The Elusive Agreement Between Ethiopia, Egypt and Sudan

By Staff Reporter

GERD-TalksNovember 20, 2019 ( -- Ethiopia, Sudan, and Egypt, in their latest trilateral talks in Addis Ababa, dwelt on six discussion points involving the filling and releasing of water of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) as well as future operations of the project on the Nile. The three countries have been negotiating for some time now. However, real and comprehensive agreement has so far been elusive.

Unlike the previous talks, however, the latest round of talks has come up with positive outcomes even though the neighboring countries did not reach an agreement on the duration of water filling of the GERD’s reservoir.

Among other positive outcomes of the talks, the countries reached a consensus that Ethiopia can start filling the reservoir of the dam by June next year.

Engineer Gedion Asfaw, member of the Ethiopian negotiation team said Egypt and Sudan accepted Ethiopia’s proposal to start filling the dam in June 2020 when there will be high rainfall in the Ethiopian highlands.

It was one step ahead for Cairo, a country that denounced Ethiopia for moving forward with building and operating a hydropower dam on the Nile.

Ethiopia, the source of the Blue Nile which joins the White Nile in Khartoum and runs on to Egypt, says the dam will not disrupt the river’s flow and hopes the project will transform it into a power hub for electricity-hungry region.

During these years of back and forth rhetoric, there have been heightened tensions between the countries, amid on-again-off-again talks over the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam.

The three countries signed a “declaration of principles” with Sudan in 2015 as a basis for negotiations, but no breakthrough was made since then.

If the countries abide by the latest agreement, the GERD will hold 4.9 billion cubic meters of water mid next year and that would be enough for Ethiopia to launch the preliminary power generating activities late next year using two turbines with a total capacity of producing 720 megawatts of electricity.

Ethiopia is set to fill the reservoir of the dam in four years provided that there is adequate rainfall. According to Engineer Gedion, the filling period can be stretched up to seven years in case the rainfall is low in the Ethiopian highlands.

The three countries have tabled different proposals on the duration of filling the GERD’s reservoir. Egypt’s proposal calls for relatively extended filling period as long as 16 years.

The contentious issue between the three countries lies on the volume of water Ethiopia should release every year to downstream countries.

Egypt requires Ethiopia to release at least 40 billion cubic meters of water annually while Sudan demands that at least 35 billion cubic meters of water reach its territory every year.

Ethiopia proposes to release 31 billion cubic meters of water to the downstream countries every year but in case there are rain failures on its highlands and the water volume happens to be below 31 billion cubic meters, it will release all the water to Sudan and Egypt.

According to Engineer Gedion, Egypt still refers to the 1929 colonial treaty on Nile water shares, which Ethiopia was not part of even though the nation contributes more than 85 percent of the Nile water.

The colonial treaty states Egypt’s Nile water share at 55.5 billion cubic meters, Sudan 15.5 billion cubic meters, considering 10 billion cubic meters of water goes out to evaporation.

The treaty gives no water shares to the nine upper Nile basin countries, namely Rwanda, Burundi, Democratic Republic of Congo, Tanzania, Kenya, Ethiopia, South Sudan, Sudan. Ethiopia categorically rejected the treaty which it was not a party to.

Ethiopia insisted that the dam’s reservoir shall be filled based on article 5 of the 2010 declarations of principles as agreed by leaders of the three countries while Sudan called for implementation of an agreement reached by three foreign ministers of the three countries.

The technical team leader said Egypt has fully accepted Ethiopia’s previous proposal which was tabled for discussion in Markham, Sudan, a few months ago before the US-mediated talks in Washington DC.

Washington and the World Bank requested full participation in the trilateral talks between the three countries. However, Ethiopia strongly rejected that proposal during the US-mediated talks earlier month.

The latest tripartite negotiations in Addis Ababa involved observers from the U.S. government and the World Bank based on the agreement reached by foreign ministers of the three countries in Washington DC.

“We call upon the observers from U.S. government and the World Bank to remain neutral in the course of the negotiations,’’ said Ethiopia’s Minister of Water Irrigation and Energy, Seleshi Bekele, while opening the discussion.

Except for introducing themselves, the observers comment nothing during the latest talks in Addis Ababa, according to the Engineer Gedion.

Considering Egypt’s closer relations with the US and World Bank than Ethiopia, there have been doubts from the Ethiopian public that the US would  take sides with Egypt at the expense of the rights of the Ethiopian people to use the Nile water,    

There is no legal ground for Ethiopian negotiating team to accept or make any decision at the expense of the rights of current and future generations of the country, Gedion added  

During the US-mediated talks, the three countries agreed to work towards an agreement by January 15, 2020 and would attend two meetings in Washington, DC, on December 9 and January 13, 2020, to assess and support the progress.

Ethiopia launched the GERD project in 2011 in a bid to provide electricity to more than half of its population and to become the continent's biggest power exporter, generating more than 6,000 megawatts.

Egypt claimed that it depends on the Nile for about 90 percent of its needs for irrigation and drinking water and says it has "historic rights" to the river guaranteed by treaties from 1929 and 1959.

Meanwhile, the Arab Parliament this week voiced its full support for Egypt and Sudan to maintain their water security, as well as legal and historical rights over the Nile River waters.

In a resolution issued after the first session of the second legislative period concluded, the Arab League Parliament emphasized that the water security of Egypt and Sudan is a matter of Arab national security.

The Arab League Parliament stressed the historical rights of the two countries over the Nile water must not be affected, and it reiterated that the agreements signed between Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia on the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) must be implemented accordingly.

The parliament affirmed its full support for all measures to be taken by Cairo to reach a fair agreement on the dam so that it guarantees the interests of all parties. has learned that a copy of the Arab League Parliament on GERD was sent to Abiy Ahmed, the Prime Minister of Ethiopia.

The Arab League Parliament's decision comes as the three countries are preparing to hold their rotating talks in Cairo before the end of next week.

It is to be recalled that Ethiopian Minister of Water, Irrigation and Energy two weeks ago announced the completion of the construction of the dam saddle of the hydro-power project.

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