persist, mainly between Ethiopia and Egypt.

Officials from the three countries concluded two weeks of talks on July 13, supervised by the African Union (AU) and observed by US and European officials, but came no closer to an agreement. Officials were quoted as saying that the three countries would submit their final reports to the AU and that a mini-African summit would be held on Tuesday.

An aerial view shows the River Nile before sunset in the Helwan suburb south of the Egyptian capital Cairo on June 20, 2020. (Photo by Khaled Desouki / AFP)

The talks were the latest in a decade-long effort by the three African countries to resolve differences over the GERD. Ethiopia hopes the 6,000-megawatt dam will turn it into Africa’s top hydropower supplier. Egypt and Sudan fear the dam — being constructed less than 20 km from Ethiopia’s eastern border with Sudan — will substantially reduce their water share and affect development prospects.

While Addis Ababa insists the dam will benefit all Nile river basin states, the three countries are stymied by technical issues on how and when to fill the reservoir and how much water it should release, along with procedures for drought mitigation.

Experts and analysts from Africa and outside say the differences are fundamental and require sincerity. “Vital national interests are at stake, particularly on the Egyptian and Ethiopian sides,” said William Davison, a senior analyst on Ethiopian affairs with the Brussels-based International Crisis Group.

Ethiopia considers the project important for development and thus named it the “renaissance dam,” he said, adding: “It is also seen as vital to overcoming injustices from past treaties that excluded the country and denied it water allocations.”

Egypt, which relies heavily on the Nile for agriculture, industry and drinking water, worries that such a large dam will reduce water supplies “in a problematic way” in the future, Davison told Arab News from Addis Ababa.

Satellite images released recently showed water pouring into the reservoir, prompting Seleshi Bekele, the Ethiopian water minister, to assuage Egyptian anxieties by insisting that the process was the product of natural seasonal flooding and not direct action by the government.

Egyptian analysts say Ethiopia is ignoring its neighbors’ interests. “The talks have failed because of continuous Ethiopian obstinacy,” said Hani Raslan, an expert on African affairs at the Cairo-based Al-Ahram Center for Strategic and Political Studies. “Ethiopia has been buying time to impose a new reality on the ground . . . they don’t intend to reach an agreement.”