Despite dispute, Ethiopia to fill dam from July

Ethiopia says it will start filling the controversial Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) in July, after Sudan rejected a request for a partial agreement without Egypt.

On May 13, Sudanese Prime Minister Abdallah Hamdok, in a letter to his Ethiopian counterpart, Dr Abiy Ahmed, said the issues regarding the dam need a tripartite agreement between Khartoum, Addis Ababa and Cairo, before the first filling.

“The signing of any partial agreement for the first stage requires an agreement on the technical and legal aspects that must be included in the agreement such as the co-ordination mechanism, data exchange, dam safety, and environmental and social impacts,” said Mr Hamdok in the letter.

However, Ethiopian Irrigation Minister Sileshi Bekele on May 14 told the media in Addis Ababa that the $4.8 billion project would go on as the civil engineering part was 87 per cent complete, and the general construction progress has reached 73 per cent.

The tripartite negotiations between Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia have stalled since February, when Ethiopia boycotted the talks accusing Sudan of using the US to put pressure on them.

Ethiopia says it is concerned that it is being asked to offer mitigation in case of a prolonged drought.

A major issue that emerged at the US-brokered negotiations in Washington in February is how long it will take to fill the dam.

Ethiopia wants to fill it in seven years, and Egypt wants the dam to be filled from 10 years onwards to minimise the reduction of the flow of Nile waters downstream. Egypt has been receiving 55.5 billion cubic metres annually under the 1959 agreement with Sudan.

Egypt now wants the issue be decided based on international law, and has reached out to the US, the Arab League and the UN to put pressure on Ethiopia.

Last week, Egypt’s Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry, wrote a letter to the UN Security Council about Ethiopia’s unilateral move to fill the dam outside the tripartite discussions.

In its March report, the International Crisis Group (ICG) said the new differences between Ethiopia and Egypt over could slide out of control unless the two countries embrace dialogue.

“Certainly there has been an uptick in feisty patriotic rhetoric and some belligerent posturing. But war would be a disastrous outcome and is still thankfully highly unlikely,” said William Davison, the ICG senior analyst on Ethiopia.

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