Ethiopia has begun the second step of filling a contentious mega-dam on the Nile River, Egyptian officials announced Monday, increasing tensions ahead of a UN Security Council meeting on the subject.
Egypt’s irrigation ministry stated in a late Monday statement that the action was “a violation of international laws and norms that regulate projects built on the shared basins of international rivers,” and that it had conveyed its “firm rejection of this unilateral measure”
The Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam, which when finished would be Africa’s largest hydropower project, has been the subject of a nearly decade-long diplomatic standoff between Addis Abeba and downstream neighbours Egypt and Sudan.
Ethiopia claims the project is critical to its growth, but Cairo and Khartoum are concerned that it would limit their populations’ access to water.
Both nations have been pressuring Addis Abeba to reach a binding agreement on the dam’s filling and functioning, as well as lobbying the UN Security Council to take up the issue in recent weeks.
According to an AFP diplomatic source, Tunisia sought the meeting on behalf of Egypt and Sudan on Thursday.
However, France’s UN ambassador stated last week that the council can only bring the parties together.
In a statement to the UN, Egypt’s Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry stated that discussions have reached a stalemate and accused Ethiopia of pursuing “a policy of intransigence that undermined our collective endeavours to reach an agreement.”
Addis Abeba has earlier stated that it will move on to the second round of filling in July, deal or no agreement.
The Nile — which at some 3,700 miles (6,000 kilometres) is one of the longest rivers in the world — is an essential source of water and electricity for dozens of countries in East Africa.
Egypt, which depends on the Nile for about 97 percent of its irrigation and drinking water, sees the dam as an existential threat.
Sudan hopes the project will regulate annual flooding but fears its dams would be harmed without agreement on the Ethiopian operation.
The 145-metre (475-foot) mega-dam, on which construction began in 2011, has a capacity of 74 billion cubic metres.
Filling began last year, with Ethiopia announcing in July 2020 it had hit its target of 4.9 billion cubic metres — enough to test the dam’s first two turbines, an important milestone on the way towards actually producing energy.
The goal is to impound an additional 13.5 billion cubic metres this year.
Before any filling could begin, Egypt and Sudan needed to secure a trilateral agreement on the dam’s functioning.
Ethiopia, on the other hand, claims that it is a natural component of the building and so cannot be postponed.
Sudan claimed last year that the procedure created water shortages, especially in the capital Khartoum, which Ethiopia denied.
Sudan’s water minister, Yasser Abbas, threatened in April that if Ethiopia proceeded with the second stage filling, Sudan would “would file lawsuits against the Italian company constructing the dam and the Ethiopian government”
He stated that the cases will expose the “environmental and social impact as well as the dangers of the dam”