Egypt Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry on Thursday said that Cairo may need to act against the existential threat posed by a hydropower dam being built upstream by Ethiopia on the Blue Nile.
Mr Shoukry hinted at possible military action during UN Security Council talks on the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD), a row that pits Ethiopia against downstream nations Sudan and Egypt.
Ethiopia says the multibillion-dollar dam will promote growth and provide electricity, but Egypt and Sudan fear it will limit water access for citizens. Years of talks have failed to reach a deal over managing water flows during droughts and setting up a dispute mechanism.
Addressing diplomats in New York, Mr Shoukry said the dam would limit access to drinking water, reduce family income, deprive millions of farmers of water for irrigation and destroy thousands of acres of farmland.
“This is a situation that Egypt cannot and will not tolerate,” Mr Shoukry told the Security Council.
“If its survival is imperilled, Egypt will be left with no alternative but to uphold and protect its inherent right to life that is guaranteed by the laws and customs of nations and the imperatives of nature.”
The council meeting was requested by the 15-nation body’s Arab member, Tunisia, on behalf of Egypt and Sudan.
Tunisia also proposed a draft resolution calling on Ethiopia to stop filling the reservoir and to finalise the details of an agreement within six months.
Ethiopia has resisted efforts to involve mediators and played down Sudanese and Egyptian concerns about how the mega project will impact downstream water supplies.
It remains unclear whether the diplomatic push by Egypt and Sudan to rally international pressure against Addis Ababa has gained traction.
A vote on the resolution is not expected to take place this week.
Many diplomats were willing to discuss the issue but showed little interest in using UN council powers to settle the three-way dispute.
Washington’s UN ambassador, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, said the African Union was a better venue for settling the dispute.
“Egypt and Sudan’s concerns over water security and the safety and operation of the dam can be reconciled with Ethiopia’s development needs,” said Ms Thomas-Greenfield.
“This begins with the resumption of productive, substantive negotiations.”
Parfait Onanga-Anyanga, the UN’s envoy to the Horn of Africa, said the countries should avoid “zero-sum” diplomacy when a “win-win solution” of “good neighbourliness” was at hand.
The meeting came as Ethiopia plans to fill its reservoir for a second time this summer without an agreement with Sudan and Egypt, which called the move a “dangerous escalation”.
Ethiopia says that filling the reservoir, especially during the heavy rainfall months of July and August, is a regular part of the construction process.
Once completed, the 145-metre tall dam will be Africa's largest hydroelectric project.
Tension over the dam has been on the rise since November due to a conflict in Ethiopia’s northern Tigray region, where an offensive by government and allied forces sent refugees spilling across the border into Sudan.