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Sudan Boycott Delays Next Round Of GERD Negotiations

Addis ABABA, Ethiopia

A scheduled resumption of tripartite talks on the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) sponsored by the African Union (AU) has been postponed until 17 August upon the request of Sudan, according to Ethiopia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Sudan’s new boycott of negotiations scheduled to resume 10 August is understood to be in protest at Ethiopia’s declining to commit to an agenda on the filling and operation of the contentious dam on the Blue Nile.

As recently as mid-July, Ethiopia Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed described progress in talks with Egypt and Sudan, declaring a new “major common understanding which paves the way for a breakthrough agreement”.

Recent satellite images show the water level in the reservoir behind the GERD is high; Ethiopia said 21 July that “it has become evident over the past two weeks in the rainy season that the first-year filling is achieved and the dam under construction is already overtopping”, allowing installation of the first two turbines.

Previous talks mediated by The World Bank and the US have repeatedly failed to produce agreement. Multiple diplomatic maneuvers have included Egypt complaining to the UN Security Council in May after Ethiopia announced plans to begin first-phase.

In early July, the Egyptian foreign ministry demanded "urgent clarification" from Ethiopia after conflicting reports on whether it had started filling the reservoir.

Seleshi Bekele, Ethiopia's minister of water, irrigation and energy, denied at the time that Addis Ababa was filling the reservoir, saying water levels behind its wall had increased naturally due to seasonal, heavy rainfall. Ethiopia has long indicated intent to begin filling the dam's reservoir in July during the rainy season, with or without agreement of Egypt and Sudan.

Construction of the $4 Billion USD GERD commenced in 2011; upon completion it will produce over 6,000 megawatts of electricity and become Africa's largest hydropower project. Downstream, Egypt is concerned that the dam will affect its annual share of Nile water, causing shortages.

The Egypt-Ethiopia standoff is around timing of filling the reservoir. Egypt has insisted that Ethiopia should fill the dam reservoir over a period of seven years and release 40 billion cubic meters of water every year. However, Ethiopia wants to fill the dam in 3 years and earlier this year rejected 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”.