Only Good Faith Negotiation Could Resolve Dam Dispute, Ethiopia tells Sudan, Egypt

ADDIS ABABA – Ethiopia said understanding reached on a number of the issues regarding disputes over the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) and expressed its belief that agreement is “within reach”. Addis Ababa, However, described Cario and Khartoum’s push for the Security Council meeting on Thursday as regrettable.

Thursday’s open session comes after Egypt and Sudan circumvented the AU-led talks and headed to the 15-member body as Ethiopia began this week the second stage of filling GERD.

“We’re here because Egypt and Sudan have expressed their opposition to the GERD,” said Dr. Sileshi Bekele, Minister of water, Irrigation and Energy, while speaking to the UNSC.

“Our two neighbors have large and small dams and canals they have constructed, with absolute disregard to the rights of other riparian countries and rejecting Ethiopia’s request for Consultation,” he recounted.

‘African Union-led talks key’

Despite the undue pressure, Ethiopia will, however, continue to exercise maximum restraint and showcase cooperation “because we are forever linked by this majestic river”, Dr. Sileshi said.

The minister also said Addis Ababa remains committed to the African Union-led negotiation process “underpinned by a belief that Africans have the wisdom, the technical expertise, and more importantly, the agency to address their challenges”.

“Ethiopia believes that an agreement is within reach, given the necessary political will and the commitment to negotiate in good faith,” he continued, “Understanding already reached on a number of the issues”.

“We urge our Egyptian and Sudanese neighbors to understand that a resolution to the Nile issue won’t come from the Security Council. It can only come from good faith negotiations under the auspices of the AU,” he told the UN Council.

‘We are not building a nuclear plant’

According to Reuters news agency, many council diplomats were wary of involving the body in the dispute – beyond holding the meeting on Thursday – as they are concerned it could set a precedent that could allow other countries to seek Security Council help with water disputes.

Ethiopia too urged the council not to become involved in the issue of the Dam – not a security but a development project that aims to give electricity access to 65 million its citizen.

“We are dealing here with a hydroelectric dam. We are not building a nuclear plant,” said Seleshi. “It’s not the first of its kind in Africa or in the world.”

“If the council consents to the path preferred by Egypt and Sudan, it will certainly be entangled in resolving disputes on all transboundary rivers,” minister said.

‘Filling will continue’

Before Thursday’s session, Tunisia circulated a draft resolution calling on Ethiopia to suspend the ongoing second phase filling of the GERD’s reservoir for six months, during which issues, notably procedures in case of prolonged drought, should be thrashed out between the parties.

Foreign Ministers of Egypt and Sudan called on the Security Council to adopt the resolution. However, members of the Council opted for the issue to go back to the African Union platform with no voting taking place at the end of the open session.

Water Minister Seleshi told the council that the reservoir-filling process will continue as it is a natural part of the construction project.

“The filling process is pure physics,” Dr. Seleshi said. “Once the dam concrete reaches a certain height, the water either flows through the bottom outlets or overflows the concrete”.

The 145-metre mega-dam has a capacity of 74 billion cubic metres. Filling began last year, with Ethiopia announcing in July 2020 it had hit its target of 4.9 billion cubic metres.

This year the Dam will store water until it reaches the 13.5 billion cubic meters as per the filling schedule – enough to test the dam’s first two turbines, an important milestone on the way towards actually producing energy.