Egypt joins ally Sudan to request UNSC meeting on Nile dam dispute

Sameh Shoukry said he did not expect the Security Council to discuss the dispute over the dam before the second week of July

FILE PHOTO: A handout satellite image shows a closeup view of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) and the Blue Nile River in Ethiopia June 26, 2020. Satellite image ©2020 Maxar Technologies via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY A THIRD PARTY. MANDATORY CREDIT. NO RESALES. NO ARCHIVES. MUST NOT OBSCURE WATERMARK/File Photo

Egypt has joined its southern ally Sudan in asking the UN Security Council to discuss their dispute with Ethiopia over the massive Nile dam it is building, said Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry.

Cairo and Khartoum say the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam will gravely harm their interests and cut their share of the Nile’s water.

“It was important for us to bolster Sudan’s position and make our own request,” he told a television interviewer late on Saturday.

“The strongest mechanism in the Security Council is a resolution, followed by a presidential statement and finally a press release. Any one of these will do.”

Mr Shoukry said he did not expect the Security Council to discuss the dispute over the dam before the second week of July because of the 15-member body’s busy schedule.

Egypt wrote to the Security Council earlier this month, reviewing a decade of fruitless negotiations with Ethiopia over the dam and blaming the Horn of Africa nation for their failure to reach a legally binding deal governing the operating and filling of the dam, which is 80 per cent complete.

Sudan wrote to the Security Council last week requesting that it meets to discuss the Gerd.

Egypt fears the hydroelectric dam would rob it of a significant portion of its share of the Nile’s water, wiping out hundreds of thousands of jobs in its agricultural sector and upending its delicate food balance.

Sudan says the operation of its power-generating dams and water treatment facilities would be affected unless Ethiopia shared real-time data on the Gerd’s operation and filling.

Mr Shoukry was elusive when asked what Egypt would do if Ethiopia refused to comply with the decision made by the UN Security Council.

“Surely, if Ethiopia does that it will be another piece of evidence that it lacks the political will  … and the international community will find it necessary to deal with this intransigence.

“Sudan and Egypt will then have exhausted all methods available in the political sphere,” he said.

Ethiopia has also written to the UN to ask the body to persuade Khartoum and Cairo to return to African Union-led talks.

In a separate development, South Sudan's deputy foreign minister told The National this week that his country planned to build a major dam on the Nile to provide cheap, reliable electricity and help stop recurring floods.

The report kicked off a storm in Egypt, where it was widely shared on social media and discussed on night-time television talk shows.

Egypt’s official reaction appeared chiefly designed to reassure the population that the country was not about to become embroiled in another crisis like its dispute with Addis Ababa. It cited a dam that has yet to be built and to which Cairo contributed feasibility and engineering studies back in 2015.

That dam, according to Egypt’s Water Ministry, will be built on the Jur River, which is a tributary of the Bahr Al Ghazal River that flows into the White Nile.

It will be built near the South Sudan city of Wau and have a storage capacity of about two billion cubic metres of water.

Mamdouh Antar, a senior ministry official in charge of the Nile, said in a television interview that the dam, when built, would not affect Egypt’s share of the river’s waters.

But the senior South Sudanese official talked about a major new dam on the White Nile, with new studies being made by the Ministry of Irrigation.

He was asked by The National whether the move could antagonise Egypt and Sudan as well as spark a new controversy in the Nile basin region, but said it was his country's sovereign right to think and plan for its future.

The Blue Nile thunders down into eastern Sudan from the Ethiopian highlands and joins the White Nile in Khartoum before they jointly flow across the desert of northern Sudan and through Egypt all the way to the Mediterranean.

The Blue Nile accounts for more than 80 per cent of the Nile’s water, while the much less voluminous White Nile shares the rest with other tributaries.

“We stand by our brothers in the Nile basin as long their river projects don’t negatively impact on our water resources,” Mr Antar said.