US me­di­a­tion raises Egypt’s hopes of a deal over Ethiopia’s Nile dam project

The National - News - - NEWS - HAMZA HENDAWI Cairo

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

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