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Egypt backs call to internationalize Ethiopia dam dispute

February 24, 2021 GMT

CAIRO (AP) — Egypt said Wednesday it has endorsed a Sudanese proposal to internationalize arbitration in a years-long dispute with Ethiopia over a massive dam Addis Ababa is building on the Blue Nile.

Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shukry said Cairo backs the formation of an “international quartet” including the U.S., the European Union, and the U.N., along with the African Union to facilitate reaching a deal on the filling and operation of the Grand Ethiopia Renaissance Dam.

The dispute centers on how much water Ethiopia will release downstream if a multi-year drought occurs and how the three countries would settle any future disputes. Egypt and Sudan also call for a legally binding agreement on the dam’s filling and operation, while Ethiopia insists on guidelines.

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Shukry said Egypt wants to develop the negotiating mechanism to reach a “legally binding agreement” at the earliest possible opportunity.”

He announced Egypt’s position during a meeting Wednesday in Cairo with Alphonse Ntumba Luaba, the coordination of Democratic Republic of the Congo’s current leadership of the African Union.

There were no immediate comments from Washington, Brussels, or the U.N.

Sudan has announced its proposal earlier this year after AU-led talks failed to achieve progress. Since then, Khartoum has become vocal against Ethiopia’s plans to start the second filling during the next rainy season.

Prime Minister Abddalla Hamdok said earlier this month that the dam threatens at least 20 million Sudanese, roughly half the country’s population.

Sudan wants Ethiopia to coordinate and share data on dam’s operation to avoid flooding and protect its own power-generating dams on the Blue Nile, the main tributary of the Nile River. The Blue Nile meets with the White Nile in central Sudan from where the Nile winds northward through Egypt and flows into the Mediterranean Sea.

There was no comment from Ethiopia that had left a U.S.-led attempt to mediate the dispute, alleging bias. The administration of former President Donald Trump last year sanctioned Ethiopia over the dam’s first filling before reaching a deal with Egypt and Sudan.

On Friday, President Joe Biden’s administration said it has de-linked the sanctions from the dam dispute.

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About 85 percent of the Nile’s flow originates from Ethiopia. Officials hope the dam, now more than three-quarters complete, will reach full power-generating capacity in 2023, helping pull millions of its people out of poverty.

Egypt, the Arab world’s most populous country with over 100 million people, called the dam an existential threat and worries that it would reduce its share of Nile waters. The country relies almost entirely on the Nile to supply water for agriculture and its people.