Fearing for its water security, Egypt has called for the World Bank to arbitrate on the sensitive issue of the massive dam Ethiopia is building on the Nile River as the stalemate over technical talks continues.
The Egyptian foreign ministry issued the call during talks in Addis Ababa between its foreign minister Sameh Shoukry and his Ethiopian counterpart Workneh Gebeyehu last week on 27 December.
"Shoukry stressed the sensitivity of Egypt’s water security and that it cannot rely on mere promises and remarks of good faith," said a statement by foreign ministry spokesman Ahmed Abu Zeid, reports pan-Arabic newspaper Asharq Al-Awsat.
The call came as the two countries prepare for a face to face meeting this month between Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi and Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn (pictured).
Relations are tense after negotiations among Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan broke down in November over how to conduct technical studies on the impact on downstream countries of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD), a 6GW hydroelectric scheme Ethiopia is building on the Blue Nile.
At the time Egypt accused Ethiopia and Sudan, which backs the dam, of trying to direct the studies in a way that would downplay negative effects on the Nile’s flow to Egypt.
In their meeting last week foreign minister Shoukry urged Ethiopia to honour the principles of an earlier cooperation agreement on the dam.
Diplomatic efforts are ongoing. While in Ethiopia, Shoukry met with Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn to discuss preparations for Desalegn’s visit to Egypt at some point this month.
As its name suggests, GERD, set to be Africa’s biggest dam, is a project of supreme national importance to Ethiopia.
Now more than half built by Italian contractor Salini Impregilo, the hydroelectric plant will have an installed capacity of 6,000 MW – more than double Ethiopia’s current generating capacity – and is central to Ethiopia’s plan to be a net power exporter to the electricity-starved continent.
Construction began in early 2011 as Egypt was convulsed by its January revolution. Since then, fearing for its water security, Egypt has strongly opposed the dam, with concerns over the possibility of the conflict escalating to violence emerging in 2013.
Since then, without relinquishing its concerns, Egypt has acquiesced in principle to Ethiopia’s right to build GERD.
In March 2015 Egypt’s President Abdel-Fattah el-Sisi and his counterparts from Ethiopia and Sudan signed a cooperation deal on the principles of sharing the Nile River water and the construction of the GERD. Then in September 2016 Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia agreed that French consultants BRL and Artelia would carry out studies on GERD’s impact on the flow of the Nile.
However, negotiations held 11-12 November in Cairo between the three parties broke down over the studies, with Egypt’s water minister accusing Sudan and Ethiopia of trying to direct them in a way that would "render them useless", reported Middle East news site Al-Monitor.
Image: Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, left, and Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn are due to meet face