Talks on Ethiopia’s Nile dam fail to produce deal
June 19, 2020 - Talks between three key Nile basin countries over a giant hydroelectric dam in Ethiopia have been halted weeks before its expected start-up, with a proposal for prime ministers to try to resolve the standoff.
The yearslong dispute over the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) on the Blue Nile pits Ethiopia’s desire to become a major power exporter and pull millions out of poverty against Egypt’s concern that the dam will curtail its critical share of the river if filled too quickly.
Sudan has long been caught between the competing interests of Egypt and Ethiopia. It stands to benefit from Ethiopia’s dam, including having access to cheap electricity and reduced flooding, but it has raised fears over the operation and safety of the Ethiopian project and says it could endanger Sudan’s own dams.
The three countries resumed negotiations on June 9 via video conference after months of deadlock. Officials from the U.S., EU and South Africa, the current chairman of the African Union, attended the talks as observers.
Sudan’s Irrigation Minister Yasser Abbas told reporters in the Sudanese capital Khartoum after talks ended Wednesday that the three counties’ irrigation leaders have agreed on “90% or 95%” of the technical issues but the dispute over the “legal points” in the deal remains dissolved.
Abbas said they decided to turn to their political leadership to end the standoff. No date was set for a return to talks, he said.
Ethiopia wants to begin filling the dam’s massive reservoir in the coming weeks. But Egypt has raised concerns that filling the reservoir too quickly and without an agreement could significantly reduce the amount of Nile water available to Egypt. Both countries have made clear in the past that they could take steps to protect their interests, should negotiations fail, and experts fear a breakdown in talks could lead to conflict.
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