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Questions in Khartoum
Published in Al-Ahram Weekly on 30 - 12 - 2015

At the end of a three-day ministerial meeting in Khartoum, Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia managed to sign the Khartoum Document on Tuesday that outlines mechanisms to resolve differences among the three countries over the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD).
The document stresses the commitment of the three states to the Declaration of Principles signed last March and sets a time limit of eight to 12 months to finish the studies on the impacts of the dam.
However, the document fails to provide detailed solutions to important issues like the effect of the dam on Egypt's water quota, how it will be run, and the time frame needed to fill the reservoir of the dam.
“It was another ministerial meeting that ended without reaching tangible results and just more confidence-building measures. Meanwhile, Ethiopia is building the dam without stopping and diverting the Nile to pass through it for the first time,” said one diplomat explaining the outcome of the meeting in Khartoum that had been intended to resolve pending issues between Egypt and Ethiopia regarding the GERD.
The fact that the meeting was extended for a third day, he added, had reflected the will on the part of the parties to resolve issues dividing them. “But the question is why the parties failed to agree on important issues after holding various meeting on the technical as well as the political levels,” he said.
The Khartoum Document names another French company to conduct studies on the dam with the already selected French company BRL. Officials from the three countries also agreed to hold a further ministerial meeting in the first week of February to take further confidence-building measures.
The three-day second ministerial meeting, attended by the Egyptian, Sudanese and Ethiopian ministers of foreign affairs and irrigation, concluded on Tuesday without an obvious resolution of the points of difference regarding the dam.
It was extended one day to discuss further issues, and officials from the three states said that it was held in a friendly atmosphere that saw mutual understanding.
Foreign Ministry spokesman Ahmed Abu Zeid told the media that the ministerial meeting had seen agreement “on 80 per cent of the issues of difference”. He pointed to the Declaration of Principles signed by the three states in March 2015 as the basis for the negotiations.
Sudanese Foreign Minister Ibrahim Al-Ghandour said that the second day of the 25-hour negotiations had seen mutual trust and a will from officials from the three states to reach an agreement and resolve issues of difference.
Ethiopian Minister of Water Resources Motuma Mekasa said the second day of the negotiations had been “good” and expressed his hope that all the pending issues with Cairo regarding the dam would be resolved.
He said that the Nile should be an “axis for cooperation” rather than differences between the two states and that cooperation should be extended to other fields.
A few hours before the meeting, the Ethiopian government announced the diversion of the Blue Nile to run through the dam for the first time after the construction of the first four water inlets had been completed as planned.
Ethiopia diverted the course of the River in 2013 to begin building the dam's body.
Assistant to the Ethiopian Prime Minister Getachew Reda told journalists last Friday that his country would not stop the construction of the dam. However, Addis Ababa is committed to reaching an agreement with both Egypt and Sudan.
Commenting on the diversion, Egypt's Minister of Irrigation and Water Supply Hossam Al-Moghazi said in a statement that it was a normal step and part of the Ethiopian construction operations, as the course was already diverted two years ago to begin the construction and was now being re-diverted to its original course.
He stressed that this step would not affect the ongoing negotiations in Khartoum.
Two ministerial meetings were held in December to tackle issues of difference. The meeting between Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia in Khartoum was stepped up to the level of foreign ministers in order to tackle the issues in a political and not just a technical way.
The last technical meeting was held in Khartoum in December, having initially been due to take place on 21-22 November, to resolve disagreements about the firm that would conduct the studies about the impact of the dam, with foreign ministers attending for the first time.
French and Dutch firms were chosen in April last year by the three countries, but the Dutch firm which was assigned 30 per cent of the work resigned in September, saying the conditions imposed by the Tripartite Committee and the French firm did not guarantee independent and good quality studies.
The National Tripartite Committee (NTC) is composed of technical experts from the three states to study the possible impacts of the dam.
In another development that could have a positive impact on the negotiations, a popular delegation from Egypt visited Sudan during the ministerial meeting. The visit of the delegation, which included former foreign minister Mohamed Al-Orabi, aimed to strengthen relations with Sudan and re-emphasise Egypt's willingness to boost bilateral relations.
The dam and its effects on Egypt's water quota have remained a cause of difference between Egypt and Ethiopia. Conflict over the issue goes back to before the 25 January Revolution, with Egypt attempting several times to prevent the dam's construction due to concerns over its effect on the amount of water reaching the country.
Egypt depends on the Nile for 95 per cent of its water needs. Most of this water comes from the Blue Nile.
The differences took a sharp turn when Ethiopia diverted the course of the Blue Nile to start the building process in May 2013.
Negotiations failed to resolve the differences until the two countries decided to open a new page of cooperation after President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi met with Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn on the periphery of the African Union Summit in the Equatorial Guinea capital Malabo in June 2014.
The two leaders agreed that they would 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 statement after the meeting in which they stressed that Ethiopia understood the importance of the Nile to Egypt and Egypt understood the Ethiopian plans and need for development.
Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan then formed the NTC to look into the effects of the dam.
In a further confidence-building measure, in March this year Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan met in Sudan and signed the Declaration of Principles on the dam that included cooperation between the three countries regarding their water needs with the aim of improving sustainable development and regional economic integration.
All three countries also agreed not to cause harm or damage to any of the signatories.
After signing the Declaration of Principles, the three countries agreed to sign contracts with the French and Dutch consultancy firms carrying out studies of the dam's possible effects on the accessing of water by the downstream countries.
The studies are also expected to determine the time period it will take for the dam to be filled and any possible environmental and social impacts on Egypt and Sudan.
The dam, scheduled to be completed in 2017, 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.
Egypt currently receives 55.5 billion cubic metres of the Nile's water and Sudan gets 18 billion cubic metres under a 1959 treaty.
The dam's foundation stone was laid on 2 April 2011 by the then Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi.
Egypt is already suffering from a water deficit of 20 billion cubic metres which is likely to increase in the coming years. Building the dam with its present storage capacity and height is likely to further exacerbate Egypt's water shortage.

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