Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan meet over disputed report on Renaissance Dam

Water minister of Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia at the site of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam, Oct. 17, 2017

Water minister of Egypt, Ethiopia, and Sudan have convened in Ethiopia to discuss disputes over a preliminary report on the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam. The ministers on Tuesday visited the dam construction site in Benshangul Gumuz region of Ethiopia.

Rains in Ethiopia’s highlands provide some 80% of the water supply for the Nile via the Blue Nile branch of the river, which meets with the White Nile at Khartoum in Sudan and continues northward to Egypt. The mega-dam, which is a little over a mile long, is celebrated in Ethiopia as having the potential to bring electricity to millions.

But to downstream Egypt, which relies on the Nile for more than 95% of its water, the dam represents a potential existential threat. Egypt’s Minister of Irrigation Mohamed Abdel Aaty says his country is very concerned about differences over two studies prepared by an international committee of experts. The studies carried out by French engineering firms are meant to determine how filling the dam’s reservoir will affect downstream countries.

“We are facing a critical situation, and we have not yet been able to approve the preliminary report of the advisory office,” said Abdel Aaty, as quoted by Egypt’s Al-Masry Al-Youm newspaper.

Tuesday’s visit was part of a confidence-building effort among the three water ministers, Abdel-Aty of Egypt, Mutaz Musa of Sudan, and Sileshi Bekele of Ethiopia. The three ministers traveled from Addis Ababa together to the dam site where they inspected the ongoing construction and received a detailed briefing from the resident engineer.

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Progress in construction of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam is seen a photo released by Ethiopia’s state news agency, October 2017

Egypt’s foreign ministry spokesman noted in remarks to the press that water has not yet been stored in the dam’s reservoir throughout the current year, concluding that the dam has not therefore impeded the movement of water to Egypt so far. The ministers were scheduled to continue their meetings Thursday to try to find consensus on the contentious points of the preliminary report. Sudan’s state news agencies stressed a “spirit of cooperation” at the tripartite meetings, downplaying tensions among the three states.

“The three ministers said in statements to the Sudan Television that the cooperation on the dam was a model among the riparian countries that should be followed by others, pointing to the success of the three countries in reaching solutions… that met their requirements through the joint technical committees, water diplomacy and the level of presidential diplomacy,” the Sudanese news agency SUNA reported.

Ethiopia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs in a statement described the joint inspection as a sign of transparency: “The visit to the dam project is in a bid to further boost the level of existing transparency and in turn uplift, the confidence among the three countries with regard to the Dam.”

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