In addresses to September’s seventy-fifth session of the General Assembly of the United Nations, the leaders of Ethiopia and Egypt have described their countries’ respective positions and views around the contentious, and soon to be completed Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) on the Blue Nile.
Construction of the $4 Billion USD GERD commenced in 2011; upon completion it will produce over 6,000 megawatts of electricity from the Blue Nile and become Africa's largest hydropower project. Downstream, Egypt is concerned that the dam will affect its annual share of Nile water, causing shortages.
National leaders have addressed the annual UN General Assembly remotely this year because of pandemic-related concerns and travel restrictions.
Ethiopia Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s 25 September statement accentuated the benefit of the GERD to water resources conservation which otherwise would be lost to evaporation in downstream countries.
Ahmed said that Ethiopia has no intention to harm (downstream) Sudan and Egypt and that what his country is doing is meant to meet electricity demands from one of the cleanest sources of energy, adding that “We cannot afford to continue keeping more than 65 million of our people in the dark”, indicating that the construction process has been guided by internationally accepted principles of “equitable utilisation” and “not causing significant harm”.
He re-affirmed Ethiopia’s commitment to addressing concerns of downstream countries and reaching a mutual beneficiary outcome through an ongoing process led by the African Union.
In his 23 September statement to the UN, Egypt President Abdel-Fattah al Sisi described his country’s concern about the project, saying that Egypt has spent nearly a full decade in negotiations with Sudan and Ethiopia, seeking to reach an agreement that organises filling and operation of the dam and achieves a required balance between the development requirements of the Ethiopian people and safeguarding Egypt’s water interests.
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 three 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”.
The latest round of negotiations among Ethiopia, Egypt and Sudan around the GERD, brokered by the African Union, have not reached consensus on legal and technical differences.
These talks followed a series of summits brokered by the United States and the World Bank which also failed to make significant progress.
The US approach as broker has appeared to favour Egypt’s position, with a cut of $130 Million USD in development aid to Ethiopia in an effort to slow the schedule for filling the reservoir behind the dam.
While US officials maintain that the States is an impartial mediator in the tripartite negotiations, observers have described Washington’s position as being more sympathetic to Egypt.
Former US Ambassador to Ethiopia David H Shinn accused the Trump administration in March of “putting its thumb on the scale in favour of Egypt” in the GERD dispute, amid suggestions that the Trump administration may be engaging in a quid-pro-quo for Egyptian and Arab League backing for the US President’s Middle East Israel-Palestine “Deal of the Century”, and concern over a potential Egypt-sponsored armed attack on the dam.