Ethiopia entitled to use 86 per cent share of Nile, says foreign minister

Demeke Mekonnen's comments represent a doubling down on the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam

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Ethiopia is entitled to use its large share of the Nile’s waters and will not allow other nations to dictate how the river is used, the country’s foreign minister said on Wednesday.

Addressing a seminar marking 10 years since construction began on the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam project, Demeke Mekonnen said it “is the natural resource of all Ethiopians. No one can deprive Ethiopia of its 86 per cent share of the Nile [waters]”.

The statement signalled Addis Ababa's continued unwillingness to compromise in its long-running dispute with Egypt and Sudan over the dam.

The Blue Nile is the river’s main tributary and its source is in the Ethiopian highlands. It thunders down into eastern Sudan and travels to Khartoum, the Sudanese capital to the north, where it meets the White Nile. Together they flow into northern Sudan, Egypt and all the way to the Mediterranean. It contributes more than 85 per cent of the Nile’s water.

The comments by Mr Mekonnen seemingly confirm suspicions in Egypt and Sudan that the dam was partially meant to help realise Ethiopia’s ambition to become the paramount power in east Africa and among Nile-basin countries.

Egyptian experts have long argued that the large capacity of the water reservoir behind the dam – about 75 billion cubic metres of water – was well beyond what it needed to achieve its goal of generating 6,000 megawatts of electricity and plucking millions of Ethiopians out of poverty.

Ethiopia has said it planned to go ahead with a second and much larger filling of the dam next summer regardless of whether a deal was reached with Egypt and Sudan. It carried out the first filling last summer without giving the two downstream countries prior notice. That filling disrupted work in water treatment facilities in Sudan but made no impact on Egypt because 2020 saw a bumper flood that filled its own reservoir behind the Aswan Dam to capacity.

Under a treaty reached with Sudan in 1959, Egypt’s annual share of the Nile is 55.5 billion cubic metres, while Sudan has 18.5 billion. Egypt, where 90 per cent of its fresh water needs are met by the Nile, is alarmed that Ethiopia’s dam would deeply cut its share of the Nile water.

Sudan, for its part, is worried that Ethiopia’s refusal to enter a legally-binding deal on the filling and operation of the dam and mechanisms to deal with drought years or future disputes would leave it vulnerable to deadly flooding and disruption to its own power-generating dams on the Blue Nile.

The latest Ethiopian comments came one day after the country renewed its rejection of a proposal by Sudan and supported by Egypt to ask the UN, the US and the EU to join the African Union as mediators in the deadlocked negotiations over the dam.

The involvement of outside mediators must be agreed to by the three nations, according to a declaration on the dispute they signed in 2015. That leaves Sudan and Egypt with few options to reach a deal as the time of the second filling draws nearer.

Sudan has said that the second filling would put at risk the lives of 20 million people, about half its population. Egypt, for its part, said it remained committed to finding a diplomatic resolution to the dispute but made clear it had no intention of negotiating “indefinitely.”