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Egypt, Sudan urge UN action on Nile dam, Ethiopia says ‘no’

This is not a water issue. This is an issue of preventive diplomacy, said Egypt’s Foreign Minister Sameh Shukry

SNS | UNITED NATIONS |

Egypt and Sudan urged the UN Security Council on Thursday to undertake “preventive diplomacy” and call for a legally binding agreement to resolve a dispute with Ethiopia over the availability of water from its dam on the Nile River, but Ethiopia insisted the matter can be solved by the African Union and many council members agreed.

Egypt and Sudan called for the council meeting and sent their foreign ministers to New York to appeal for council action, saying 10 years of negotiations with Ethiopia have failed and the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam or GERD is starting a second filling of its reservoir which not only violates a 2015 agreement but poses “an existential threat” to 150 million people in their downstream nations.

The dam on the Blue Nile is 80 per cent complete and is expected to reach full generating capacity in 2023, making it Africa’s largest hydroelectric power plant and the world’s seventh-largest, according to reports in Ethiopia’s state media. Ethiopia says the $5 billion dam is essential to promote economic development and make sure the vast majority of its people don’t lack electricity.

Ethiopia’s water minister Seleshi Bekele Awulachew told the council that filling the reservoir was part of the dam’s construction and the Security Council should not be involved in the issue of Nile waters, saying no issue is further from its mandate of ensuring international peace and security.

Awulachew said the Security Council should encourage Egypt and Sudan to seriously negotiate a settlement on the filling and operation of the GERD.

Egypt’s Foreign Minister Sameh Shukry and Sudan’s Foreign Minister Mariam al-Mahdi blamed Ethiopia for lacking political will.

They urged the Security Council to approve a Tunisian-drafted resolution that would require Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia to negotiate a legally binding agreement within six months under AU auspices “that ensures Ethiopia’s ability to generate hydropower … while preventing the inflicting of significant harm on the water security of downstream states.”

Al-Mahdi said Sudan and Egypt believe reaching an agreement within six months is “very possible if the political will is available.”

Egypt’s Shukry said all council members indicated there should be “no unilateral action taken” by the three countries, but failed to mention that Ethiopia has already taken unilateral action twice in filling the GERD’s reservoir which has “a negative impact on the negotiating side.”

“This is not a water issue. This is an issue of preventive diplomacy, an issue of conflict resolution” that relates to the dam “and the existential threat that it poses,” Shukry said.

The Egyptian minister said Ethiopia’s actions threaten “the security of Egypt and Sudan” and its lack of political will has been “a main obstacle to reaching an agreement despite the moderation and flexibility that both Egypt and Sudan has shown.”

Asked about using military means, Shukry said, Egypt will continue to demonstrate flexibility and desire to support the AU-led process but at the same time it will “defend the interests of citizens and their livelihoods with all means available at its disposal.”

U.S. Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield said the United States believe the issue of sharing Nile waters “can be reconciled … with political commitment from all parties, beginning with the urgent resumption of negotiations under the AU’s leadership.

Russia’s U.N. Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia expressed concern at “the escalating confrontational rhetoric” and said “claims about possible use of force are unacceptable.”