Ethiopia completes third filling of dam megaproject amid protests from Egypt and Sudan

Addis Ababa hopes to use the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam to power an ambitious economic development plan.

The Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam in Guba, Ethiopia. AFP
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Ethiopia has completed the third filling of the reservoir of a controversial dam megaproject on its stretch of the Nile River, the country’s prime minister said, amid protests from downstream neighbours Egypt and Sudan.

At a televised press conference on Friday, Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed celebrated the filling of the $4-billion hydropower project's reservoir, which Addis Ababa hopes to use to power an ambitious economic development plan.

On Thursday, Ethiopia also announced that it had begun operating the second of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam's (Gerd) 13 power-generating turbines.

“It is with heartfelt gratitude that I announce the successful completion of the third filling of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam,” Mr Abiy said in his speech. “This is a great victory for Ethiopians and I would like to congratulate us on our success.”

Though experts have said that the filling is unlikely to affect Egypt and Sudan’s share of the Nile’s water in the coming months — because of the high levels of rainfall anticipated for the coming flood season — the Gerd has remained a point of contention between the three countries since its announcement in 2011.

Negotiations between the three have thus far failed to reach an agreement that satisfies all parties, with Egypt and Sudan decrying what they see as unilateral actions by Ethiopia that have a direct effect on their national affairs.

Addis Ababa continues to assert that since the source of the Nile’s largest tributary, the Blue Nile, is located within its borders, it is well within its rights to use it to generate electricity and benefit its 115-million population, one of the poorest in the world.

However, Ethiopia’s unwillingness to come to the table for renewed negotiations despite pressure from the African Union has made its downstream neighbours take more hardline approaches to protect their interests.

When asked about the Gerd in Menoufia in June, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El Sisi told reporters that he “won’t say much except that no one will touch Egypt’s water.

Mr El Sisi also spoke of “unprecedented projects” he was taking in the region to protect Egypt’s water resources.

Egypt’s administration has recently increased its co-operation with a number of African Union countries, offering aid packages in addition to funds and expertise for smaller development projects.

Additionally, Egypt increased its exports to AU countries this year as Mr El Sisi’s administration ramped up its investment in various healthcare and development initiatives in those countries.

Despite behaving in a manner which its downstream neighbours have called “intransigent”, Ethiopia said on Thursday that it was keen to return to the AU-sponsored talks which have been stalled since last year. Mr Ahmed said on Thursday that “any other option will not stop what we have started and will be futile.”

Last month, Egypt called on the United Nations Security Council for the third consecutive year to intervene on its behalf, sending a letter that promised to hold Ethiopia “fully responsible for any significant harm to Egyptian interests that may result from Addis Ababa’s violation of its aforementioned obligations.”

Egypt, one of the most water-scarce countries in the world, receives around 60 billion cubic metres of freshwater annually — mainly from the Blue Nile.

Updated: August 14, 2022, 10:51 AM