ADDIS ABABA • Leaders of Sudan, Ethiopia and Egypt said they were hopeful that the African Union could help them broker a deal to end a decade-long dispute over water supplies within two or three weeks.
Ethiopia, which is building the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (Gerd) which worries its downstream neighbours Egypt and Sudan, said it would fill the reservoir in a few weeks, as planned, providing enough time for talks to be concluded.
Tortuous negotiations over the years have left the three countries short of an agreement to regulate how Ethiopia will operate the dam and fill its reservoir, while protecting Egypt’s scarce water supplies from the river Nile.
Ethiopian Water Minister Seleshi Bekele said consensus had been reached to finalise a deal within two to three weeks, a day after leaders from the three countries and South African President Cyril Ramaphosa, who chairs the African Union, held an online summit.
Ms Billene Seyoum, a spokesman for Ethiopia’s Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed Ali, said there was “no divergence from Ethiopia’s original position of filling the dam” in their consensus reached on Friday.
The Egyptian presidency said in a statement after the summit that Ethiopia will not fill the dam unilaterally.
The Gerd is being built about 15km from the border with Sudan on the Blue Nile, the source of most of the Nile’s waters.
Ethiopia says the US$4.2 billion (S$5.9 billion) hydropower project, which will have an installed capacity of 6,450 megawatts, is essential to its economic development.
The Prime Minister’s Office of Ethiopia said the three countries agreed that the Nile and the Gerd “are African issues that must be given African solutions”.
Friday’s round of talks is the latest attempt to move forward negotiations which have repeatedly stalled due to technical and political disagreements.
They also signal an intention to solve the issue without foreign intervention.
Ethiopia’s statement said the African Union, and not the United Nations Security Council, will assist the countries in the negotiations and provide technical support.
Cairo had appealed to the UN council in a last-ditch diplomatic move aimed at stopping Ethiopia from filling the dam.
The Security Council was expected to hold a public meeting tomorrow to discuss the issue.