Ethiopia starts filling dam after talks with Egypt, Sudan fail

Updated 16 Jul 2020

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A satellite image shows a closeup view of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) and the Blue Nile River in Ethiopia on July 12. — Reuters
A satellite image shows a closeup view of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) and the Blue Nile River in Ethiopia on July 12. — Reuters

ADDIS ABABA: Ethiopia said on Wednesday it has begun filling the reservoir behind the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam, a day after talks with Sudan and Egypt on the giant Blue Nile hydroelectric project stalled.

The project has raised concerns in Egypt that already limited Nile waters, on which its population of more than 100 million is almost entirely dependent, will be further restricted.

The Blue Nile is a tributary of the Nile from which Egypt gets 90 per cent of its fresh water.

“The construction of the dam and the filling of the water go hand in hand,” Ethiopian Water Minister Seleshi Bekele said in televised comments. “The filling of the dam doesn’t need to wait until the completion of the dam.” The water level had increased from 525 metres to 560 metres, he said.

The $4 billion dam, when finished, will have an installed capacity of 6,450 megawatts — more than doubling its existing capacity — and is the centrepiece of Ethiopia’s bid to become Africa’s biggest power exporter.

The dam is being built about 15 km from the border with Sudan. Sudan and Egypt have sought a legally binding agreement before the dam is filled.

Sudan’s Ministry of Irrigation and Water Resources said on Wednesday it was prompted to investigate after satellite images appeared to show the dam filling.

“It was evident from the flow meters in the al-Deim border station with Ethiopia that there is a retreat in the water levels, equivalent to 90 million cubic metres per day, confirming the closure of the gates of the Renaissance Dam,” it said in a statement.

Sudan rejects any unilateral actions taken by any party as negotiating efforts continue, it said.

Egyptian officials could not immediately be reached for comment. But the dam filling is likely to spark fierce protests from Egypt, which is already concerned about conflict in its western neighbour Libya. The Cairo bourse fell on Wednesday on worries about an escalation in Libya, analysts said.

On Tuesday, talks between the three nations to regulate the flow of water from the dam failed to reach agreement.

Published in Dawn, July 16th, 2020