Saudi Arabia supports Egypt, Sudan ‘water rights’ in dam dispute

The expression of support by the kingdom comes a day after Ethiopia notified downstream nations that the second-phase filling at the dam had begun.

Saudi Arabia has thrown its weight behind Egypt and Sudan in their bitter dispute with Ethiopia over a massive hydropower dam built by the latter on the Blue Nile, the Nile River’s main tributary.

The Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) is the source of an almost decade-long diplomatic standoff between Ethiopia and downstream nations Egypt and Sudan. Ethiopia says the project is essential to its development, but the governments in Cairo and Khartoum fear it could restrict their citizens’ water access.

On Tuesday, a day after Ethiopia began filling the dam’s reservoir, Saudi Arabia’s state news agency SPA said the kingdom supported Egypt and Sudan in “preserving their legitimate water rights”, as well as their efforts “to contain this crisis and their demands to solve it in accordance with the rules of international law”.

“The kingdom calls on the international community to intensify efforts to find a clear mechanism to start negotiations between the three countries to get out of this crisis,” it said.

It came as reports said Tunisia had submitted a draft resolution to the UN Security Council, calling on Ethiopia to cease filling the GERD’s reservoir. The 15-member body is likely to discuss the dispute on Thursday.

The draft resolution, obtained by the AFP news agency, calls on Egypt, Ethiopia, and Sudan “to resume negotiations at the joint invitation of the Chairperson of the African Union and the Secretary-General of the United Nations to finalise, within a period of six months, the text of a binding agreement on the filling and operation of the GERD”.

The resolution adds the agreement should “ensure Ethiopia’s ability to generate hydropower from the GERD while preventing the inflicting of significant harm on the water security of downstream states”.

It urges the “three countries to refrain from making any statements, or taking any action that may jeopardize the negotiation process, and urges Ethiopia to refrain from continuing to unilaterally fill the GERD reservoir”.

No date has been set for a vote on the draft resolution.

The three countries have been locked for years in inconclusive talks over the GERD, which broke ground in 2011.

The dispute centres on the speed at which a planned reservoir is filled behind the dam, the method of its annual replenishment and how much water Ethiopia will release downstream if a multiyear drought occurs. Another point of difference is how the three countries would settle any future disputes.

Egypt and Sudan want a legally binding agreement on the dam’s filling and operation, while Ethiopia insists on guidelines.

Late on Monday, Egypt said it had been notified by Ethiopia that the second phase of filling had begun at the GERD, adding that it rejected the measure as a threat to regional stability. Sudan said on Tuesday it had received the same notice.

Ethiopia had previously announced it would proceed to the second stage of filling in July, with or without a deal. It argues that adding water to the reservoir, especially during the heavy rainfalls of July and August, is a natural part of the construction.

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