Egypt blames Ethiopia for lack of progress in dam dispute

The two nations are locked in a dispute over the construction of the Blue Nile dam, which Egypt says threatens its food security

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Egypt on Friday blamed Ethiopia’s “intransigence” for the “lack of any tangible progress” in protracted negotiations over the impact on Cairo’s water supply by a giant hydroelectric dam Addis Ababa is building on the Blue Nile.

The river provides two thirds of Egypt’s water.

Ethiopia, according to an Egyptian foreign ministry statement, intends to operate the dam and fill the massive water reservoir behind it "without the least concern for the water interests of downstream nations, especially Egypt".

Also affected by the dam is Sudan, but it is unlikely to be impacted in the same way as Egypt as it has an alternative source of water in rainfall and the White Nile, which runs through the entire length of the country.

The White Nile, which originates in central Africa, merges with the Blue Nile, which has its source in the Ethiopian highlands, in the Khartoum district of Umm Durman to become the river Nile that flows across the deserts of northern Sudan and all the way across Egypt to the Mediterranean.

“This regrettable attitude by Ethiopia was manifested in the technical positions and proposals it presented during the ministerial talks, which reflect its intention to unconditionally fill the dam without heed to the rules that provide genuine guarantees for downstream nations and shield them against potential damage,” the statement read.

The Egyptian statement is one of the strongest given in the dispute, reflecting Cairo’s exacerbation over Addis Ababa’s approach to the negotiations over the dam.

Construction of the dam began five years ago but Ethiopia is yet to make much real progress.

Egypt has said that while it appreciates the dam’s benefits to Ethiopia’s development needs, it wants to see its impact reduced to manageable levels.

Egypt maintains that a significant drop in its share of the Nile water would affect the livelihoods of hundreds of thousands of farmers and threaten the country’s food security.

It wants the reservoir behind the dam be filled over six to seven years to reduce the impact downstream. It also wants Ethiopia to release 40 billion cubic meters of water annually and show flexibility during sustained droughts.

Egypt has officially refrained from talking about the use of force to settle its dispute with Ethiopia, whose prime minister threatened late last year that a million men would be mobilised to fight if attacked.

Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan are scheduled to meet again in Washington next week with representatives of the US government and World Bank attending.