The massive hydroelectric Nile dam being built by Ethiopia is an “existential” issue that could affect millions of Egyptians, President Abdel Fattah El Sisi said on Wednesday.
Egypt is deeply alarmed that the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam, or Gerd, would reduce its share of Nile water significantly, severely disrupting its vital agriculture sector and wiping out hundreds of thousands of jobs.
Ethiopia has repeatedly assured Egypt and bordering downstream country Sudan that the dam, which will lift millions from poverty, would not negatively effect them. It says that building and running the Gerd was a sovereignty issue in which outsiders should not meddle.
Addressing a news conference after talks with visiting Tanzanian President Samia Suluhu Hassan, the Egyptian leader said they reviewed developments related to the Gerd as an “existential issue that affects the lives of millions of Egyptians”.
Tanzania is one of 11 Nile basin nations and home to a hydroelectric dam being built on the Rufiji river with help from Egyptian engineers.
Egypt’s assistance in the construction of the Julius Nyerere dam was cited by Mr El Sisi on Wednesday to counter claims by Addis Ababa that Egypt was sticking by colonial-era agreements that unjustly gave it the lion’s share of the Nile’s waters without care or concern for the needs and interests of other basin nations.
“That project represents a model for Egypt’s support of the rights of Nile basin nations to achieve full exploitation of its water resources without negatively impacting the rights of other nations,” said the Egyptian leader, who since taking office in 2014 has energetically courted sub-Saharan African nations, travelling widely in the continent, offering technical training opportunities, aid and university scholarships.
He repeated that Egypt wanted to see Ethiopia enter a legally binding deal regulating the filling and operation of the dam and based on international law. He also berated Ethiopia for what he described as its unilateral actions on the issue of the dam and “imposing a fait accompli that ignores the basic rights of people”.
Ethiopia refuses to enter a binding agreement, arguing that guidelines should suffice. It has also rejected suggestions by Cairo and Khartoum to involve the US, EU and the UN in negotiations over the dam, insisting it was an African issue that must be dealt with inside the continent.
More than a decade of on-and-off negotiations have failed to produce a deal, with the last round of talks breaking down acrimoniously in April.
Sudan said it needs to have real-time data on the dam’s operations to ensure that its own power-generating dams on the Blue Nile operate efficiently and to avoid ruinous floods.
The Blue Nile, whose sources are in Ethiopia, accounts for more than 80 per cent of the river’s water after it meets the White Nile outside Khartoum, Sudan’s capital. They flow together across northern Sudan and Egypt to the Mediterranean.