On Sunday, Ethiopian prime minister Abiy Ahmed (pictured above) announced that the fourth and final filling of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) was complete in a move that was immediately denounced by Egypt as a violation of international law.
The two countries have been engaged in a long-running dispute over the dam, which Ethiopia says is vital for its power needs but Egypt fears could limit its access to Nile waters. The Nile contributes 90% of Egypt’s fresh water and underpins its irrigation and power generation.
The latest friction comes despite hopes of a diplomatic breakthrough sparked in July when Abiy Ahmed and Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi said they planned to resume negotiations over the dam and complete them within four months.
Ethiopia has continued to fill the reservoir on the White Nile despite objections by Egypt and the other downstream country dependent on the river’s waters, Sudan, that this endangers their water security and ignores long-established rights.
The principle purpose of the dam is power generation. The reservoir’s total capacity is 74bn cubic metres, and it is expected to generate more than 6,000 MW of electricity.
Congratulating all who had contributed to the project, Abiy Ahmed celebrated the filling as a great triumph. “There were a lot of challenges. We had been dragged backwards. We had encountered internal challenges and external pressures. We have overcome all these and able to arrive at this stage.”
Bhavesh Chandaria, General Manager of Ethiopian Steel PLC, told the Ethiopian News Agency, ENA, that the mega hydropower project would have a positive impact not only on Ethiopia, but also other East African countries. Ethiopia began to generate electricity from the project two years ago and is already selling power to Djibouti, Sudan; and Kenya.
“Affordable electricity is a game changer and driver of accelerated development which is much needed for Ethiopia,” said Chandria.
But Egypt’s foreign ministry said that “Ethiopia’s unilateral actions ignore the rights and interests of the downstream countries and their water security, otherwise guaranteed by international law”, expressing the hope that forthcoming talks in Addis Ababa “would achieve a significant breakthrough that paves the way to reaching an agreement on the rules for filling and operating the GERD.”