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Dam: Building continues
Published in Al-Ahram Weekly on 14 - 12 - 2015

“Numerous meetings of the National Tripartite Committee (NTC) took place this year, in addition to various meeting of the foreign and irrigation ministers of Cairo, Addis Ababa and Sudan. And the outcome is nothing,” said a diplomat who spoke with Al-Ahram Weeklyon condition of anonymity.
“The only achievement is building nearly half the Renaissance Dam. So what is the use of negotiations regarding that issue?”
Nine meetings of the NTC have been held so far, the latest of which was held on 11and 12 December, in the hope of conducting technical studies to determine the impact on Sudan and Egypt of Ethiopia's Grand Renaissance Dam. The committee consists of four representatives and experts from each of the three countries.
The 12 and 13 December meetings of the tripartie committee in Khartoum were concluded with no final agreement. A new round of trilateral talks will take place on the 27thof December.Meanwhile the building of the dam is going ahead at full speed. Some experts have cast doubt on the negotiations track, saying they fear that negotiations will still be underway when the dam is fully built.
Abbas Sharaki, a professor at Cairo University's Institute for African Research and Studies, said that the negotiations are a waste of time and have led to deadlock. He expects that very soon the failure of the negotiations process will be declared.
“It is obvious that negotiations in their present form have no value whatsoever. However, the Egyptian government has repeatedly depended on showing good intentions, declaring that it seeks a peaceful solution via negotiations before resorting to escalation,” he said.
Maasoum Marzouk, former assistant to Egypt's foreign minister, regards Egypt's reliance on good intentions as political naiveté.
“Ethiopia is clearly adopting the technique of procrastination and buying time, while the de facto status of a fully built dam is gradually imposing itself on the ground,” he said.
Although 2015 witnessed some positive steps towards resolving the dam crisis, like signing the Declaration of Agreement and President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi's visit to the Ethiopian parliament, it also saw setbacks that proved without a doubt that Addis Ababa is using the negotiations to buy time.
Ethiopia asked Egypt to postpone the ninth round of their tripartite meetings in Cairo to late October, after Egypt had sent out the official invitations. The meeting was originally to have been held 4-5 October but was delayed until November.
The meeting was expected to discuss the urgent issue of the withdrawal of one of the consultancy firms commissioned to evaluate the impact of the dam. Representatives also wanted to discuss controversial points ahead of technical studies to determine the impact of building the Ethiopian dam.
Ethiopia also asked for the adjournment of the six-party meeting — including the foreign and irrigation ministers of Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia, as well as technical consultants ⎯slated for the first week of December in Khartoum.
“Repeated requests to postpone sessions on the pretext that Addis Ababa is busy with other matters show that resolving the dam issue is not a priority for Ethiopia. In addition, the more time passes, the more the de facto reality of the dam is imposed on the ground,” said the diplomat.
The Khartoum meeting which took place on 11-12 December was expected to focus on speeding up implementation of the technical procedures agreed upon in the Declaration of Principles on the dam signed by Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan in March.
Relations between Egypt and Sudan have also impacted the flow of negotiations. Sudan was initially opposed to the building of the dam. But that position changed in December 2013, when Sudanese President Omar Al-Bashir declared his support for the dam. He said it would benefit Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia. Sudan then played the role of mediator between Egypt and Ethiopia, and later became a mere spectator.
Recent tensions between Cairo and Khartoum in part explain why the tenth NTC round, scheduled to have been held on 21 November in Khartoum, was postponed. The media initially quoted Sudanese sources as saying that the tenth round was postponed due to “strained political relations” between Egypt and Sudan.
Then it was claimed that the meeting would be held in December, prior to or in parallel with the six-party meeting. But this never happened.
The withdrawal of Deltares, the Dutch consultancy firm, in September was another problem that sidetracked negotiations. The firm's withdrawal left Egypt with the task of having to choose another consultancy firm, which could take another six months.
That aside, the two consultancy firms that were supposed to submit studies on the impact of the dam have twice failed to meet the set deadline. The first deadline was in August and the second in September. The two companies were commissioned by the NTC to conduct the studies.
Pope Tawadros's “historic” visit to Ethiopia was seen as a possible opportunity to resolve the dam crisis. The Coptic Pope paid the first visit of its kind to Ethiopia in September and participated in the celebrations of the Ethiopian Feast of the Holy Cross.
Although the pope stressed that the visit was religious, and intended to consolidate ties between the Egyptian and Ethiopian churches, there were high hopes that it would ease tensions between the two states and give the dam negotiations a boost.
But the dam and its effect on Egypt's water quota remains a cause of schism between Egypt and Ethiopia. Conflict over the issue goes back to before the January 2011 Revolution, with Egypt attempting several times to prevent the dam's construction due to concerns over its effect on the amount of water reaching Egypt.
Egypt depends on Nile water for 95 per cent of its water needs. Most of this water comes from the Blue Nile. Differences took a sharp turn when Ethiopia diverted the course of the Blue Nile to start the building process in May 2013.
While negotiations had failed to resolve their differences, the two countries decided to open a new page of cooperation after President Al-Sisi met with Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn at the African Union Summit in Equatorial Guinea's capital of Malabo in June 2014.
The two leaders agreed to form a joint committee in the following three months to enhance bilateral relations between the two countries. The foreign ministers of both states issued a joint statement after that meeting in which they stressed that Ethiopia understands the importance of the Nile to Egypt and that Egypt understands the Ethiopian plan and its need for development. Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan then formed the NTC to study the possible downstream effects of the dam.
In another confidence-building measure, Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan met in Sudan in March this year and signed the Declaration of Principles on the dam. The declaration included cooperation between the three countries regarding their water needs in order to improve sustainable development and regional economic integration. All three countries also agreed to not cause harm or damage to any of the signatories.
The statement issued by the two ministers and the Declaration of Principles signed in March are gestures of goodwill on the part of Egypt, according to Marzouk. “They were benchmarks that should have been followed by more tangible steps toward resolving this crisis. Until now, Egypt has offered various concessions that were not reciprocated by Ethiopia,” he said.
After signing the Declaration of Principles, the three countries agreed to sign contracts with the French and Dutch consultancy firms to carry out studies on the dam's possible effects on water access in downstream countries. The studies were also expected to determine the time period it would take for the dam to be filled, and possible environmental and social impacts of the dam on Egypt and Sudan.
Construction of the Renaissance Dam is scheduled for completion by 2017. It will be Africa's largest hydroelectric power plant, with a storage capacity of 74 billion cubic metres of water and a height of 145 metres. The dam's foundation stone was laid on 2 April 2011 by the then-prime minister, Meles Zenawi.
Egypt currently receives 55.5 billion cubic metres of Nile water while Sudan gets 18 billion cubic metres, as per a 1959 treaty. Egypt is already suffering from a water deficit of 20 billion cubic metres. That deficit is likely to increase.
Coming generations are going to suffer from the challenging problem of water shortages, Marzouk said. “We are in dire need to look for other ways to reduce that shortage, like nuclear stations to desalinate seawater,” he said.


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