Dam construction on the Blue Nile close to Ethiopia’s border with Sudan has heightened regional tensions.
President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi has warned there would be severe regional consequences if Egypt’s water supply were affected by a giant hydropower dam being built by Ethiopia.
Egypt, along with its southern neighbour Sudan, is seeking a legally binding agreement over the operations of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD), which Addis Ababa says is crucial to its economic development.
However, talks have repeatedly stalled over the past 10 years and Ethiopia began filling the reservoir behind the dam last year with no deal in place. It is expected to add water for a second year after seasonal rains start this summer.
“I’m not threatening anyone here, our dialogue is always reasonable and rational,” el-Sisi said. “I say once again no one can take a drop from Egypt’s water, and if it happens there will be inconceivable instability in the region.
“Any act of hostility is detestable … but our reaction in the event that we are affected” by a reduction in Egypt’s own water supply “will affect the stability of the entire region”, he declared at a news conference in the Suez city of Ismailia.
‘Don’t want to live in darkness’
The construction of the dam, on the Blue Nile close to Ethiopia’s border with Sudan, has heightened regional tensions, with downstream countries Egypt and Sudan both pressing for a deal.
Egypt fears the dam will imperil its supplies of Nile water while Sudan is concerned about the dam’s safety and about regulating water flows through its own dams and water stations.
“Ethiopia doesn’t have any intention to cause harm to Sudan and Egypt. But we also don’t want to live in darkness,” Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed said last week.
The Nile, the world’s longest river, is a lifeline supplying both water and electricity to the 10 countries it traverses.
Upstream Ethiopia says the hydroelectric power produced by its dam will be vital to meet the energy needs of its 110 million people.
Egypt, which depends on the Nile for about 97 percent of its irrigation and drinking water, sees the dam as an existential threat.
Sudan, also downstream, fears its own dams will be compromised if Ethiopia proceeds with filling the GERD before a deal is reached.
Egypt’s share of the Nile’s waters “is a red line”, el-Sisi said.
At a news conference in Addis Ababa on Tuesday, foreign ministry spokesman Dina Mufti said Ethiopia remained committed to tripartite talks involving the African Union (AU).
Last month, Sudan suggested mediation by a quartet of the AU, European Union, United Nations, and the United States, a proposal welcomed by Cairo but rejected by Addis Ababa.