GERD Negotiations Stall Again

12 Jan 2021 by The Water Diplomat

The latest round of tripartite (Egypt, Ethiopia, Sudan) talks around the contentious Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) have broken down, following a long-standing diplomatic pattern.

Background: The GERD Saga (90 news articles)

Negotiations were scheduled to commence 10 January to agree upon filling and operation of the reservoir behind the dam, but “failed to reach an acceptable agreement to resume negotiations” according to Sudan state media.

Sudan was reportedly unhappy with an 8 January letter from Ethiopia to African Union, the convening and mediating entity, stating that Ethiopia would fill the reservoir in July regardless of whether agreement had been reached.

Egypt’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said that Egypt and Ethiopia both rejected a proposal a Sudan proposal to expand the role of experts from the African Union to identify solutions.

Tripartite talks among Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia on the controversial and long-running Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) project resumed Sunday, chaired by the African Union (AU).

The last round of talks foundered a month ago on Egypt’s objections,  with Cairo preferring instead to stick with the previous framework involving the US and the World Bank.

Although some limited progress had been made through this approach, Ethiopia complained that the US stance was biased in favour of Egypt.

Efforts will now doubt continue to address contentious issues surrounding the filling and operation of the dam on the Blue Nile, a tributary of the Nile River, in an effort to reach a legally binding agreement among all three countries.

At heart is the timing for filling the reservoir behind the dam and the volume of water allowed to flow through the dam each year. Ethiopia wants to fill the dam in three years, while Egypt is arguing for this to be done over seven years. Egypt also wants to secure its water share, particularly during periods of drought when it will depend upon Ethiopia releasing sufficient water from the reservoir to mitigate effects downstream.

However, progress towards an agreement has been slow, with accusations, counter-accusations and deadlock featuring frequently since Ethiopia commenced construction of the massive hydroelectric project in 2011, which aims to bring much-needed electricity to Ethiopia itself as well as offering energy export opportunities.

While the main disagreement lies between Ethiopia and Egypt, which is almost entirely dependent upon the Nile for fresh water, Sudan’s interests are more nuanced, with potential positive and negative effects. Sudan’s Rusayris reservoir lies just 15 kilometres downstream of the GERD.

Sudan’s concerns about water share are being weighed against the potentially positive effects of the GERD reducing sediment build-up in the Rusayris reservoir, among other concerns. Equally, Ethiopia argues that Egypt’s worries are unfounded because storing water in the GERD, which is in the more temperate Ethiopian highlands, will reduce the amount of water lost to evaporation in lakes located in the hotter and drier land further downstream.

There was a diplomatic spat in December between Cairo and Addis Ababa, reported by Aljazeera when the Egypt foreign ministry “summoned the Ethiopian charge d’affaires in Cairo to explain comments made by the spokesperson for the Ethiopian ministry for foreign affairs regarding domestic Egyptian matters”.