US mediation raises Egypt’s hopes of a deal over Ethiopia’s Nile dam project
Egypt is brimming with hope that its long-running dispute with Ethiopia over sharing the Nile’s waters will be satisfactorily resolved, thanks to the intervention of the United States, Cairo’s ally and patron for the past four decades.
The foreign ministers of Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan met in Washington last week for US-sponsored talks on a nearly complete dam being built by Addis Ababa on the Blue Nile, which accounts for 65 per cent of the Nile’s waters that reach mostly desert Egypt.
Cairo is demanding that the reservoir behind the hydropower dam, which can hold 74 billion cubic metres of water, be filled over seven years to minimise the effect on its share of the river’s waters, and that Ethiopia release 40 billion cubic metres of water a year and show flexibility during droughts.
Ethiopia, where the dam is a symbol of national pride, grudgingly agreed to stagger the filling of the reservoir, but rejected Cairo’s proposals for drought spells.
Egypt says a significant drop in its water share would take away the livelihoods of hundreds of thousands of farmers and threaten the country’s food security.
But round after round of talks failed to make significant progress and relations with Ethiopia, which is also a US ally, became fraught as the two countries traded accusations of obstructing the negotiations.
In Washington, Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan agreed that their water ministers would hold four technical meetings with US and World Bank delegates who were at the talks as observers.
“The ministers also agreed to work towards completion of an agreement by January 1, and would attend two meetings in Washington on December 9 and January 13, to assess and support progress.
If an agreement is not reached by January 15, the foreign ministers agree that Article 10 of the 2015 Declaration of Principles [signed by the three nations] will be invoked,” the ministers said.
That article stipulates that the three will seek the mediation of a fourth party, something that Egypt has long demanded but which Ethiopia and Sudan balked at.
“Egypt accepts mediation because it is certain that its proposals are fair and just,” Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry said at the weekend.
“Any scientific approach to this issue will safeguard Egypt’s rights.”
The Blue Nile and the White Nile, whose origins are in Central Africa, meet near Khartoum to become the Nile river that flows through the deserts of northern Sudan and through Egypt all the way to the Mediterranean coast. With a population matching Egypt’s 100 million, Ethiopia views the Grand Renaissance Dam as essential to its development.
Like others among the 11 nations where the Nile and its tributaries run, it feels Egypt has unjustifiably enjoyed the lion’s share of the river’s water – an annual 55 billion cubic metres – for far too long.
Egypt, meanwhile, has acknowledged the dam’s importance to Ethiopia’s development and said it was seeking bilateral co-operation to ensure that the damage it suffers is reduced to manageable levels.
Throughout the dispute, which began in 2011, Egyptian officials have refrained from any mention of military action to resolve the dispute.
Recently, however, some pro-government commentators have floated the notion that if Egypt does go to war against Ethiopia, it would be in self-defence.
The two countries do not have common borders.
The Blue Nile accounts for 65 per cent of the Nile’s waters that reach mostly desert Egypt