News: Ethiopia tells UNSC it has no legal obligation to seek Egypt’s approval to fill the dam

Please click here to download the document Ethiopia submitted to the UNSC.

Please click here to download the document Egypt submitted to the UNSC.

By Zecharias Zelalem @ZekuZelalem

Addis Abeba, May 18/2020 – In a letter signed by Ethiopia’s Foreign Minister Gedu Andargachew and delivered to the UN Security Council,(UNSC), Ethiopia said it “does not have legal obligation” to seek Egypt’s approval to fill the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD). It also blamed Egypt for the stagnation of GERD negotiations.

The letter was a response to Egypt’s earlier move to take the matter to the UNSC by submitting 17 pages letter in which it asked Ethiopia to halt the filling of the GERD. The latest development is happening in the backdrop of stalled trilateral talks between Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan both due to the effects of COVID-19, but more so after Ethiopia has refused to take part in the US mediated talks.

The first stage filling of GERD’s reservoir has proven especially contentious, and has seen Sudan backtrack on accepting Ethiopia’s April 2020 proposal. However, Ethiopia remains firm and said preparations were completed to begin the first phase filling as of the coming July 2020. According to Ethiopia’s proposal of April 10/2020, the first stage filling, which is scheduled to take two years to complete, will see the dam up to 595 meters above sea level and allow its reservoir to retain 18.4 billion cubic meters.

FM Gedu’s letter to the UNSC further explained Ethiopia’s position in April. “This storage is meant to begin testing of the power plant – effectively releasing the water downstream. Furthermore, the impoundment is carried out in two years with 4.9 billion cubic meters of water in the first year and 13.5 [billion] cubic meters of water in the second year. This volume of water taken from the average flow 49 billion cubit meters of the Blue Nile causes no significant harm on downstream reservoirs. Moreover, the rules for first stage filling are not the creation of Ethiopia. rather, they are taken from the non-controversial sections of the entire ‘guidelines and rules’ worked out by the three countries.”

“As shown above, Ethiopia does not have legal obligation to seek approval of Egypt to fill the Dam. Furthermore, the impoundment of 18.4 billion cubic meters in two rounds causes no significant harm to Egypt. Therefore, Ethiopia is in full compliance with the DoP and made a remarkable and generous gesture in offering an agreement to Egypt.”

Ethiopia also accuses Egypt of “relentless obstruction” against the continuation of productive talks. As of late, the Foreign Minister has been vocal about the lack of progress in reaching an agreement with Egypt. In February he accused the US of attempting to pressure Ethiopia into settling on unfavorable terms. “In the talks held in Washington, D.C., around mid- February, we were pressured to quickly reach an agreement and sign a deal before resolving outstanding issues,” he said.

In his message the UNSC, FM Gedu depicted the GERD as a project that would right a historical wrong. “Ethiopia was expected to simply generate and deliver the water, but never to touch it. This unjust state of affairs cannot continue and must be redressed.”

He drew comparisons with Egypt’s construction of the Aswan Dam, which was commenced without Ethiopia being consulted, unlike the GERD. The GERD’s gains would be made to alleviate the impact of drought and a lack of electricity in Ethiopia. “More than 65 million Ethiopians have no access to electricity, whereas almost all Egyptians have access to electricity,” reads the letter. “As a result, almost two third of school children in Ethiopia are forced to stay in darkness and millions of women still trek long distances to fetch water and firewood.”

Ethiopia has already, and repeatedly, announced its intentions to commence filling the dam’s reservoir as of June this year. Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed recently stated that even the covid-19 pandemic wouldn’t hamper the plans. A few days ago, Sudan who had for the large part sided with Ethiopia in the negotiations, startled Ethiopian authorities when it refused to endorse Ethiopia’s decision to proceed with first stage filling. Sudan says the three countries should reach at a tripartite agreement “before the start of the first filling of the Renaissance Dam.”

However, Ethiopia’s letter to the UNSC focuses on Egypt .“Regrettably, Egypt’s responses to Ethiopia’s good-faith initiatives have been but earnest and reciprocal,” it said and further accuses Egypt of going “through motions, first for dragging, stonewalling and delaying the process as far and as long as possible.”

The letter was delivered to the UN Security Council by Ethiopia’s Permanent Representative to the UN, Taye Atske Selassie. It concludes with an invitation to resume the stalled tripartite negotiations with the aim of reaching at mutually beneficial agreement on reservoir filling “in good faith.”

It also called on the international community to urge Egypt to shift from a long-maintained position while affirming its positions that “it is Ethiopia’s legitimate right to fill its hydropower dam in accordance with the stage-based filling plan that was shared with Egypt and the Sudan.” AS

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