PARFAIT ONANGA-ANYANGA, Special Envoy of the Secretary-General for the Horn of Africa, said the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam encapsulates the conflicting narratives, hopes and fears, challenges and opportunities related to water usage, security and energy in Egypt, Ethiopia, Sudan and the wider Horn. Recalling his last briefing on the matter in June 2020, he said that, since then, the three countries have been unable to agree on a framework of engagement to settle several remaining contentious issues. Those include a dispute-resolution mechanism and an agreement on drought mitigation, particularly the filling and operation of the dam during drought years.
Outlining the recent negotiations and their scope, he said the three sides failed to agree on the exact role of the experts and observers supporting the African Union-led negotiations process, first at a virtual ministerial-level meeting in October 2020, and then at a subsequent meeting in January 2021. In February, Sudan put forward a new proposal contemplating a quadripartite joint mediation by the African Union, the United Nations, the European Union and the United States, he recalled. In March, Sudan with Egypt’s support formally requested that those entities mediate. Ethiopia, however, preferred fewer changes to the ongoing African Union-led process, he said. During subsequent talks in Kinshasa in April, the three States were once again unable to agree on a mediation framework.
Owing to the lack of progress, he continued, President Félix Tshisekedi of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, in his capacity as Chair of the African Union, stepped up his engagement on the issue. In May, he undertook a tour of the region, meeting with all three sides on the basis of a two-step approach — first addressing the most pressing issue of filling the dam during the rainy reason, and second, seeking guarantees for a more comprehensive agreement on its subsequent filling and operation, he recounted. In June, the League of Arab States passed a communiqué on the dam dispute, calling upon Ethiopia to refrain from filling its reservoir without first reaching an agreement, and upon the the Security Council to meet on the issue.
However, Ethiopia objected to that communiqué, which it saw as an attempt to politicize and internationalize the dispute, he said, adding that Addis Ababa also underlined its commitment to African Union mediation while reiterating its plan to move forward with the second filling of the dam in July. Highlighting bilateral meetings between Ethiopia and Sudan, and the latter’s recently announced intention to accept an interim agreement on the dam’s filling, he said the Government of Ethiopia sent letters to those of Egypt and Sudan last week, informing them of the start of the second filling. Both Egypt and Sudan have objected to that notification, reiterating their position that any further filling should take place in the context of an agreed framework.
He stressed: “Each of the countries sharing the Nile waters has both rights and responsibilities, and the use and management of this natural resource requires the continued engagement of all nations involved, in good faith, with a view to reaching common ground.” To assist in that process, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) will provide technical advice based on the best available scientific data and knowledge, with a view to helping the three countries reach a mutual understanding. Calling upon all sides to engage in a constructive manner and to avoid any pronouncements that could increase tensions, he said that, together, alongside other interested partners, “there is room to move forward” in the spirit of cooperation, compromise and good neighbourliness.
INGER ANDERSEN, Executive Director of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), said water sources can be the basis for cooperation, as well as the cause of disputes between countries or communities. “Well-planned hydraulic infrastructure on a shared river course can be a source of enhanced collaboration, and need not be a zero-sum game,” he emphasized, pointing out that integrated planning can help prevent damaging seasonal floods and generate development benefits. Drawing particular attention to the Blue Nile — a critical water resource for Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan — he its headwaters are situated in a region where highly seasonal rains produce 69 per cent of the annual river flow between July and September.
Outlining the river’s trajectory, he said the Blue Nile merges with the White Nile in Khartoum, Sudan, and then flows downstream into Egypt. Noting that the Nile has delivered freshwater, fed agriculture and supported livelihoods in the three countries for thousands of years, he said that, since 2011, Ethiopia has been constructing the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam, a major hydropower source, on the Blue Nile. The generation of hydroelectricity will enhance Ethiopia’s energy supply and help accelerate industrialization, he said, adding that surplus electricity can be exported across the region. Construction of the dam is now nearing completion, and the reservoir began to fill for the first time in 2020, he pointed out.
A number of dams exist in the Nile Basin, including smaller dams on the Blue Nile, he said, citing the Merowe Dam and Roseires Dam in Sudan, and the High Aswan Dam in upper Egypt. When completed, the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam will generate more than twice as much water as the latter. “Where water is scarce and drought frequent, such as is the case in the Blue Nile Basin, cooperation on a shared river is the only long-term sustainable option,” he stressed, noting that in the coming years, both the High Aswan and the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance dams — two of the world’s largest — will largely control and regulate the flow of the Nile. Careful and cooperative basin-wide management will be crucial in maximizing the benefits of such infrastructure and minimize any negative consequences, he said.
Each of the countries sharing the Nile waters has both rights and responsibilities, and the use and management of this natural resource requires the continued engagement
The Governments of Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan have made sustained efforts to enhance their cooperation on transboundary water resources, he continued. In 2015, they signed the Agreement on Declaration of Principles, in which they committed to “cooperation, equitable and reasonable” water‑resource‑use, agreeing to settle any disputes peacefully. They are also working under the auspices of the African Union Chairperson on other parts of the negotiation, but consensus has not yet been reached regarding some critical aspects. Those include arrangements for the management of protracted drought; the development of upstream and downstream waters; and a dispute-resolution mechanism. Some differences also remain regarding the scope and nature of the proposed agreement, he added.
“With other sources of regional tension increasing,” he said, “We must recognize that overcoming the remaining differences among the parties will require careful, meticulous work […] with a determination by the three States to arrive at a cooperative solution.” As all three Governments have recognized, demand on water resources, both for agriculture and energy, is rising. Underlining that effective, cooperative water management is becoming even more important in the context of climate change, he said models indicating that the flow of the Nile will exhibit increasing variability during the period leading up to 2040, resulting in more floods and more intense droughts. “It is therefore imperative that the parties work together to manage these interconnected challenges,” he concluded.
PAUL LOSOKO EFAMBE EMPOLE (Democratic Republic of the Congo), speaking on behalf of the Chair of the African Union, said the dam, which is situated 15 kilometres from Sudan’s border, aims to increase Ethiopia’s energy supply and meet the needs of other countries. It will be the largest dam in Africa, but the enormous project is posing problems for Sudan and Egypt, whose people depend on the White Nile, he noted. Tensions have been observed for years and several initiatives been taken to address the situation, including negotiations under the auspices of the United States and the World Bank, as well as discussions in the Security Council on 29 June 2020.
The matter then reverted to the African Union, under the principle of “African solutions to African problems”, he said, pointing to the draft agreement and resolution of 90 per cent of the technical problems as being among the gains made. The creation of a dispute-resolution mechanism and the management of water during drought periods are among the pending issues, he said. Outlining the African Union’s diplomatic initiatives, he said they included an in-person ministerial conference in Kinshasa in April. Such consultations at the highest level allowed for the facilitation of negotiations, he added, recalling that, on 24 June, President Tshisekedi reassured the Bureau of the Assembly of the African Union Heads of State and Government that he is working to restore trust and find consensus among the three States.
He said that, upon their conclusion, the President Tshisekedi affirmed that he would provide a comprehensive report to the Bureau. In the meantime, the President requested that all sides abstain from taking positions that could complicate the talks. Those efforts, with the assistance of observers, led to the drafting to a document that will soon be presented to the three Governments as the basis for negotiations, he said. Noting that the filling of the reservoir and operation of the dam were among the points agreed, he emphasized: “A solution remains possible in this crisis. The will is there.” However, efforts are required to “break the ice of mistrust”, he said, expressing hope that the Council will provide support for the efforts of the African Union and the facilitator to forge a peaceful resolution “in this sensitive part of the Horn of Africa”.
TAREK LADEB (Tunisia) called for an agreement that respects the vital interests of the people and countries involved, stressing that the Nile is a source of livelihood and development for Ethiopia, Egypt and Sudan. There is urgent need for a cooperation mechanism on the use of water and the settlement of disputes that protects the rights of the upstream countries without harming the interests of those downstream. “This is not impossible,” he said, emphasizing that it requires political will to settle outstanding legal and technical issues. The three should continue negotiations under African Union auspices, with a view to reaching a legally binding agreement in a reasonable time frame, he added. That would pave the way for a new era of constructive cooperation and partnership, as agreed by the African Union Bureau on 21 July 2020, and in line with the 2015 Declaration of Principles. The Council must support the African Union in sponsoring the negotiations by sending a clear message on the issue, he stressed, encouraging the countries involved to resume talks and work constructively for an agreement.
BARBARA WOODWARD (United Kingdom) emphasized her country’s strong emphasis on consensus around issues affecting a shared natural resource, adding that many of the elements needed to reach consensus on the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam are captured in the 2015 Declaration of Principles, in particular the commitment Not to cause Significant Harm and the one relating to Equitable and Reasonable Utilization. The three States have continued talks to reach a more detailed trilateral agreement on the filling and operation of the dam, she said, while noting the disappointment of Egypt and Sudan that a resolution has yet to be reached, as well as the stated commitment of all three countries to the African Union-led talks. She called upon all three sides to refrain from actions that undermine negotiations and to engage urgently to seek a mutually acceptable agreement.
MARTIN KIMANI (Kenya), noting that the Nile Basin has been a source of hope and connection throughout history, said its more than 257 million inhabitants will be impacted by the statements and decisions made halfway around the globe in the Council Chamber. Recalling that the objectives of the 1999 riparian Nile Basin Initiative included developing the basin’s water resources in a sustainable and equitable way, he said the goal of the region’s peoples is only to throw off the shackles of poverty and the ills of war. However, the concerns of two riparian States, Egypt and Sudan, regarding the legitimate use of Nile waters by the third State, Ethiopia, are also legitimate. “Kenya stands with the three States, recognizing their equality and that all their people equally deserve development and prosperity,” he said, commending those Governments for placing their faith and confidence in the African Union’s mediation mechanism while emphasizing the critical importance of the principle of subsidiarity. Kenya is confident that Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan will make the principle of “African solutions for African challenges” a reality, he said.
MONA JUUL (Norway) agreed that Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan have legitimate interests in the Nile and its water resources, emphasizing that a sustainable solution to the dam issue can only be found by the States themselves. Noting that much has already been agreed through the Declaration of Principles, she described the latter as a good framework within which to seek equitable and reasonable use of the Blue Nile. What remains is for all sides to reach consensus on the modalities for future cooperation, based on those Principles, and on transparency and trust, she said, stressing: “This requires constructive engagement, political will and the courage to find compromise.” She echoed calls for the three countries to refrain from any action that could undermine negotiations.
INGA RHONDA KING, (Saint Vincent and the Grenadines), acknowledging that the Nile River is indispensable to the development of each country, encouraged all three to reconsider their entrenched positions and continue with the trilateral negotiations in good faith. The African Union is the best suited to facilitate the peaceful settlement of disputes on the continent, she said, emphasizing the importance of respecting the Principle of Subsidiarity, as well as Chapter VIII of the Charter of the United Nations. “The existing disagreement is among family members,” she asserted, expressing confidence that Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan will resolve their difficulties, “as all families do, with wisdom and harmony”. Noting that “our sister nations” have a shared history linked by the Nile, with which their futures will remain interwoven, she said it is in their collective interests to find a palatable solution, especially given that they have already agreed on 90 per cent of the issues.