New Round of Talks on Renaissance Dam Starts in Addis Ababa

ADDIS ABEBA – Water resources ministers of Egypt, Ethiopia, and Sudan begin their two-day discussion to resolve their dispute over the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) in Addis Abeba.

The meeting is the last of the four technical meetings directed by the heads of states of three nations.

“We will cover GERD filling, operation, drought mitigation and coordination mechanisms,” Seleshi Bekele, Minister of Water, Irrigation and Energy of Ethiopia, said before the meeting.

The three countries have held several meetings regarding the GERD since March 2015, when they adopted a Declaration of Principles including the principle of “no significant harm” on downstream countries.

“So far we have tackled all issues of substance, but until we seal the deal everything is open,” Seleshi said.

The latest meeting in Addis Abeba will end later today. “We are in a historic opportunity to show that cooperation, prosperity, peace and inclusion wins over poverty, conflict, mistrust and exclusion in our region of large potential to prosper but also in great need of such need of development,” Sileshi said in an opening speech.

In Khartoum, on December 22, the ministers have come closer to aligning their views on filling the reservoir of and operating the giant hydroelectric dam that Ethiopia is building on the Blue Nile.

They also agreed to come up with a definition of droughts and how the dam would operate during droughts, Sudan’s Abbas said.

“There is a convergence (of views) in general, and there are differences of views in some circumstances. Sudan proposed a specified time for filling the reservoir and added definitions for drought and continuous drought,” the Sudanese irrigation minister Yasser Abbas said after the meeting in Khartoum.

The three countries agreed to work toward resolving their dispute over the multibillion U.S. dollars dam by Jan. 15, 2020, after meeting U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and World Bank President David Malpass in Washington.

They met in Washington again last month and are due for a third meeting next week, where they will try to finalize an agreement to resolve the dispute without a third party.

Egypt’s Water Minister Mohamed Abdel-Aty on Wednesday said the ministers could bridge their differences as they have reached consensus on the “basic ingredients” of agreement.

These basic technical components include the Stages of filling of the GERD that enable Ethiopia to generate hydropower as early as possible, drought mitigation measure to address in case of drought and prolonged drought that might coincide with the filings of the GERD.

Operation rules which enable Ethiopia to generate hydropower sustainably by establishing an effective coordinating mechanism to facilitate the implementation of the agreement was also agreed.

“Our differences are … in certain numerical values that related to some definition such as drought threshold and… certain aspects of the releases from the GERD in various hydrological conditions,” he said.

If an agreement is not reached by then, they could invoke article 10 of the 2015 Declaration of Principles, which says: ‘If the parties involved do not succeed in solving the dispute through talks or negotiations, they can ask for mediation or refer the matter to their heads of states or prime ministers.’

“Ethiopia believes there are technical solutions to technical problems,” Seleshi said, adding that “More than any time in the past we shoulder big responsibility to resolve remaining issues on the rules and guidelines on filling and operation of the GERD”.

By Sisay Sahlu

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