Ethiopia says on track to fill mega-dam

ADDIS ABABA (AFP) – Ethiopia said yesterday it was on schedule to begin filling a controversial mega-dam on the Blue Nile River within weeks but vowed to try resolving its dispute with downstream neighbours Egypt and Sudan.

The statement from Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s office undercut claims made on Friday evening by Egypt and Sudan, whose leaders said Ethiopia had agreed to delay filling the dam’s reservoir until an agreement was reached.

The Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD), set to be Africa’s largest hydroelectric project, has been a source of tension in the Nile basin ever since Ethiopia broke ground on it nearly a decade ago.

Ethiopia says the project is essential for its development, while Egypt and Sudan worry about access to vital water supplies from the Nile.

Addis Ababa has been vocal about its plans to start filling the reservoir in July, and Abiy faces intense domestic political pressure to stick to that timeline.

The leaders of all three countries spoke on Friday evening on a call convened by South African President Cyril Ramaphosa, the current chair of the African Union.

But while Sudan and Egypt said afterwards that Ethiopia had agreed to hold off on filling the reservoir as negotiations continued, Ethiopia’s statement yesterday made no mention of a delay.

“Ethiopia is scheduled to begin filling the GERD within the next two weeks, during which the remaining construction work will continue,” the statement said.

“It is in this period, that the three countries have agreed to reach a final agreement on a few pending matters.”

Trilateral talks on the dam resumed earlier this month, with the biggest sticking points concerning how to operate the dam during periods of drought and how to resolve disputes.

Diplomatic sources said this week that the United Nations Security Council planned to meet tomorrow to discuss objections to the dam raised by Egypt and Sudan.