Nile Dam Dispute: Egypt’s Al-Sisi, Biden reiterate need for agreement on filling and operation of GERD

Daily News Egypt
6 Min Read

Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi met with US President Joe Biden on Saturday in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. Regarding Ethiopia’s Nile dam, President Biden reiterated US support for Egypt’s water security and to forging a diplomatic resolution that would achieve the interests of all parties and contribute to a more peaceful and prosperous region.

The two leaders reiterated the imperative of concluding an agreement on the filling and operation of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) without further delay as stipulated in the Statement of the President of the United Nations Security Council dated September 15, 2021, and in accordance with international law.

Nile Dam Dispute Between Egypt, Ethiopia, and Sudan: A Timeline

Nile Dam Dispute: For almost a decade, Egypt, Ethiopia, and Sudan have been engaged in negotiations on the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD). Daily News Egypt timeline traces the events of the GERD dispute from 2011 to the present day.

The principal purpose of the decade-long negotiations was to conclude a treaty, governing both the filling of the GERD reservoir and the operation of the dam. 

GERD negotiations saga started in 2011, when the Nile Basin downstream countries, Egypt and Sudan, expressed concern over the surprise announcement of dam building. 

In 2012, Egypt, Sudan, and Ethiopia formed a 10-member International Panel of Experts (IPoE) with two members of each country, including four world specialists to study the Nile dam. 

IPoE issued a report after 4 visits to the Ethiopia disputed dam, the panel calls for further studies on economic evaluation of GERD water resource systems, hydropower models.

Also, the panel said that operating rules for existing dams/hydropower installations unavailable, as only a few details on GERD operation were provided. IPoE recommended further investigation into GERD hydrological impacts on downstream countries, calling for “a full transboundary environmental and social impact assessment.” 

In 2014, a tripartite committee from Ethiopia, Egypt and Sudan conducted studies on the dam but are never completed. In 2015, the three countries signed the Declaration of Principles on GERD. 

In 2015, two consultancy firms were contracted to study the dam’s impacts, namely BRLi (France) and Deltares (Netherlands). Later, Deltares withdrew from studies citing concerns about lack of independence. 

Until 2017, the recommended studies have not been undertaken. In 2018, the 3 countries established the National Independent Research Study Group (NIRSG) on GERD filling and operation. Afterwards, Egypt presented a balanced comprehensive proposal on the dam satisfying Ethiopia’s development goals. 

In 2019, Ethiopia summarily rejects Egyptian proposal after a 2-day ministerial meeting in Cairo, and in late 2019 NIRSG failed to produce an agreement. Then, Egypt, Ethiopia, and Sudan resumed GERD talks under US Treasury and World Bank observation. 

12 meetings were conducted from November 2019 until February 2020 on February 2020, Ethiopia refused to sign GERD draft agreement that is initialled by Egypt. 

March 2020, Egypt rejected Ethiopia’s statement on unilateral dam filling without agreement. On May 2020 Ethiopia criticised an Arab League resolution that supports Egypt’s position. Egypt stressed that the Nile dam will not be filled without agreement. In the same month, Sudan rejected Ethiopian offer to sign a bilateral agreement, insisting that Egypt should be included. Afterwards, Ethiopia agreed to resume negotiations with Egypt and Sudan. 

On June 2020, GERD talks ended without agreement, Egypt filed a complaint to the UN Security Council to prevent Ethiopian unilateral actions on the Nile dam. In the same month, the African Union (AU) brought together three countries’ heads of state to address the dispute. 

In July 2020, talks between water ministers from three involved countries resumed under AU supervision, on 12 July the AU-sponsored Nile dam talks ended fruitlessly. On 15 July 2020, Ethiopia announced starting 1st phase of dam filling with 4.9bn cbm. Then, Egypt requested urgent clarification on the filling reports. A few hours later Ethiopia denies GERD filling statement.

In July 2021, following the second filling of Ethiopia’s Nile dam, Egypt brought the issue to the United Nations Security Council.

On 15 September 2021, the Security Council issued a presidential statement on the GERD (S/PRST/2021/18) in which it calls for the resumption of the AU-led negotiations to reach a “binding agreement” on the dam’s filling and operation. After the adoption, the representative of India took the floor to deliver a statement and said that “as a general rule, transboundary water issues do not belong to the domain of the UN Security Council”. India went on to stress that the text does not constitute a “precedent for the Council to intervene or adjudicate in any other transboundary water disputes”.

In January 2022, Egypt said it is ready to resume talks.

In July 2022, satellite images show that Ethiopia has started the third filling of the mega Nile dam unilaterally.

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