Ethiopia’s rigorous stance on GERD talks debilitates chances for agreement

Mohammed El-Said
5 Min Read

Negotiations on the Ethiopian hydroelectric dam continued on Tuesday for a fifth day, with still no agreement on issues regarding its filling and operation. Egypt declared that Ethiopia’s insistence on its rigorous stance regarding technical issues decreases the chances for agreement over Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD).

The fifth day of talks showed differences in viewpoints between the three countries involved in the talks, namely Egypt, Sudan, and Ethiopia, regarding several issues. These include combating drought, prolonged drought and years of water scarcity during both filling and operation.

The stalemate comes despite Egypt’s flexibility in providing proposals to Ethiopia, according to a statement from Egypt’s Ministry of Water Resources and Irrigation.

The ministry said that two parallel online meetings for legal and technical teams were held between the three involved countries. 

There are still disagreements regarding the rules of refilling after periods of prolonged drought, as dams will be at the lowest levels of operation. Egypt is adhering to the implementation of certain rules for refilling in both the disputed GERD and the Aswan High Dam (AHD).

The ministry pointed out that Ethiopia is insisting on implementing the same rules for the initial filling. This represents an additional burden to the AHD in addition to the impacts of the drought period. Egypt and Sudan rejected the Ethiopian insistence to unilaterally control the river.

The parties agreed that each country will present its report to the tripartite ministerial meeting. Also, it was agreed to postpone holding the bilateral meetings between each country separately with the observers to be held on Wednesday. 

The current round of talks was launched on Friday under the sponsorship of the African Union (AU), which is currently headed by Presidency holder South Africa. The talks are expected to last for the entire week.

The AU’s Assembly Bureau and representatives from AU member states, the US, and the European Union are also participating in the meetings.

During Monday’s virtual talks, the delegations reviewed viewpoints and proposals for a final agreement on the still disputed technical and legal points. 

In the meantime, Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed said that his country will not stop the dam’s filling, despite the parties having yet to reach an agreement. He noted that his country will start filling the dam’s reservoir during the current rainy season, which started a week ago.

Delivering a speech before the Ethiopian parliament on Tuesday, Ahmed added that the dam’s filling cannot be stopped, and the height at which construction has reached requires filling to commence.

He also said that Ethiopia will not cause any harm to Egypt, and hopes that an agreement will be reached soon. He added that Addis Ababa has notified AU countries of this decision simultaneously with the course of negotiations.  

Ahmed denied that his country has pledged to refrain from filling the dam before reaching an agreement with downstream countries. 

In comments to the media on Monday evening, Mohamed Sebaey, Spokesperson for Egypt’s Ministry of Water Resources and Irrigation, said that Egypt has not been informed on whether Ethiopia has started filling the GERD reservoir. He noted that there is also no evidence for the start of filling 

Geologist and Professor of Water Resources at Cairo University, Abbas Sharaky, explained that there is a semi-lake behind the GERD, but this does not mean that Ethiopia has started filling the dam. Space images indicate that these waters are, instead due to the heavy rain in the region where the dam is located. 

Egypt is heavily dependent on River Nile flow to provide about 97% of its present water needs, with only 660 cbm of water available per person, one of the world’s lowest annual per capita water shares.

But as its population is expected to double in the next 50 years, Egypt is projected to have critical countrywide fresh water and food shortages by 2025, according to a study conducted by the Geological Society of America (GSA). 

Egypt receives about 70% of its water flow from the Blue Nile and Atbara Rivers, both sourced in the Ethiopian plateau, which merge as the Main Nile in northern Sudan. As a result, Cairo fears that the Ethiopian mega dam could affect its water share.

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Mohammed El-Said is the Science Editor for the Daily News Egypt with over 8 years of experience as a journalist. His work appeared in the Science Magazine, Nature Middle East, Scientific American Arabic Edition, SciDev and other regional and international media outlets. El-Said graduated with a bachelor's degree and MSc in Human Geography, and he is a PhD candidate in Human Geography at Cairo University. He also had a diploma in media translation from the American University in Cairo.