ON Sunday, Ethiopia announced that it had filled its Grand Renaissance Dam on the Nile, a development that has exacerbated the ongoing dispute with downstream nations, Egypt and Sudan. The move has drawn condemnation from Cairo, which contends that the filling is illegal and jeopardises negotiations.
The announcement comes merely a fortnight after Ethiopia, Egypt and Sudan resumed discussions concerning the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD). These talks had been suspended since 2021 but were restarted on August 27, 2023, with the objective of reaching an agreement that considers the water requirements of all three countries.
In response to Ethiopia’s action, Egypt’s foreign ministry issued a statement on Sunday condemning the ‘unilateral’ filling of the mega-dam, asserting that it would cast a shadow over the ongoing negotiations with Egypt and Sudan. Egypt has been a staunch opponent of the GERD, fearing that it will diminish the flow of the Nile river.
Ethiopia’s Prime Minister, Abiy Ahmed, conveyed the news of the dam’s filling via social media, stating, ‘It is with great pleasure that I announce the successful completion of the fourth and final filling of the Renaissance Dam.’ He acknowledged the challenges faced in this endeavour, expressing confidence in the project’s future stages.
The Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam, with a price tag of $4.2bn, is poised to double Ethiopia’s electricity generation capacity and has the potential to become Africa’s largest dam. For Ethiopia, it holds immense strategic importance.
Ethiopia maintains that the GERD, situated in the country’s northwest, approximately 30 kilometres from the Sudanese border, will not reduce the volume of downstream water. However, Egypt, which relies on the Nile for 97 percent of its water requirements, views the dam as an existential threat.
Sudan, whose position has fluctuated in recent years, remains a pivotal player in the negotiations. The current talks, resuming after nearly two and a half years, aim to find a comprehensive agreement that takes into account the interests and concerns of all three countries, according to Egyptian irrigation minister Hani Sewilam, who called for an end to unilateral measures.
While the United Nations has expressed concerns about water scarcity in Egypt and parts of Sudan, it has maintained that a negotiated resolution through tripartite talks remains the path forward. Egypt’s water security is a pressing issue, with predictions of potential water shortages by 2025, and Sudan grappling with increased vulnerability to drought due to climate change. The ongoing negotiations hold the key to addressing these complex regional challenges.