Egypt says dam negotiations with Ethiopia make 'little progress'

Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan have been discussing Ethiopia's planned filling of its dam on the Blue Nile River all month, but an agreement has yet to be reached.

al-monitor Ethiopia's Grand Renaissance Dam is seen as it undergoes construction work on the Nile River in Guba Woreda, Benishangul Gumuz Region, Ethiopia, Sept. 26, 2019. Photo by REUTERS/Tiksa Negeri.

Jun 19, 2020

Talks between Ethiopia, Egypt and Sudan on Ethiopia’s dam in the Blue Nile River failed to reach a solution for the dispute between the countries, the Egyptian minister of water resources and irrigation said today.

Mohamed Abdel Ati said in a press release that the talks “made little progress,” especially with regard to the legal status of the massive hydroelectric dam Ethiopia plans to fill.

“Ethiopia refused legal aspects during the discussion for the three countries to conclude a binding agreement in accordance with international law,” Abdel Ati said.

Ethiopia began building the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam back in 2011 to serve as a hydroelectric power source for the country and help its economy. The dam is located on the Blue Nile River in northwest Ethiopia, close to the border with Sudan. The Blue Nile is one of the major tributaries of the Nile. It joins the White Nile in the Sudanese capital Khartoum. The Nile runs through Egypt and connects to both there. The river flows downward to the north.

There have long been tensions between the countries over the dam, which Ethiopia plans to fill this month. Ethiopia wants its own power source, while Egypt fears the dam will dangerously diminish the water levels in the Nile. The river is a major part of the Egyptian economy. Some Sudanese likewise think filling the dam would endanger the water levels in Sudan’s parts of the river.

Tensions increased last week when an Ethiopian military commander said Egypt should know that Ethiopia can “conduct war” regarding the dispute.

Negotiations have been ongoing throughout June with US, European Union and South African observation.

The gridlock could continue. A source working on the negotiations told Al-Monitor that Egypt wants to avoid “another legal document short of any obligations for Ethiopia,” signaling the high level of disagreement between the parties.

Ethiopia is also not showing signs of backing down. Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed said this month that filling the dam is “irreversible.” He noted in a speech that the country needs the dam because it is landlocked without ocean or sea access.

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