Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan have reached an agreement in their ongoing dispute over the construction of the Renaissance Dam on the River Nile.
Progress was made in talks held yesterday in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa, to discuss the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD), a $4 billion infrastructure project being undertaken by Ethiopia. The foreign ministers of Egypt and Ethiopia and Sudan’s water resources minister have said they will set up a scientific study group to consult on the construction of the dam, and leaders from the three nations will meet every six months for consultations on progress. More high-level talks are set to take place on 3 July in Cairo.
According to documents obtained by the Associated Press, the scientific study group will discuss “various scenarios related to the filling and operation rules in accordance with the principle of equitable and reasonable utilization of shared water resources while taking all appropriate measures to prevent the causing of significant harm.”
The three countries have also signed a Declaration of Principles that aims to bring about “understanding and rapprochement between Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia.” The ten-principle declaration was first proposed in 2015 as the foundation upon which further agreements should be based.
Egypt’s Foreign Minister, Sameh Shoukry, told reporters that “we have charted a roadmap that, if successful, will be able to break difficulties that we have been facing,” according to the Washington Post. Ethiopia’s Foreign Ministry spokesman, Meles Alem, saw the progress as “one step forward to Ethiopia”.
Until now, extensive negotiations between the three countries had failed to reach an agreement. The previous round of talks, which took place in April in Sudan, ended without resolution. Ethiopia blamed Egypt for the failure of these talks, citing a “lack of goodwill on Egypt’s part to move the consultations forward.” Alem explained that “Egypt wanted Ethiopia to recognise a 1959 water-sharing treaty between Sudan and Egypt,” which Ethiopia sees as “a red line” because the agreement was signed in its absence. Although there have been a number of treaties over the years between the countries sharing water from the Nile, most of these agreements excluded Ethiopia.
The April talks were the first technical meetings held after Egypt suspended negotiations last November, in protest at Sudanese and Ethiopian modifications of the studies made by French experts about the dam. The dispute has been ongoing since Ethiopia began construction on the dam back in 2011. The dam is situated on the Blue Nile, a tributary of the Nile River in the Benishangul-Gumuz Region of Ethiopia, about 15 kilometres east of the border with Sudan.
The dam is now 60 per cent complete and will become Africa’s largest hydroelectric dam. Ethiopia hopes the dam will boost development in the country and provide power to 60 million of its citizens who currently don’t have access to electricity. Egypt, however, is concerned that too much of the Nile’s waters could be retained each year by the dam, affecting its agriculture and suffocating the country’s main water source. With around 93 per cent of Egypt’s 94 million citizens living along the banks of Nile, Egypt has taken a tough stance against Ethiopia’s plans. Egyptian President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi has previously said that “the Nile is a matter of life and death” for Egypt.