The countries decided to restart stalled negotiations and finalise an agreement over the contentious mega-project within two to three weeks, with support from the African Union.
The leaders of Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia agreed late Friday to return to talks aimed at reaching an accord over the filling of Ethiopia’s new hydroelectric dam on the Blue Nile, according to statements from the three nations.
Early Saturday, Seleshi Bekele, Ethiopia’s water and energy minister, confirmed that the countries had decided during an African Union summit to restart stalled negotiations and finalise an agreement over the contentious mega-project within two to three weeks, with support from the AU.
Last night, 26th June 2020 Chaired by South Africa's President in presence of AU Chair Person, current AU Bureau members & leaders of DR Congo, Kenya, Mali convened with leaders of Egypt, Ethiopia & Sudan. Consensus reached to finalize the #GERD agreement within 2 to 3 weeks.— Seleshi Bekele (@seleshi_b_a) June 27, 2020
Agreed to resolve issues
Ethiopia had previously pushed to start filling the gigantic Nile River dam next month despite vehement opposition from downstream Egypt and Sudan, and the dispute was raised with the UN last week.
The office of Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el Sisi said Friday that "a legally binding final agreement for all parties stressing the prevention of any unilateral moves, including the filling of the dam, will be sent in a letter to the UN Security Council to consider it in its session discussing the Renaissance Dam issue next Monday".
Sudan's Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok was more forthcoming, saying in a statement that "it has been agreed upon that the dam filling will be delayed until an agreement is reached".
His office said technical committees for all three countries will try to hammer out a conclusive deal within two weeks as suggested by Ethiopia.
African Union Commission Chairman Moussa Faki Mahamat said the countries "agreed to an AU-led process to resolve outstanding issues" without elaborating.
Egypt, which relies on the Nile for more than 90 percent of its water supplies and already faces high water stress, fears a devastating impact on its booming population of 100 million. Sudan, which also depends on the Nile for water, has played a key role in bringing the two sides together after the collapse of US-mediated talks in February.
A lifeline for all countries
Political tensions have been running high between upstream Ethiopia and downstream Egypt and Sudan after recent ministerial talks failed to produce a deal on the filling and operation of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam.
Sticking points in the talks have been how much water Ethiopia will release downstream from the dam if a multi-year drought occurs and how Ethiopia, Egypt and Sudan will resolve any future disagreements.
Both Egypt and Sudan have appealed to the UN Security Council to intervene in the years-long dispute and help the countries avert a crisis. The council is set to hold a public meeting on the issue Monday.
Filling the dam without an agreement could bring the stand-off to a critical juncture. Both Egypt and Ethiopia have hinted at military steps to protect their interests, and experts fear a breakdown in talks could lead to open conflict.
Cairo fears the dam would severely cut its Nile water supply, which provides nearly 97 percent of the country's freshwater needs.
Ethiopia says the dam is indispensible for its electrifiation and development needs.
The Nile is a lifeline supplying both water and electricity to the 10 countries it snakes through.