Tri-partite Renaissance dam committee formed

Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan form technical committee 

The water ministers of Ethiopia, Egypt and Sudan have agreed to form a tripartite technical committee – comprising experts from the three countries – to study the future impact of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD). The three ministers met in Addis Ababa on 22 September after viewing the construction site of Ethiopia's controversial $6 billion hydroelectric project on the river Nile.

The Addis Ababa meeting marked the first site visit by Egyptian officials since construction of the dam began in 2011. However the Egyptian irrigation minister Hossam Moghazy stressed that his visit to the dam should not be viewed as Egypt's endorsement of the project.

The technical committee will select a team of international consultants to conduct a hydrological simulation model and a trans-boundary economic, social and environmental impact assessment on the potential impact of the mega-dam being built in the Benishangul-Gumuz region, about 40 km east of the Sudan border, on the upper reaches of the Blue Nile.

The scheme has been contentious from the outset and remains a source of concern for Egyptians who rely on the Nile for their agriculture and almost all of their drinking water. Egypt fears that the completed project could reduce the volume of Nile water reaching its country, while Sudan, also downstream, shares Egypt's concerns.

Ethiopia says the dam will be used mainly for energy-generation purposes, and not irrigation which could reduce the flow of water downstream. It says the project is necessary for its national development plans and claims that it will not affect Egypt's share of water.

Ethiopia insists the project won't impact Egypt's traditional share of Nile water, which is determined by a colonial-era water-sharing treaty that has never been recognised by Addis Ababa. Egypt holds veto rights over all upstream water projects, following a 1929 agreement with Britain. A subsequent deal in 1959 saw Egypt share its Nile water rights with neighbouring Sudan. That agreement granted Egypt 55.5 billion cubic metres of water, and Sudan 18.5, out of an annual total of 74 billion cubic metres of water.

The next meeting for the tripartite committee will take place in Cairo on 21-22 October.