New round of talks on Nile waters starts in Sudan’s capital

CAIRO (AP) — Irrigation ministers of three key Nile Basin countries were meeting on Friday in Sudan’s capital, seeking to resolve differences over Ethiopia’s soon-to-be-finished Blue Nile dam, which Cairo claims threatens its water supply.

According to the spokesman of Egypt’s irrigation ministry, Muhamed El-Sebai, the meeting of the ministers from Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia would last two days.

Egypt fears Ethiopia’s USD5 billion project, which is set to be Africa’s largest hydraulic dam, could reduce its share of the Nile River – a lifeline for Egypt’s 100 million people.

Ethiopia has roughly the same population and said the dam will help its economic development. Egypt seeks Sudan’s support in the dispute, as both nations are downriver from the project. Ethiopia has not revealed how quickly it wants to fill the reservoir created by the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam, as the project is called, which would affect the amount of water available for Egypt and Sudan.

The last round of talks held in Cairo last month failed to make any progress and was followed by a verbal feuds between Ethiopian and Egyptian governments. Ethiopia’s foreign ministry released a strongly-worded proposal dismissing Egypt’s proposals on a timetable for filling the reservoir.

Ethiopia’s minister of water and irrigation, Sileshi Bekele, had said that Egypt wants Ethiopia to fill the dam’s reservoir over a longer period of time — seven years — and to release 40 billion cubic metres of water every year.

However, an Egyptian official later told The Associated Press the two countries had agreed the first of five stages for filling the dam should take two years. After these five stages, all the dam’s hydroelectric turbines would be able to operate.

Otherwise, Egypt could lose more than one million jobs and USD1.8 billion annually, said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorised to speak to reporters. Egypt’s president Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi brought the issue to UN attention while addressing the General Assembly in New York last month.

The Blue Nile river flows near the site of the planned Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam near Assosa in the Benishangul-Gumuz region of Ethiopia. PHOTO: AP