Cut and thrust continues in River Nile dam dispute

Felicity Salina, International Law Officer

26 Jul 2020

Dispute over the sharing of water from the Blue Nile River among Ethiopia, Sudan, and Egypt continues to escalate. Reports and latest satellite images show that water levels are rising within the giant hydroelectric dam currently being constructed by Ethiopia. The government has attributed the event to heavy rainfall and described it as part of the dam’s “natural construction process”, while Sudan and Egypt insist that the filling up is deliberate.

Ethiopia’s $4 billion Grand Renaissance Dam (GERD) project was initiated in 2011 to help relieve Ethiopia of its severe energy shortage problem. The GERD is forecast to become the largest hydroelectric dam in Africa. But downstream countries Egypt and Sudan claim that the dam will substantially reduce their share of water, potentially bringing about disastrous effects upon their populations who are heavily reliant on water supply from the river. Ethiopia’s capital, Addis Ababa, has claimed national sovereignty as its basis to maintain a reservoir.

On 27 June, Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed announced his government’s plan to begin filling the dam over the following two weeks. Sudan claims that the move is unilateral and demands that Ethiopia provides a “quick official clarification”.

Meanwhile, Egypt continues to push for a deal to guarantee minimum water flows and a settled dispute resolution mechanism before the dam starts to operate, highlighting in a previous statement that future negotiations would center on the development of “a binding legal agreement on the rules for filling and operating” the dam.

Earlier this month, the countries met under the auspices of the African Union, with European officials and the US observing. The talks ended in a deadlock, as the parties failed to agree on multiple core issues. All three countries have since agreed on a resumption of the negotiations.

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