El Sisi has high hopes for latest Nile dam talks

▶ For­eign min­is­ters of Egypt, Ethiopia and Su­dan travel to US in bid to break dead­lock

The National - News - - NEWS - HAMZA HENDAWI

Egypt and Ethiopia will be­gin talks in the US today about the im­pact a Nile dam will have on Cairo’s share of the river.

The for­eign min­is­ters of Egypt, Ethiopia and Su­dan will meet in Wash­ing­ton at the in­vi­ta­tion of US Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump.

The US talks come af­ter ne­go­ti­a­tions be­tween the par­ties be­came dead­locked, with Ethiopia re­ject­ing Egyp­tian pro­pos­als to re­solve the dis­pute and Su­dan, which stands to ben­e­fit from the hy­dropower dam, qui­etly sid­ing with Ad­dis Ababa.

Egyp­tian Pres­i­dent Ab­del Fat­tah El Sisi spoke on the phone with Mr Trump late on Mon­day be­fore the Egyp­tian leader tweeted lav­ish praise of his US coun­ter­part, de­scrib­ing him as a “unique man who pos­sesses the strength to face and deal with crises”.

Mr El Sisi thanked Mr Trump for his “ef­forts to spon­sor the tri­par­tite ne­go­ti­a­tions” and said he had “full con­fi­dence in this gen­er­ous spon­sor­ship, which will find an agree­ment that safe­guards the rights of all par­ties in the frame­work of in­ter­na­tional law and hu­man jus­tice”.

White House spokesman Judd Deere said the ob­jec­tive of the talks was to reach a “col­lab­o­ra­tive agree­ment” on how to re­solve the dam dis­pute.

The dam was built on the Blue Nile, which ac­counts for about 85 per cent of the river’s wa­ters that reach Egypt.

The Blue Nile and the White Nile, which orig­i­nates in central Africa, merge near Khar­toum to be­come the Nile that flows down­stream through the deserts of north­ern Su­dan and into Egypt, all the way to the Mediter­ranean coast.

Egypt is con­cerned the dam could sig­nif­i­cantly re­duce its share of the Nile when a reser­voir be­hind it is filled.

The coun­try de­pends on the Nile for about 90 per cent of its wa­ter sup­ply, but has pub­licly ac­knowl­edged the dam’s im­por­tance to the developmen­t of Ethiopia.

Cairo said bi­lat­eral co-op­er­a­tion could help make the ef­fects on Egypt eas­ier to man­age. Oth­er­wise, it said, mil­lions of farm­ers would be out of work and the coun­try’s food sup­ply would be un­der threat.

But Ethiopia con­sid­ers the hy­dropower dam to be es­sen­tial to its developmen­t. The dam has be­come a sym­bol of na­tional pride af­ter mil­lions of Ethiopi­ans bought bonds to fi­nance its con­struc­tion.

Ethiopia wants to fill the reser­voir in be­tween four to seven years, but Egypt in­sists it re­leases 40 bil­lion cu­bic me­tres of wa­ter ev­ery year.

That pro­posal was re­jected by Ad­dis Ababa on the grounds that it could not spare so much dur­ing droughts.

In a re­port pub­lished in March, the In­ter­na­tional Cri­sis

Group quoted ex­perts as say­ing the reser­voir’s ca­pac­ity, which is about 74 bil­lion cu­bic me­tres, is larger than what was needed for a dam in­tended to gen­er­ate hy­dropower rather than store wa­ter for ir­ri­ga­tion.

Egypt’s high ex­pec­ta­tions for the Wash­ing­ton talks have given an­a­lysts cause for hope, as well as con­cern.

At­tiya Is­sawi, who has writ­ten on African af­fairs for Cairo’s state Al Ahram news­pa­per for decades, said the good re­la­tions be­tween the US and both Egypt and Ethiopia were cru­cial for the talks to suc­ceed.

“It will be dif­fi­cult for Egypt or Ethiopia to re­ject any rea­son­able pro­pos­als made by the Amer­i­cans,” he told The Na­tional. “This round of talks will be bet­ter than pre­vi­ous ones and is likely to pro­duce a break­through.”

Ab­bas Sharaky, a ge­ol­ogy and wa­ter re­sources pro­fes­sor who lec­tures at Cairo Univer­sity’s col­lege of High African Stud­ies, said he be­lieved the US in­vi­ta­tion may have come too late.

But he said the “im­por­tant ques­tion now is what is the price for Amer­ica’s me­di­a­tion to re­solve the is­sue?”

The dam has be­come a sym­bol of na­tional pride in Ethiopia af­ter mil­lions of peo­ple bought bonds to fi­nance the project

Reuters

The dam was built on the Blue Nile, which ac­counts for about 85 per cent of the river’s wa­ters that reach Egypt, and Cairo warns that the coun­try’s food sup­ply will be put at risk if it can­not reach an agree­ment on co-op­er­a­tion with Ethiopia

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