Egypt has requested the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) undertake its responsibilities and prevent Ethiopia from taking unilateral action regarding the filling of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam’s (GERD) reservoir, Egypt’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Sameh Shoukry told The Associated Press on Sunday.
Shoukry warned that Egypt will be both vocal and clear in its actions if no deal on the matter is achieved.
On Friday, Ethiopia announced that it would begin filling the dam’s reservoir during the rainy season, which begins in July. The filling will start, Ethiopia says, even if no deal is reached with the other two countries affected by GERD, Egypt and Sudan.
The Ethiopian move comes as the three countries announced that seven days of negotiations by videoconference have failed to find a compromise. No date has been set for a return to the negotiations table.
Also on Friday, Egypt announced that it had filed a complaint to the UNSC, warning of the consequences of letting Addis Ababa unilaterally control the River Nile. Egypt added that Ethiopia’s keenness to fill the reservoir in July poses an “existential threat” to Egypt.
Shoukry did not exclude military action in case no political solution occurs. This comes amid a breakdown in negotiations between Egypt, Ethiopia, and Sudan over filling and operation of the massive dam. Egypt has accused Ethiopian officials of stoking “antagonism” between the countries.
At the same time, Shoukry stressed that Egypt did not seek to escalate the matter, but instead sought a political solution. The minister also noted that Egyptian official exerted efforts to convince the public of Ethiopia’s right to build the dam to meet its development goals.
“Egypt has never, over the past six years, even made indirect reference to such possibilities [military action],” Shoukry said.
He pointed out, however, that if the UNSC failed to bring Ethiopia back into negotiations and filling begins [in July], “We will find ourselves in a situation that we will have to deal with.”
Shoukry noted that “when that time is upon us, we will be very vocal and clear in what action we will take.”
In an Al-Jazeera interview on Sunday, Ethiopia’s Foreign Minister Gedu Andargachew repeated his previous claims that Egypt’s complaint has no impact.
In response to the accusations, Shoukry said that Egypt is ready for an immediate restart of GERD negotiations if Ethiopia refrained from unilaterally filling the dam’s reservoir without agreement.
Andargachew stressed that his country will start filling the GERD reservoir next month with no need for approval from any party. He added that Egypt and Sudan had agreed to this step in the 2015 Declaration of Principles. Andargachew further accused Cairo of backing enemies of Addis Ababa whilst also exerting much effort towards stopping Ethiopia achieving development.
Shoukry also called upon the US, other Security Council members, and fellow African nations, to help in reaching a deal that “takes into account the interests of all three countries.”
“The responsibility of the Security Council is to address a pertinent threat to international peace and security, and certainly the unilateral actions by Ethiopia in this regard would constitute such a threat,” Shoukry said during the AP interview.
Ethiopia is shortly to complete construction on GERD. Construction on the project, which is looking to become the largest hydroelectric dam in Africa, started in April 2011. The large reservoir behind the dam is to be filled over a period of at least three to five years.
During this time, it is expected that the amount of River Nile water flowing through Sudan and Egypt will be substantially reduced. Cairo has requested a filling period of at least seven years, to reduce the negative effects of the project on its historic River Nile water share of 55bn cbm.
In an AP interview on Friday, Andargachew accused Egypt of attempting to “dictate and control even future developments on our river”, whilst reaffirming his government’s insistence to start filling in July.
In response to the Andargachew’s statements, Shoukry stressed that Egypt has been flexible and accommodating, adding, “I can’t say that there is a similar political will on the side of Ethiopia.”
He described his Ethiopian counterpart’s statements as “disappointing”. He noted that starting the filling process now would demonstrate Ethiopia’s desire to control River Nile water flow, for effective sole determination of the water that reaches Egypt and Sudan.
The Foreign Minister asserted Egypt’s belief in reaching an agreement in “good faith”during negotiations. Regarding any future deal on sharing water resources from the River Nile, Shoukry also highlighted the need to consider Ethiopia’s access to other water sources besides that provided by the River Nile.
Shoukry warned that filling the reservoir without an accord would violate the 2015 Declaration of Principles governing their talks, and rule out a return to negotiations.
According to Article 10 under the declaration, “If the Parties [three countries] are unable to resolve the dispute through consultation or negotiation, they may jointly request for conciliation, mediation or refer the matter for the consideration of the Heads of State/Heads of Government.”
Egypt understands the importance of the GERD project to Ethiopia’s economic development. Egyptian officials [including President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi] have consistently affirmed their understanding to Ethiopia’s right in constructing a dam. This should take into account the “no harm” principle and the interests of downstream countries.
The River Nile is considered Egypt’s lifeline, with the country depending on its share of the river’s waters. The river provides the most populous country of the Nile River Basin with about 97% of its current water needs.
Egypt receives about 70% of its water flow from the Blue Nile and Atbara Rivers, both of which are sourced in the Ethiopian plateau. They then merge as the main River Nile in northern Sudan. This amount of water equals only 660 cbm per person, one of the world’s lowest annual per capita water shares.