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Is Ethiopia secretly filling divisive dam?

Ethiopia has always insisted that its ambitious energy project on the Nile will not compromise the share of water from Africa’s longest river to its immediate neighbours but is the Horn of Africa nation bypassing negotiations to begin secretly filling the dam?The Prime Minister of Ethiopia Abiy Ahmed was recently quoted as insisting that the filling of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam will start within the approaching rainy season, despite objections from Egypt and to some lesser extent Sudan.

He assured Ethiopia’s jittery neighbours that filling the dam’s reservoir will not threaten their shares of water from Africa’s most majestic river, a process Cairo says cannot guarantee uninterrupted access to this precious resource from the Nile.

Despite some hard rhetoric from both sides of the Nile dam dispute divide, international efforts led by the West have succeeded in bringing the disputing nations to the negotiating table to iron out their differences over how the dam would be filled.

While Egypt favours a gradualist approach to filling the dam’s reservoir Ethiopia sees this as a petulant ploy by Cairo to gain time and undermine the capacity of this grand project to change the lives of over 100 million people. 

Cairo recently warned that Ethiopia’s strict refusal to budge on the issue risks endangering the progress made in talks so far.

In June Djibouti, Somalia and Qatar dismissed an Arab League resolution requiring Ethiopia to delay filling GERD until a comprehensive deal is reached with principal protagonist Egypt.

A large section of Egypt’s 100 million people depend on the river for their supply of water but since 2011 when construction of GERD began on the Blue Nile, Cairo has been expressing reservations about its implications to its citizens.

Mohamed  Al-Sebaei, a spokesman of the Water Resources Ministry in Cairo has been quoted as saying there is no indication yet of Ethiopia unilaterally deciding to go ahead with filling the dam without reaching a deal to that effect with Egypt and Sudan.

Negotiations over the filling of the dam suspended in recent months, resumed last week and has been going on ever since said Sabeal.

However, there is suspicion from some quarters in Sudan that Ethiopia has started secretly filling the dam without the knowledge of its neighbours.

A movement calling itself the Forces of Freedom and Change said it has evidence suggesting that the controversial dam is already being filled with water from the Nile.

A senior official of the movement (name withheld) claimed that Sudan has been experiencing water shortages from the Nile.

Sudan’s Alrakoba newspaper said this situation has worsened at a time of heightened suspicion that Ethiopia was already going ahead with its controversial next step in the operationalisation of the dam, which will be Africa’s biggest hydroelectric power project upon completion.

Work on GERD is projected to finish in 2023, forming a pivotal part of Ethiopia’s re-emergence as a power exporter in the Horn of Africa region. 

The 482 feet high and 1.8-kilometre long dam will have a reservoir capacity to hold 74 billion cubic metres of water.

Ethiopia is expecting to generate up to 6,475 megawatts for its national use and for export to its neighbours.

Published on 10.02.2021

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