The Egyptian Ministry of Irrigation and Water Resources on Monday announced a one-week-long suspension of negotiations on the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD). The decision was made at the request of Sudan, so that it can complete internal consultations following Ethiopia’s insistence that it is seeking a non-binding agreement on the dam.
A statement by the ministry said that Sudan requested the meetings be postponed for one week to complete the internal consultation, given the recent developments in the negotiations and the exchange of letters between the parties to the negotiations regarding changing the negotiating agenda.
The statement said that parties agreed to suspend the meetings for a period of one week, provided that consultations would take place between the three countries’ water ministers to determine the agenda and the level of participation in the next meeting.
Egypt participated on Monday in the tripartite meeting negotiating the rules for filling and operating the dam, and reiterated its wishes to reach a binding agreement on said rules, according to the outcomes of the mini-African summit held on July 21 and the ministerial meeting on August 3.
Egypt and Sudan demanded last week that meetings of the second round of negotiations over the GERD be suspended due to Ethiopia’s unwillingness to discuss operating rules or a legal mechanism for resolving dam-related disputes.
Egypt said that the Ethiopian Water Minister preempted the meeting of August 4 by sending a letter to his counterparts in Egypt and Sudan that contained draft guidelines and rules for filling the dam, but that did not include any operating rules or any elements that reflect the legal obligation of the agreement.
Egypt said that the Ethiopian proposal contradicts what was agreed upon during the African Union Bureau Summit on July 21, as well as the results of the water ministers’ meeting on August 3.
The meetings of the second round of GERD negotiations began on July 27 under the auspices of the AU and in the presence of observers from the United States and the European Union, and experts of the African Union Commission. Its aim is to reach a binding agreement regarding the filling and operation of the dam. The meetings are based on the outcomes of an African Union presidential summit held on 21 July.
Egypt and Ethiopia have been in multiple rounds of negotiations over the dam during the past nine years, all of which have failed to reach a final agreement. Egypt blames Ethiopia for the failure of negotiations.
Ethiopia’s Foreign Ministry announced late last month that it is not seeking a binding agreement with Egypt and Sudan on the contentious GERD that it is constructing on the Blue Nile river, the main tributary of the Nile river. Ethiopian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Dina Mufti said that his country is instead seeking a guiding agreement that can be modified as needed.
Egypt, which relies considerably on fresh water from the Nile, has voiced fears that the GERD would negatively impact the country’s water supply, especially in light of overpopulation fears, and has insisted that measures be put in place to protect downstream countries in case of drought during the dam’s filling process.
Ethiopia, on the other hand, has stressed the importance of the project to bolstering its economy, where more than half of the population currently lives without access to electricity.