18 October 2017

East Africa: Nile Basin Ministers Discuss Ethiopia's Controversial Dam

Water ministers from Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia are meeting in Addis Ababa to continue talks on the controversial Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD).

The ministers on Tuesday visited the dam's construction site and were on Wednesday to hold closed-door discussions over the filling and operation of the GERD, the most controversial of the issues.

Egypt has long been opposed to the dam over fears that it would reduce water downstream. Sudan, on the other hand, seems to be convinced that the giant reservoir would regulate the flow of water and prevent flooding.

"It is not abnormal to have differences among us. These differences may present challenges, but they also open opportunities for cooperation on regional integration, poverty alleviation, among others," said Mr Mutaz Musa, Sudan's minister for Water Resources, Irrigation and Electricity.

His Egyptian counterpart, Dr Mohamed Abdel Aty, said his country was disappointment over delays to conduct a joint study that had been slated to start in February.

"We are facing a crucial situation, as we signed the contract with the consultancy firm in September 2016. The commencement date was 15th February 2017 and until this moment we are not able to approve the Draft Inception Report... This visit gave us insight regarding the development on the ground related to GERD, which requires urgent actions in order to conclude the discussions, adoption of the draft inception report and finally empower the assigned consultant to complete the requested two studies in due time," he said.

The studies had been recommended by the International Panel of Experts (IPOE) that was established in May 2012 to address the concerns of downstream countries --Sudan and Egypt -- regarding the safety and impacts of Ethiopia's 1,870 metre-long and 145 metre-high dam.

So far, 60 per cent of the GERD project is complete, according to Ethiopia's minister for Water, Irrigation and Electricity Seleshi Bekele. The dam is expected to hold 74 billion cubic metres of water.

Dr Seleshi stressed the need for cooperation in the filling and operation of the dam as one of the 10 principles the three countries agreed on in March 2015 in Khartoum.

"If we focus on the actual pros and cons of GERD, without linking to other complicated issues around Nile discourse, the issue we have would be simpler and I urge you to focus on the pending, but most important issues," Dr Seleshi said.


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