Spotlight: Egypt calls for int'l mediation over Ethiopia's Nile dam after failure of latest talks

Source: Xinhua| 2019-10-08 21:39:21|Editor: xuxin
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by Marwa Yahya

CAIRO, Oct. 8 (Xinhua) -- Egypt has called for "international mediation" after its talks with Sudan and Ethiopia over Ethiopia's construction of a huge dam on the Nile river reached "a deadlock."

The Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) project has sparked Egypt's worry over Ethiopia's development needs, as well as concerns over its possible adverse effects on Egypt, including water scarcity and climate change.

"Talks have reached a deadlock as a result of the Ethiopian side's inflexibility," Egyptian Ministry of Water Resources and Irrigation said in a statement on Saturday following the two-day ministerial negotiations held in Sudan's capital Khartoum.

It said that Ethiopia presented a new proposal during the Khartoum talks, which was a "step back from all the principles previously agreed upon for the filling and operation of the dam."

The proposal did not include the minimum annual drainage of the dam, or ways to deal with the cases of drought that might occur in the future, the statement added.

Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi tweeted later that Egypt would "continue to take necessary measures at the political level and in accordance with international law to protect its rights" in Nile waters.

Meanwhile, Ethiopia denied on Sunday that the trilateral negotiations on the GERD ended in a stalemate.

"Ethiopia stands ready to resolve any difference and outstanding concerns by consultation among the three countries," Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed tweeted.

He added the government of Ethiopia will reinforce its efforts to make the ongoing trilateral dialogue a success and expects a similar commitment from the two downstream countries, Egypt and Sudan.

During the negotiations, the three countries stressed the rights of the 11 basin countries of the Nile to utilize Nile waters based on principles of equitable utilization and avoiding significant harm.

Tariq Fahmy, professor of the international relations in Cairo University, told Xinhua that Egypt should seek "international mediation" to resolve the dispute.

He named two scenarios that could be adopted by the Egyptian side: seeking the African Union's support, and then refer the whole issue to the United Nations.

He said that finding a fourth country for mediation between Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia will be a second option, noting that international arbitration could not work without the approval of Ethiopia.

The military action could be the last option on the table, Fahmy added.

Egyptian Presidency's spokesman Bassam Radi said on Saturday that Egypt was looking forward to an "instrumental role" by the United States in the talks.

He said that, as no breakthrough was achieved in the negotiations, there was a need for an "international instrumental role to overcome the current deadlock."

The GERD, announced in 2011, is designed to promote Ethiopia's bid to become the continent's biggest power exporter, generating more than 6,000 megawatts.

According to the World Bank, 66 percent of Ethiopia's population live without electricity, the third highest proportion in the world.

But Egypt fears that Ethiopia is moving too fast to complete the dam and will create water and food scarcity to force millions of Egypt's farmers out of work.

Egypt relies on the Nile river for 90 percent of its need of fresh water.

"When the dam starts operating, it depends on how quickly its main reservoir can be filled from Nile water and this is the heart of the dispute," said Ahmad Abdel Monem, expert in water resources with the Middle East Studies Center.

Ethiopia wants the reservoir to be filled in three to five years, with 35 billion cubic meters of water being released to downstream countries each year while the dam is being filled.

Egypt called for the reservoir to be filled more slowly, over seven years, citing that its water supplies will be reduced during this period.

Under the 1959 Nile Waters Agreement between Egypt and Sudan, Egypt takes 55.5 billion cubic meters of water from the Nile each year.

Monem said Egypt will resort to legitimate methods in protecting its rights, especially international mediation, which should be done before Ethiopia proceeds with the filling process to avoid any disputes.