Ethiopia’s new proposal on GERD filling, operation

Former Ethiopia Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegne is to have a “role” in GERD negotiation. Egypt and Sudan rejected new proposal

Ethiopia _ Dam _ GERD
Water, Irrigation and Energy Minister, Seleshi Bekele.

May 11, 2020 

In the past few weeks, it was reported that Ethiopia’s new proposal regarding the filling and operation of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) is rejected by Egypt and Sudan. 

But the details of it were not revealed. A report published by Wazema radio on May 11 ( in the Amharic language) highlighted components of what it called a nine pages proposal – detailing how and when Ethiopia is going to fill the dam.

Currently, the dam is 73 percent completed – as revealed by the Minister of Water, Irrigation and Energy, Dr. Seleshi Bekele. And Ethiopia intends to start filling the dam this July. Wazema Radio analysts say the plan does not seem to be realistic in light of the existing situation. 

In the first phase of it, a total of 4.9 billion cubic meters of water will be filled, and it takes two years to do so.  In the third year, Ethiopia will fill another 13.5 billion cubic meters of water.

But the plan could change if there is a change in the amount of water reaching the dam. If the water reaching the dam is less than 31 billion cubic meters, then water filling will be suspended -apparently until condition improves. Drought is a possible factor in a situation like that. One good point in regards to drought, according to Wazema, the document described it as a drought within Ethiopia, not elsewhere.

The second phase of the filling will take between two to five years ( that is on top of the two years needed to fill the first phase). By the end of it,  the dam will have 49.3 billion cubic meters of water. Wazema noted that the dam will not have 74 billion cubic meters of water, which is the total water holding capacity of the dam, at the end of seven years. It might take at least ten years to fill the dam. 

The document that Ethiopia prepared was intended to address the concerns of lower riparian countries but they have rejected it.  Egypt seeks to have a role in the dam administration and a quantitative guarantee regarding the water to be released from the dam. 

Egypt has already lodged a complaint to the Security Council of the United Nations claiming that it will cause security issues in the region if Ethiopia started to fill the dam without signing the agreement. 

Meanwhile, there seems to be a divergence in Ethiopia’s negotiating team. Some argue that it is not necessary to return to Washington negotiation. For them, it will just lead to unnecessary controversy and pressure. 

And there is a part of the negotiation team that holds the view that the negotiation should not be abandoned entirely. This group seeks to back to the negotiation and work on making a strong case for Ethiopia in a way to defend the national interest and sovereignty of the country. Based on the Wazema report, this view appears to be dominant. 

Another important consideration is that there is a proposed change to the configuration of the negotiating team. Owing to the technical nature of the negotiation, there is a proposal to designate the Water, Irrigation and Energy Minister as the main negotiator. The team is to be reinforced with persons with diplomatic skills and technical knowledge of the issue. 

There are reports that Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed has appointed former PM Hailemariam Desalenge to play a role in the negotiation. Another addition to the team is Motuma Mekassa who briefly served as minister of defense, among other roles. 

Egypt and Ethiopia were unable to reach an agreement in the US brokered negotiation that last part of which was in February 2020. Since then, Ethiopia opted out of the negotiation pursuing national consultations.

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