Egypt ups level of talks on Ethiopian Grand Renaissance Dam

Egypt president invites Ethiopia prime minister to high-level talks on Ethiopian Renaissance dam.

Egypt’s president Abdel Fattah al-Sisi has invited Ethiopia’s prime minister Abiy Ahmed to Cairo for talks to resolve the issues surrounding the construction of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD).

The dam across the Blue Nile not far from Ethiopia’s border with Sudan in north-west Ethiopia has been under construction for almost a decade. 

Talks on the wide-reaching effects of the dam, among the biggest in the world, have been stalled for almost five years. One specialist technical report after another has been rejected by either Egypt, Sudan or Ethiopia, the three countries directly influenced by the damming of the Blue Nile waters.

Ethiopia is now ready to start filling the dam, which when running at full capacity could supply 6,000 MGW of electricity, much more than Ethiopia needs. It is estimated that it will take as much as a year of the Blue Nile’s flow to fill the dam. 

Egypt is therefore concerned that should Ethiopia fill the land behind the dam too quickly it would have serious consequences for Egypt’s supplies of water in the country’s Aswan High Dam, down river from the GERD, as well as the rest of the Nile north of the Aswan Dam. Egypt is vitally dependent on the Nile waters for most of its agriculture and power. 

In an initial agreement between Ethiopia, Sudan and Egypt it was stated that Ethiopia would not start filling the dam until all three signatories had agreed the final technical safeguards and management of the Blue Nile waters into and out of the dam. 

The issues to resolve include co-ordination of the level of waters in both the GERD and the Aswan dam; controlling the flow of the Blue Nile in periods of flood or drought; guarantees on the electricity supplied by the dam and the construction of the necessary infrastructure; the ecological consequences for the land surrounding the Nile in Egypt and especially for the Nile Delta.

In mid-May a meeting between irrigation and intelligence ministers of the Ethiopia, Sudan and Egypt agreed to set up a scientific committee to focus on the dam’s operations and the speed of filling the lake behind the dam. 

The Egyptian president has been reported as saying when he issued the invitation to Ethiopia’s Abiy Ahmed that "negotiations will require effort and time."