Egypt calls for legally binding deal in dam dispute with Ethiopia

Egypt calls for legally binding deal in dam dispute with Ethiopia
A satellite image taken on June 26, 2020 shows a close-up view of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam on the Blue Nile. Maxar Technologies via Reuters

Egypt on Wednesday called for a legally binding deal with Ethiopia over the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (Gerd), saying the Nile’s water is an “existential issue”.

Cairo fears the dam, which is nearly 80 per cent complete, would deeply reduce its vital share of the river’s water.

Egyptian President Abdul Fattah El Sisi made the comments during talks in Cairo with Burundi’s president, Evariste Ndayishimiye. Egypt and Burundi are among 11 countries covered by the Nile’s drainage basin.

“It’s an existential issue that impacts the lives of millions of Egyptians,” Mr El Sisi said.

“It is necessary that a legally binding agreement regulating the filling and operation of the dam be reached as soon as possible away from unilateral actions that seek to create a fait accompli and ignore people’s basics rights.”

The Egyptian leader was referring to Ethiopia’s intention to go ahead with a second and much larger filling of the Gerd in July, regardless of whether a deal has been reached with Egypt and fellow downstream nation Sudan.

Mr El Sisi has only once before described the Gerd’s likely impact on Egypt’s share of the Nile water as an existential issue.

The second filling will involve 13.5 billion cubic metres – nearly three times the size of the first filling last year.

That disrupted work in several of Sudan’s water treatment facilities but had no impact on Egypt, as flooding had filled its Aswan dam reservoir close to capacity.

Egypt and Sudan have for years been trying to persuade Ethiopia to enter a deal that governs the operation of the dam and puts in place mechanisms to resolve disputes and the handling of persistent drought.

Ethiopia says non-binding guidelines should be sufficient.