Three African nations reach preliminary deal in Nile dam dispute

WASHINGTON (AP) — Officials from Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan say they have reached a preliminary agreement aimed at clearing the way for the filling and operation of a USD5 billion dam project on the Nile River.

The foreign ministers and water resources officials of the three countries concluded three days of meetings in Washington on Wednesday with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and World Bank President David Malpass.

The project, called the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam, is around 70 per cent complete and promises to provide much-needed electricity for Ethiopia’s more than 100 million people. However, Egyptian officials are concerned that filling the reservoir behind the dam too quickly could significantly reduce the amount of Nile water available to Egypt.

The joint statement late Wednesday did not give details on how long it would take to fill the dam, saying only that it should occur in stages during the rainy season, which generally runs from July to August. Earlier this month Ethiopia’s Minister for Water and Energy, Sileshi Bekele, said Ethiopia wanted a filling time of 12 years while Egypt wanted 21.

The discussions this week were aimed at developing the rules and guidelines that would mitigate drought conditions based on the natural flow of the Nile and water release rates from the dam’s reservoir.

The guidelines said that filling the reservoir could continue into September under certain conditions, with the goal of achieving the early generation of electricity while providing mitigation measures for Egypt and Sudan in case of severe droughts.

“The ministers agree that there is a shared responsibility of the three countries in managing drought and prolonged drought,” the officials said in their joint statement.

The statement said these preliminary decisions on the dam’s operation will not become final until the countries agree on all points in a final operating agreement.

The countries plan to meet again in Washington on January 28-29 with the goal of reaching a final agreement on the dam’s filing and operation.

“The ministers recognise the significant regional benefits that can result from concluding an agreement … with respect to trans-boundary cooperation, regional development and economic integration,” the joint statement said.

In this June 28, 2013 file photo, the Blue Nile river flows near the site of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam near Assosa, Ethiopia. PHOTO: AP