Ethiopia said on Thursday it was preparing to start the fourth filling of its Nile dam, a move likely to draw strong condemnation from downstream Egypt, which insists the $4.2 billion structure will cut its vital share of the river's water.
The hydroelectric Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam, or Gerd, on the Blue Nile has been at the centre of a regional dispute involving Ethiopia, Egypt and Sudan since construction began in 2011. A decade of on-again, off-again negotiations has failed to produce a deal.
Egypt and Sudan protested against the first three fillings, saying Addis Ababa had not given them advance notice, and repeated their demand for a legally binding agreement on the filling and operation of the dam.
Ethiopia has insisted it has a sovereign right to fill the dam.
“The Gerd is now approaching its fourth filling. The last three fillings have not affected lower riparian states. Likewise, the rest of the fillings will not be any different,” Ethiopia's Deputy Prime Minister Demeke Mekonnen said during remarks at a conference on the Nile held in Addis Ababa.
“The project is near completion, withstanding the rhetoric of some actors that seek to monopolise the use of the shared African river.”
The Nile meeting in the Ethiopian capital includes a “high-level ministerial round table”, with Mr Demeke, who also serves as Foreign Minister, and his counterparts from several Nile Basin nations including Uganda, the Democratic Republic of Congo, South Sudan and Tanzania participating.
Neither Sudan nor Egypt were represented.
Egypt and its 105 million people depend on the Nile for nearly all their freshwater needs. Cairo has repeatedly expressed its deep alarm over the Gerd, insisting that any reduction in its water share could have a disastrous impact on its agricultural sector, wiping out hundreds of thousands of jobs and disrupting its delicate food balance.
Sudan, for its part, says it needs to be kept informed on the filling and operation of the dam to avoid ruinous flooding and to safeguard its own power-generating dams on the Blue Nile, the river's main tributary.
Addis Ababa has repeatedly sought to allay the fears of Sudan and Egypt over the Gerd, contending that neither would be hurt by the dam, which it hopes will generate enough power to lift millions of its people out of poverty and supply neighbouring states with surplus electricity.
The three nations' last round of negotiations over the dam collapsed in 2021, with Ethiopia rejecting proposals made by Cairo and Khartoum for the US, the EU and the World Bank to mediate the dispute. Addis Ababa said that the dispute is an African issue that can only be solved by Africans.
Egypt, however, lost a reliable supporter and ally in the dispute when Sudan was plunged into civil war two months ago, with the nation's top two generals fighting for supremacy in the vast Afro-Arab nation.