Doaa El-Bey | 25 February, 2016 | AL-AHRAM
Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan agreed to boost cooperation at a summit meeting held this week, but failed to take tangible steps on the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam, writes Doaa El-Bey
Sudanese Foreign Minister Ibrahim Ghandour told reporters at a summit meeting held between Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan this week that the issue of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) is not a crisis over the dam’s construction but a “crisis of confidence” in it. The summit had taken measures to build confidence among the three countries concerned, according to a diplomat who spoke to Al-Ahram Weekly after the meeting on condition of anonymity.
“But do we need more confidence-building measures?” he asked. “Or should we take urgent measures to ensure that the dam will not affect Egypt’s water quota and will not have negative effects on Sudan or Egypt? The most pressing question is whether we should take these steps before or after the building the dam.” Maghawry Shehata, an expert on water issues, said further confidence-building measures are not needed, as they had been taken since 1993 without having led to positive results.
“The main issue is Nile water. The dam is now a fact on the ground. What we need to do now is negotiate the filling of the dam’s reservoir over the years ahead and how it will be operated. We need to discuss these two issues to keep any negative effects to the minimum,” he said. At this week’s summit meeting, the leaders of Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan agreed to boost relations and reinforce cooperation in the political, security and economic fields. The summit was held on the sidelines of the regional economic forum Africa 2016 held in the Red Sea resort of Sharm El-Sheikh.
Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi, Sudanese President Omar Al-Bashir and Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn discussed ways to develop relations between the three countries and commissioned their foreign ministers to work for the creation of a framework for tripartite cooperation. The three leaders also agreed to create a common fund for the implementation of development projects, according to a statement issued after the meeting. The statement added that the three countries agreed to encourage visits between lawmakers from the three nations to deepen mutual understanding.
The three countries were working on strengthening relations based on common interests, the diplomat said. “This is a positive goal that will work in the interests of the three states concerned. However, it cannot be reached without a clear reference to the main issue that is dividing them and the ways to resolve it,” he added. The summit was the second meeting that Al-Sisi and Desalegn have had this year. They met last month on the sidelines of the African Union summit in Addis Ababa, where the GERD was discussed, along with other issues.
Various tripartite technical meetings have been held to reach agreement on the GERD, the most recent earlier this month in Khartoum. The aim of the meetings is to kickstart studies on the impacts of the dam on the Nile River Basin countries that are supposed to be carried out by the French consulting firms Artelia and BRL. The Khartoum meeting was the first to be held since the French companies submitted their initial reports. The two firms attended the three-day meeting and discussed their findings with experts from the three countries, also presenting the financial calculations that will be reviewed by the three countries.
During the Khartoum meeting, the three countries requested more information from the French firms regarding technical issues, according to a statement released by Egyptian Minister of Irrigation Hossam Al-Moghazy. As a result, the three countries did not sign contracts with the French firms at the end of the meeting, as had been planned. However, they agreed to meet again in Addis Ababa to sign such contracts after the “outstanding technical issues have been resolved”. No date for such a meeting was set.
The two firms submitted their findings to Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia last month, giving experts from the three countries one week to study them before the Khartoum meeting. The firms are supposed to conduct two studies, one on the effects of the dam on water flows to Egypt and Sudan, and the other on the larger environmental, economic and social impacts of the dam. The studies are expected to take nine to 12 months to be concluded.
The Khartoum meeting followed at least 10 others at which the three countries have discussed the technical aspects of the dam. The GERD has long been the cause of differences between Cairo and Addis Ababa. Egypt has repeatedly expressed concerns to Ethiopia over the dam’s effects on its supply of Nile water. Ethiopia insists the dam’s main purpose is to generate electricity and says it will not negatively affect Egypt’s share of Nile water.
In December, Egyptian, Sudanese and Ethiopian foreign and irrigation ministers signed the Khartoum Agreement that stipulates that work on filling the reservoir behind the dam can only begin after all the technical studies are complete. It also allows field visits to the construction site by Egyptian and Sudanese experts. In a confidence-building measure taken in March 2015, Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan signed a Declaration of Principles that included the provision that none of the signatories would harm the interests of the others. The dam is intended to be Africa’s largest hydroelectric power plant with a storage capacity of 74 billion cubic metres. Partial operation is likely to start by the middle of this year.
Egypt depends on the Nile for 95 per cent of its water needs, with most of this water coming from the Blue Nile. Under a treaty agreed in 1959, Egypt receives 55.5 billion cubic metres of Nile water, while Sudan receives 18 billion cubic metres.