The government of Ethiopia has described preparations for land clearing behind the controversial Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) ahead of commencing filling its Blue Nile reservoir with water in July.
Bashir Abdel Rahim, Director General of Ethiopia’s Job Creation Agency said 30 June that more than 2,000 workers will be deployed to remove trees, shrubs and stones from the land behind the dam, with a total of 1,000 hectares to be cleared within 45 days.
Previously on 21 May, Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan agreed to resume technical discussions on filling the dam after virtual talks between Sudanese Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok and Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed.
The Vice-President of the European Commission and Commissioner for Foreign Affairs, Josep Borrell held a telephone conversation last week with the Commissioner for Peace and Security in the African Union, Ismail Sharqi to discuss GERD. A statement from the EU said that Borrell had stressed that “resolving the dispute is important for stability in the whole region”, and welcomed Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia’s decision to resume technical talks between the ministers of water resources.
The government of Egypt sent a letter to United Nations Security Council member states 1 May detailing that country’s position around continuing failure of negotiations and insisting that Ethiopia should fill the dam reservoir over a period of seven years and release 40 billion cubic meters of water every year, while Ethiopia wants to fill the dam in three years and has declined Egypt’s proposal, claiming that it does not “respect current and future rights and development plans of Ethiopia over the Nile and complicates the filling of the dam”.
Egypt, and Sudan, the third party in negotiations, have rejected Ethiopia’s proposal of a “partial agreement” that would initially cover the first stage of the filling.
The Egypt letter describes that on 10 April, Ethiopia’s prime minister sent a letter to the president of Egypt and the prime minister of Sudan proposing they agree to an Ethiopian plan for the execution of the first (July) stage of the filling of GERD, and complains that this plan was not shared with Egypt or Sudan.
The letter from Egypt called on the international community to ask Ethiopia to respect international legal obligations to the 2015 Declaration of Principles around the project, and to reconsider its position and to accept the agreement on the filling and operation of the dam initiated by Egypt in February 2020.
Egypt’s foreign minister Sameh Shoukry phoned his Estonian counterpart, Urmas Reinsalu, to reinforce his country’s position, as Estonia holds the Security Council presidency for the month of May.
Egypt state media reports that this phone call tackled “the necessity of Ethiopia's positive engagement in order to settle this file in a just and balanced way for the three concerned parties, so as to guarantee the sustainability of security and stability in the region…The Estonian Minister expressed his aspiration for close cooperation with Egypt in the framework of Estonia's membership in the Security Council and its assumption of the Council’s presidency this May, in order to support international peace and security, in view of the positive role played by Egypt in this regard at the regional level, whether in the Middle East or in Africa, stressing Estonia's eagerness to raise the issues of common concern during the Security Council deliberations”.
Ethiopia and Egypt are both undertaking efforts to enlist international support for respective positions about the dam, and now the UN Security Council has been approached from the Egypt side.
A series of international tours have been conducted by diplomats from the two countries in recent weeks, after the failure of a US-sponsored agreement at the end of February and Ethiopia’s announcement of its intention to begin filling the dam reservoir in July this year, following a decade of fraught negotiations between the Nile Basin countries.
The US Treasury which, with The World Bank, has acted as a broker between the two countries in recent months, has described an agreement earlier this year as addressing “all issues in a balanced and equitable manner… taking into account the interests of Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan”, and warned Ethiopia that “final testing and filling (of the dam) should not take place without an agreement”, prompting accusations of bias by the US in favour of Egypt’s position.