Egypt's foreign minister said Ethiopia's new hydroelectric dam risks the lives of 150 million Egyptians and Sudanese as he urged the UN Security Council to adopt a resolution on efforts to resolve a dispute over the filling of its reservoir.
Sameh Shoukry said the draft resolution at the UN was in line with the outcome of an African Union summit on Friday where the leaders of Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia agreed to return to talks over the filling of the $4.6-billion (Dh16.89bn) Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam, known as Gerd.
"This draft resolution is not intended to pre-empt or forestall any negotiations but to express at the highest levels the deep interests of the international community in reaching an agreement on the Gerd and its appreciation of the dangers of acts of unilateralism in this matter," he said.
Mr Shoukry said the proposed resolution encourages the three countries to reach an agreement within two weeks and not take any unilateral measures in relation to the dam, and it "emphasises the important role of the UN secretary general in this regard".
Hours after the AU agreement was announced, the Ethiopian prime minister's office said on Saturday that it was set to begin filling the dam within the next two weeks and that construction would continue. It said this was in line with the agreement.
Egypt and Sudan have said Ethiopia would refrain from filling the dam next month until the countries reached a deal.
Both Egypt and Sudan appealed to the Security Council to intervene in the years-long dispute, which has seen bellicose rhetoric and escalating tensions, and to help the countries avert a crisis. Monday’s virtual council meeting was held in response.
The 15 Security Council members all expressed support for the AU effort to revive talks, but took no immediate action.
Egypt, which relies on the Nile for more than 90 per cent of its water and already faces high water stress, fears a devastating effect on its booming population of 100 million. Sudan, which also depends on the Nile for water, has played a critical role in bringing the two sides together after the collapse of US-mediated talks in February.
Filling the dam without an agreement could bring the stand-off to a critical juncture. Egypt and Ethiopia have hinted at military steps to protect their interests, and experts fear a breakdown in talks could lead to open conflict.
Sudan’s UN Ambassador Omer Mohamed Siddig called for the Security Council to take note of the African Union’s effort.
He said Khartoum called on leaders of the three countries "to demonstrate their political will and commitment by resolving the few remaining issues on the agreement". His government also calleds on the parties to use the comprehensive proposal Sudan submitted as the basis for finalising an agreement and discouraged all parties from any action that may jeopardise the AU agreement.
“We strongly believe that the African-led process can push forward the three parties’ efforts to reach a comprehensive, fair and balanced agreement,” Mr Siddig said.
Sticking points in the talks have been how much water Ethiopia will release downstream from the dam if a multi-year drought occurs and how Ethiopia, Egypt and Sudan will resolve any future disagreements.
Ethiopia’s UN Ambassador Taye Atskeselassie Amde said his government did not believe the dispute should be in the Security Council, because leaders of the three countries had agreed to the AU-led process and efforts to resolve it peacefully had not been exhausted.
He argued that Ethiopia has been deprived of its right to use the Blue Nile's waters, saying more than 60 per cent of the country is dry land while Egypt is endowed with groundwater and has access to seawater that could be desalinated.
Once completed, Mr Amde said, the dam would bring electricity "to more than 65 million people who currently live in complete darkness".