Sudan said it “in principle” welcomes an Ethiopian offer to exchange data on the filling of a large Nile dam Addis Ababa is building but said that it still wants a legally binding agreement, not a “gift” that can be revoked at any time.
Fellow downstream nation Egypt, meanwhile, said it can handle the impact of a second filling due in July, but that continuing unilateral actions by Ethiopia will spill disaster in the long term.
The second filling is expected to involve 13.4 billion cubic metres, or three times the size of the first filling last year.
That filling hardly affected Egypt, thanks to a bumper flood that kept its large reservoir behind its Aswan dam near capacity.
However, it disrupted some of Sudan’s water treatment facilities, leaving thousands of homes without running water for days.
Sudan says that without live data exchange, the much larger filling this year could impact 20 million people, denying them drinking water and disrupting work on its much smaller power-generating dams on the Blue Nile.
Late on Saturday, Sudan’s Irrigation Ministry said it had received a letter on Thursday from the Ethiopian government inviting it to name a focal person for exchanging data on the second filling of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam, or GERD.
“In principle, we welcome this step,” said the Sudanese said, but added that Khartoum would rather have the exchange of data be part of a legally binding agreement.
“Ethiopia’s offer indicates suspicious selectivity in dealing with what has been agreed on as well as an unacceptable tendency to only take the steps that suit it without heed to Sudan’s demands or fears,” said the statement.
The offer, it added, makes the exchange of data a “gift from Ethiopia that it can give or withhold whenever it pleases and that’s something that exposes our national interests to grave dangers.”
Egypt’s irrigation minister, meanwhile, said his country can deal with the second filling and reduce its impact, but warned that similar Ethiopian actions in the future could create problems.
“If this year’s flood is as good as last year’s then we will not have a big problem … Our main concern is how to manage future droughts,” said the minister, Mohamed Abdel Ati, in a television interview late on Saturday night.
Egypt, the most populous Arab nation with 100 million people, is alarmed that the GERD will significantly cut into its vital share of the river’s water, wiping out tens of thousands of jobs and disrupting its delicate food balance.
Egypt depends on the Nile for more than 90 per cent of its freshwater.
In years of negotiations, Egypt and Sudan have failed to persuade Ethiopia to enter a legally binding agreement that includes mechanisms for dealing with persistent droughts and resolving disputes.
Ethiopia, which views GERD as key to its development and lift millions out of poverty, insists on guidelines rather than a formal agreement.
Egypt and Sudan have been forging closer military ties in recent months, conducting a series of joint war games and signing a military co-operation agreement amid threats that military action cannot be ruled out.
“I tell our brothers in Ethiopia ‘let us not get to the stage where you withhold a drop of water from Egypt because all options are open. Our co-operation is a better proposition. To build together is so much better than being at odds or at conflict’,” Egyptian President Abdel Fatah El Sisi said last week.
His warning was the second in as many weeks.
Earlier this month, he made a thinly veiled threat that Egypt could use military force to secure its water share, saying no one should believe it is beyond the reach of his country’s “capabilities.”
Speaking last week in Kinshasa, capital of the Democratic Republic of Congo where the latest round of tripartite talks was held, Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry said the extent of harm suffered by Egypt as a result of the GERD would be the “decisive” factor in determining the nature of its response.
“If it’s (harm) done, then we will confront it with all the resources available to us, foremost of which are the political ones,” he warned.
The hydroelectric GERD, which is about 80 per cent complete, is built on the Blue Nile less than 20 kilometres from the Sudanese border.
The Blue Nile, whose source is on Ethiopia’s highlands, enters eastern Sudan and meets with the White Nile in Khartoum before the two travel together through northern Sudan and Egypt all the way to the Mediterranean.
The Blue Nile accounts for more than 80 per cent of the Nile’s water.