After nine years of arduous construction and at a cost of over US$4.8 billion, Ethiopia’s Grand Renaissance Dam is finally nearing completion, much to Egypt’s chagrin. Ethiopia is planning to start filling the dam in the next few weeks with the rainy season, which has infuriated Egypt as no agreement has been reached regarding water security in the region for the countries downstream. The dam will eventually compound an immense 74 billion cubic meters of water, and its 16 turbines will generate hydroelectric power to over 65 million Ethiopians.
Egypt’s position is that filling the dam’s reservoir without a joint accord would violate the 2015 Declaration of Principles, and would rule out a return to negotiations. Ethiopia is accusing Egypt of attempting to dictate and control future developments on the river.
Egypt is almost entirely reliant on the Nile for agriculture and drinking water, and has been clinging to water rights given to it under a 1959 colonial era treaty. But Ethiopia says that the dam is indispensable for its development, and insists that Egypt’s water share will not be affected. The Nile supplies water and electricity to the 10 countries that it traverses.
Egypt needs to work constructively with Ethiopia on getting assurances regarding the provision of water in times of drought. There is no point in Egypt continuing to link negotiations on water with colonial treaties. Taking the matter to the Arab League and involving its allies Saudi Arabia and the UAE is not going to resolve its insecurities.
Egypt had also referred the dispute to the UN Security Council, saying that it is likely to endanger international peace and security. Egypt also hoped the UNSC would convince Ethiopia to sign the draft agreement. But there is no appetite within the UN Security Council for the matter to be tabled and a resolution drafted. The position of the UNSC is that the matter should be resolved tri-laterally. The more Egypt commits to the trilateral process, then Ethiopia will be more confident that Egypt is a partner it can do business with.
Both Egypt and Sudan want a binding international arbitration process, whereas Ethiopia wants resolution to be found through a negotiations process, not binding arbitration. If such negotiations fail, Ethiopia has warned that it will withdraw from the process and fill the dam regardless of whether an agreement has been reached.
The US and World Bank had initiated a mediation process and come up with a draft agreement in February of this year, but Ethiopia rejected the draft agreement. While Egypt and Ethiopia had accepted US mediation, the process yielded no results. This was primarily because it objected to the drought mitigation proposals whereby it would be asked to make up for reduced water flow in drought years, by providing additional water in later years. Ethiopia does not want a…