Despite US recommendations, single-minded Ethiopia wills to fill GERD without neighbours’ consent

Sarah El-Sheikh
8 Min Read

Ethiopia has expressed disappointment over the US Treasury Department’s stand on the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD), when it urged Ethiopia not to start filling the dam’s reservoir before concluding an agreement between Egypt, Sudan, and Ethiopia, according to statement by Ethiopian ministries of foreign affairs and irrigation.

“Ethiopia as the owner of the GERD will commence filling of the GERD in parallel with the construction of the dam in accordance with the principles of equitable and reasonable utilisation and the causing of no significant harm as provided for under the Agreement on the Declaration of Principles (DoP),” the Ethiopian statement said on Saturday.


Ethiopia said it notified Egypt, Sudan, and the US that it needed more time to deliberate on the process. 


Ethiopia does not accept the characterisation that the negotiation on the Guidelines and Rules on the First Filing and Annual Operation of the GERD (Guidelines and Rules) is completed. It has repeatedly stressed that the guidelines and rules must be prepared by the three countries, saying that the three countries are yet to address “outstanding issues pertaining to the finalisation of the Guidelines and Rules.

Ethiopia also expressed rejection for the “Egypt initialled the agreement” sentence used in the statement of the US, saying that this agreement was not the outcome of the negotiation or the technical and legal discussion of the three countries. 

Regarding concerns of dam’s safety, Ethiopia said, “with the full knowledge and agreement of Egypt and Sudan has addressed all dam safety related issues during the International Panel of Experts process.”

Ethiopia reaffirmed to continue its engagement with Egypt and Sudan to address the outstanding issues and finalise the Guidelines and Rules on the first filing and annual operation of the GERD.


On Saturday, Egypt signed in Washington the US-sponsored agreement of filling and operating of GERD and urged Ethiopia and Sudan to also sign the agreement, the Egyptian Foreign Ministry said in a statement. 

Egypt also said that it is looking forward to the acceptance by Sudan and Ethiopia of this agreement and their signing of it at the earliest possible juncture.


Egypt described the agreement as “a fair and balanced agreement that achieves the common interest of the three countries,” according to the statement.


This came after a meeting hosted in the US on 27 and 28 February to sign the final agreement, which was not attended by the Ethiopian side.


On Friday, US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin stressed the importance of not starting to fill the dam without concluding an agreement between three countries, stressing that the US will continue to work with Egypt, Ethiopia, and Sudan until they sign an accord on a giant Blue Nile hydropower dam.


He also said that the US is looking forward to Ethiopia finalising its national consultations “as soon as possible to provide for the signing of the agreement at the earliest possible time”, after Egypt initiated the agreement as a sign of commitment.


US noted the concern of the downstream residents in Sudan and Egypt because of the incomplete work on the safe operation of the dam, and the need to implement all necessary safety measures for the dams in accordance with international standards before filling began, according to the statement. 

The US stressed that final testing and filling should not be performed without agreement and be in line with the principles set out in the Declaration of Principles agreement, particularly the principles of not causing significant harm to my downstream country.


The statement stated that the US believes that the work accomplished during the past four months has resulted in an agreement that addresses all issues in a balanced and fair manner, taking into account the interests of the three countries.

The statement pointed out that this process depends on seven previous years of studies and technical consultations between the three countries, and the resulting agreement provides a resolution of all outstanding issues regarding the filling and operation of the dam.


The statement also noted that Mnuchin participated in separate bilateral meetings with the foreign ministers and the water resources ministers in Egypt and Sudan, where the ministers exchanged their comments on the agreement during these separate meetings.


Mnuchin stressed that the US is “Consistent with the principles set out in the DOP, and in particular the principles of not causing significant harm to downstream countries, final testing and filling should not take place without an agreement.” 


US Treasury also said that the United States has facilitated the preparation of an agreement on the filling and operation of the GERD based on the provisions proposed by legal and technical teams in Egypt, Ethiopia, and Sudan, and with technical input from the World Bank.


While on Saturday, Sudan’s Irrigation ministry stressed the need to reach a comprehensive agreement that includes the safe operation of the dam, before the start of the first filling process.  


It also noted that Sudanese side has submitted some observations on the comprehensive agreement, to the US Treasury team, and included them in the draft.


During the recent meeting, Washington failed to seal signatures from the three countries this week. Even though it was expected to be the final one for negotiations, Ethiopia said on Tuesday night that it will not participate in Washington’s brokered get-together “because the country’s delegation hasn’t concluded its consultation with relevant stakeholders,” according to statements by the Ethiopian ministry of water, irrigation, and energy on its Facebook page.


In the previous meeting, the parties reached an agreement on the following issues, subject to the final signing of the comprehensive agreement: “a schedule for a stage based filling plan of the GERD; a mitigation mechanism for the filling of the GERD during drought, prolonged drought, and prolonged periods of dry years.”


Tripartite negotiations  have been fruitless for years and the United States has recently sponsored fresh rounds of talks in Washington to push for an agreement that was supposed to be signed by all parties in late February.


GERD, which started in 2011, is set to be Africa’s largest hydro-electric dam, has already strained relations tensed between Egypt, and Ethiopia. Cairo fears the dam will diminish its water supply from the Nile, on which it relies for the vast majority of its fresh water.

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