Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan will agree a deal to fill the giant Blue Nile dam in two to three weeks, following mediation by the African Union to broker a deal to end a decade-long dispute over water supplies.
Tortuous negotiations over the years have left the two nations and their neighbour Sudan short of an agreement to regulate how Ethiopia will operate the dam and fill its reservoir, while protecting Egypt’s scarce water supplies from the Nile river.
Ethiopia’s water minister, Seleshi Bekele, said that consensus had been reached to finalise a deal within two to three weeks, a day after leaders from the three countries and South African President Cyril Ramaphosa, who chairs the African Union (AU), held an online summit.
The announcement late on Friday was a modest reprieve from weeks of bellicose rhetoric and escalating tensions over the $4.6bn Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam, which Ethiopia had vowed to start filling at the start of the rainy season in July.
Ethiopia has hinged its development ambitions on the mega-project, describing the dam as a crucial lifeline to bring millions out of poverty. Egypt, which relies on the Nile for more than 90 percent of its water supplies and already faces high water stress, fears a devastating impact on its booming population of 100 million.
After the AU video conference chaired by South Africa on Friday, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi said that “all parties” had pledged not to take “any unilateral action” by filling the dam without a final agreement, according to state media.
Sudanese Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok also indicated the impasse between the Nile basin countries had eased, saying the countries had agreed to restart negotiations through a technical committee with the aim of finalising a deal in two weeks.
Ethiopia won’t fill the dam before inking the much-anticipated deal, Hamdok said in a statement, adding: “Sudan is one of the biggest beneficiaries from the dam and also one of the biggest losers if risks are not mitigated, thus it urges Egypt and Ethiopia to the impending necessity … of finding a solution.”
Moussa Faki Mahamat, chairman of the AU, said the countries “agreed to an AU-led process to resolve outstanding issues,” without elaborating.
Sticking points in the talks have been how much water Ethiopia will release downstream from the dam if a multi-year drought occurs and how Ethiopia, Egypt and Sudan will resolve any future disagreements.
Both Egypt and Sudan have appealed to the United Nations Security Council to intervene in the years-long dispute and help the countries avert a crisis. The council is set to hold a public meeting on the issue on Monday.