Solution has not been reached in dam talks: Egyptian, Ethiopian water ministries

Hend Kortam
6 Min Read
A picture taken on May 28, 2013 shows the Blue Nile River in Guba, Ethiopia, during its diversion ceremony (AFP/File, William Lloyd-George)
A picture taken on May 28, 2013 shows the Blue Nile in Guba, Ethiopia, during its diversion ceremony.  (AFP Photo)
A picture taken on May 28, 2013 shows the Blue Nile in Guba, Ethiopia, during its diversion ceremony.
(AFP Photo)

The Egyptian delegation to Ethiopia, headed by the water minister, returned from Ethiopia Tuesday after it failed to resolve “sticking points” following talks on the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam.

Minister of Water Resources and Irrigation Mohamed Abdul Muttalib resumed talks in the Ethiopian capital on Monday. The Egyptian water ministry said that Abdul Muttalib accepted an invitation to hold talks from his Ethiopian counterpart Alemayehu Tegunu; however, Ethiopia’s foreign ministry said “Minister Muttalib asked to visit Ethiopia.”

Egypt’s water ministry said after the meeting that “all suggestions by the Egyptian delegation to solve sticking points were met with unjustified rejection, reaching the level of obstinacy.”

The ministry continued in its statement that this proves that the Ethiopian side did not look at the current problem with sufficient “attention and seriousness”.

Ethiopia, on the other hand, said the talks “made no progress” because of a difference in opinion regarding the involvement of international experts in a proposed committee to oversee implementing recommendations of a report written by the International Panel of Experts in 2013.

Ethiopia’s foreign ministry said: “Egypt wants to include international experts on this committee. Ethiopia and Sudan have made it clear they see no need for anything more than representatives from the three countries on the proposed committee.”

The international element of the proposed committee was a point of lengthy debate, Abdul Muttalib said during talks in the Sudanese capital Khartoum in December. There was a series of tripartite talks between the Nile Basin countries in November, December and January.

Egypt’s Supreme Committee for Nile Water asserted one day ahead of the talks on Monday the importance of mutual benefits for the people of the Nile Basin countries, in a meeting attended by Abdul Muttalib and headed by Prime Minister Hazem El-Bebalawi.

Water ministry spokesman Khaled Wassif said after the latest round of talks on Monday that the Renaissance Dam, which is currently under construction, “lacks legitimacy” so far, since “no country has announced its approval of ongoing construction,” state-run MENA reported.

Wassif told state-run television that the meeting conflicted with Egyptian interests and that there is no reason to continue attending talks when it is clear that the intention of the Ethiopian side is to not cooperate.

Wassif added that the Egyptian government is working on more than one approach as quickly as possible and that it will resort to different paths to protect its interests peacefully.

The dam has long been a point of contention between Egypt and Ethiopia, as Egypt fears that it will have a detrimental effect on its share of Nile water. Egypt is in possession of the majority share of the Nile’s water. In accordance with agreements signed in 1929 and 1959, Egypt is guaranteed 55.5bn cubic metres of the estimated total of 84bn cubic metres of Nile water produced each year.

The construction of the dam is expected to be complete in three years. It is being built on the Blue Nile, a major tributary of the Nile; its origin is in Ethiopia and it supplies Egypt with 80% of the river’s water.

In an interview in January, the Ethiopian water minister said that Egypt was “misinformed” on some issues regarding the dam and the amount of water that would reach Egypt.

The dam’s project Director Simegnew Bekele said, also in January, that the dam would prevent annual floods in Sudan and would help prevent the accumulation of silt in dams located in Sudan and Egypt. He added that it would also prevent the evaporation of water from downstream countries, and would provide opportunities for Ethiopia to export electricity to neighbouring states.

In his latest trip to Ethiopia, Abdul Muttalib asserted Egypt’s position on the dam: it will not give up a single drop of its historic and fixed supply of the Nile River, and will, however, support Ethiopian aspirations in creating development projects, generating electricity and raising the standards of living of the Ethiopian people.

Although Egypt’s water minister “praised the atmosphere” of the December talks and said that there was a “new spirit” contributing to “achieving good results”, he added that “sticking points” remain.  The three sides did not reach an agreement in January. The Egyptian side said two points were discussed but were refused by Ethiopia, adding that unless there are new proposals, the meetings are over.  Talks in November had also failed to produce the committee.

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