The UN Security Council on Wednesday indicated it would not weigh in on a row between Ethiopia and its downstream neighbours, Egypt and Sudan, over a hydropower dam Addis Ababa has begun to fill on the Blue Nile.
The council said in a statement that the three nations should return to African Union-led talks and “finalise expeditiously” a deal on filling and operating the multibillion-dollar Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD).
The 15-nation body’s statement effectively blocks an effort by Egypt to push the disagreement on to the international agenda, saying the dam was a major threat to water-scarce Egyptians and hinting at potential military action.
The statement also urged the three nations to negotiate in a “constructive and co-operative manner”.
Ethiopia says the dam will promote growth and provide electricity, but Egypt and Sudan fear it will limit water access for their citizens. Years of talks have failed to result in a deal over managing water flows during droughts and setting up a dispute mechanism.
Cairo this year pushed for the spat to be addressed by the UN’s top decision-making body, calling the dam an “existential” threat to millions of Egyptians.
Council diplomats, however, said the issue did not amount to a threat to international peace and security.
Ethiopia has resisted efforts to involve mediators and played down Sudanese and Egyptian concerns about how the megaproject will affect downstream water supplies.
After the council released its statement on Wednesday, Ethiopia’s UN ambassador Taye Atske Selassie said the row was beyond the council’s remit and urged Egypt and Sudan to return to talks.
“The council deals only with threats to international peace and security,” Mr Selassie told reporters.
“The tripartite negotiation is the only way to reach a conclusion on the matter.”
Egypt’s deputy UN ambassador Osama Abdelkhalek said Cairo’s concerns had been “duly considered” by the council.
“Egypt was always supportive of the right of Ethiopia to generate electricity,” Mr Abdelkhalek told reporters.
“But equally of the same right of the two downstream countries, Egypt and Sudan, to guarantee their water security to have safeguards when it comes to their existential needs of water.”
Once completed, the 145-metre-tall dam will be Africa's largest hydroelectric project.