War of words heats up in battle over Nile water

Men fish from boats on the River Nile, Cairo, Egypt, July 6, 2021. (Reuters)

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  • Egypt, Sudan condemn Ethiopia over second filling of GERD reservoir
  • Downstream countries urge UN to work for legally binding agreement

MOSTAFA GALAL July 06, 2021 

CAIRO: Egypt and Sudan have reacted angrily after being told by Ethiopia that it has resumed filling the controversial Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) for the second year.

Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry on Monday met with his Sudanese counterpart, Mariam Al-Sadiq Al-Mahdi, in New York, with both ministers later issuing a statement describing the Nile dam’s second-phase filling as a “dangerous escalation.”

Ethiopia’s announcement raises tensions ahead of a July 8 UN Security Council session on the dam dispute being held at the request of Cairo and Khartoum.

Shoukry and Al-Sadiq called for urgent consultations between Security Council member states on the GERD, which is set to be Africa’s largest hydroelectric project when completed.

The dam has been the subject of a decade-long diplomatic standoff between Ethiopia and downstream nations Egypt and Sudan.

Cairo and Khartoum are seeking a legally binding agreement on the filling and operation of the dam that preserves both countries’ water rights.

Ethiopia says the dam on the Blue Nile is crucial to its economic development and to provide power to its population.

However, Egypt views the dam as a major threat to vital Nile water supplies, while Sudan has expressed concern about its safety as well as the impact on its own dams and water stations.

The pace of the dam’s refilling will depend on seasonal rainfall in Ethiopia, Egyptian Irrigation Ministry spokesman Mohamed Ghanim told a local TV channel, according to Reuters.

“We won’t see any effect now on the Nile. We have a month or six weeks ahead of us,” he said.

Egypt and Sudan have waged a diplomatic campaign for a deal over the dam’s operation, but talks have repeatedly stalled.

Egypt’s Foreign Ministry said that Ethiopia’s latest move violates international laws and norms governing the exploitation of river resources.

“This step is a dangerous escalation that reveals Ethiopia’s desire to impose a fait accompli on the two downstream countries, and its indifference to the negative effects and damage they may suffer due to the dam’s unilateral filling,” the statement said.

Shoukry has held several meetings in New York with world envoys in the lead-up to the Security Council session.

Meanwhile, Ethiopia says it is finally exercising its rights over Nile water long controlled by its downstream neighbors.

Its ambassador to Sudan said on Sunday that the issue is not a matter of peace and security, and should not be brought before the Security Council.

Nicolas de Riviere, France’s ambassador to the UN, said last week that the council can do little apart from bringing the sides together.

“We can open the door, invite the three countries at the table, and encourage them to get back to the negotiations and find a solution,” he said.

Egypt, which depends on the Nile for about 97 percent of its irrigation and drinking water, sees the dam as an existential threat.

Sudan hopes the project will regulate annual flooding, but fears its own dams will be badly hit without an agreement on the GERD’s operation.

Earlier, Mohamed Abdel-Aty, Egypt’s minister of irrigation, sent an official letter to his Ethiopian counterpart, condemning Addis Ababa’s unilateral measure as “a clear and dangerous breach of the Declaration of Principles Agreement.

He said Egypt lacks water resources and is one of the driest countries in the world, while Ethiopia has adequate rainfall, huge water resources, and large volumes of water stored in dams and natural lakes.

Abdel-Aty said that Egypt does not oppose development in Ethiopia or the Nile basin countries, but believes projects must comply with international law and take into account the concerns of downstream countries.

source War of words heats up in battle over Nile water (arabnews.com)

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