Egypt’s foreign minister urged the UN Security Council to adopt a resolution giving international clout to efforts to resolve a dispute over the Ethiopia’s new hydroelectric dam on the Blue Nile which he said endangers the lives of 150 million Egyptians and Sudanese.
Sameh Shoukry said the draft resolution is in line with the outcome of an African Union summit on Friday where the leaders of Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia agreed to return to talks aimed at reaching an agreement over the filling of the 4.6 billion US dollars Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam, known by its initials GERD.
“This draft resolution is not intended to preempt or forestall any negotiations but to express at the highest levels the deep interests of the international community in reaching an agreement on the GERD and its appreciation of the dangers of acts of unilateralism in this matter,” he said.
Mr Shoukry said the proposed resolution encourages the three countries to reach an agreement within two weeks and not take any unilateral measures in relation to the dam, and it “emphasises the important role of the UN secretary-general in this regard”.
Hours after the AU agreement was announced, the Ethiopian prime minister’s office said in a statement that it is is set to beginning filling the dam in within the next two weeks and that construction will continue.
It said this is in line with the agreement.
Egypt and Sudan had said Ethiopia would refrain from filling the dam next month until the countries reached a deal.
Both Egypt and Sudan appealed to the Security Council to intervene in the years-long dispute, which has seen bellicose rhetoric and escalating tensions, and to help the countries avert a crisis.
Monday’s virtual council meeting was held in response.
The 15 Security Council all expressed support for the AU action in reviving talks, but took no immediate action.
Egypt, which relies on the Nile for more than 90% 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.
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.
Sudan’s UN Ambassador Omer Mohamed Siddig called for the Security Council to take note of the African Union’s effort.
He said Khartoum calls on leaders of the three countries “to demonstrate their political will and commitment by resolving the few remaining issues on the agreement”.
His government also calls on the parties to use the comprehensive proposal Sudan submitted as the basis for finalising an agreement, and discourages all parties from any action that may jeopardise the AU agreement.
“We strongly believe that the African-led process can push forward the three parties’ efforts to reach a comprehensive, fair and balanced agreement,” Mr Siddig said.
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.
Ethiopia’s UN ambassador Taye Atskeselassie Amde said his government does not believe the dispute should be in the Security Council since leaders of the three countries have agreed to the AU-led process, and efforts to resolve it peacefully are not yet exhausted.
He argued that Ethiopia has been deprived of its right to use the Blue Nile’s waters, saying more than 60% of the country is dry land with no sustaining water resources while Egypt is endowed with ground water and has access to sea water which cud be desalinated.
Once completed, Mr Amde said, the dam will bring electricity “to more than 65 million people who currently live in complete darkness”.