Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi on Wednesday warned of the risk of conflict over Ethiopia’s giant dam on the Blue Nile after talks involving the two countries and Sudan ended without progress.
Ethiopia is pinning its hopes of economic development and power generation on the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam, which Egypt fears will imperil its supply from the Nile. Sudan is also concerned about the impact on its own water flows.
Delegations from the three countries met in the Democratic Republic of Congo recently amid efforts to break a deadlock in talks over a project Ethiopia says is key to its economic development and power generation.
But Egypt and Sudan said on Tuesday that the latest round of talks with Ethiopia over the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) in Kinshasa have ended with no progress.
Speaking at the opening of a new government complex, Sisi said Sudan and Egypt were coordinating on the issue and that “cooperation and agreement are much better than anything else”.
Referring to past regional conflicts, he said: “We have witnessed the costs of any confrontation.”
“I am telling our brothers in Ethiopia, let’s not reach the point where you touch a drop of Egypt’s water, because all options are open,” he said.
Ethiopia’s water minister Seleshi Bekele sought to defuse tensions.
“There is no need to enter an unnecessary war. A war can’t start because of water. Water flows if you fight today, it’ll continue to flow tomorrow,” he told reporters on Wednesday.
In a text message to Reuters, he rebuffed accusations that Ethiopia was using another country’s water.
“We are not utilizing water generated from Egypt or Sudan as water doesn’t flow upstream to Ethiopia,” he said.
“We are utilizing water from Ethiopia for our dire need following equitable and reasonable utilization without causing significant harm to our neighbours.”
Egypt and Sudan, in statements after the Kinshasa meeting, accused Ethiopia of intransigence on restarting negotiations in advance of a second filling of the dam this summer.
Ethiopia said on Tuesday it could not enter into an agreement that infringed on its rights to utilize the Nile.
Sudan’s state news agency SUNA reported that the Khartoum government, which is also locked in a border dispute with Ethiopia, had asked that Ethiopian peacekeepers on a United Nations mission in the south of Sudan be replaced.
“There is a path of political escalation and all options are open to Sudan according to international law,” including turning to the U.N. Security Council, Sudanese irrigation minister Yasser Abbas told a news conference in Khartoum on Wednesday.
Sudan and Egypt had proposed including the European Union, the United States and the United Nations as mediators in addition to ongoing African Union facilitation of the talks. Both countries said Ethiopia rejected the proposal during the meeting, which Seleshi said was part of an attempt to cause delay, according to state news agency FANA.
“This position reveals once again Ethiopia’s lack of political will to negotiate in good faith,” the Egyptian foreign ministry said in a statement.
Last week, Sisi said there would be “inconceivable instability in the region” if Egypt’s water supply were affected by the dam.
Egypt fears the dam will imperil its supplies of Nile water, while Sudan is concerned about the dam’s safety and water flows through its own dams and water stations.
Before the meetings began, Egypt had said they represented the last chance to restart negotiations before Ethiopia begins to fill the dam for the second year in a row after seasonal rains begin this summer.
Sudan’s foreign minister, Mariam al-Sadig al-Mahdi, told reporters on Tuesday that Ethiopia’s insistence on such unilateral moves represents a violation of international law.
“This Ethiopian intransigence requires Sudan to consider all possible options to protect its security and its citizens,” the Sudanese irrigation and water resources ministry said in a statement.
After the Kinshasa meeting, Ethiopia emphasized that the second-year filling of the dam reservoir would be carried out as scheduled and expressed its readiness to facilitate data and information exchange on the filling, the foreign ministry said in a statement.
“Ethiopia cannot enter into an agreement that would foreclose its current and future legitimate rights over the utilization of the Nile,” it added.