Egypt’s Water Resources and Irrigation Minister visits Addis Ababa

Egypt’s Water Resources and Irrigation Minister, Dr. Mohamed Abdel-Moteleb, invited himself to Addis Ababa on Monday (February 10) this week, to hold further talks with Ato Alemayehu Tegenu, Ethiopia’s Water, Irrigation and Energy Minister on the implementation of the recommendations of the International Panel of Experts (IPoE) on the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam Project (GERDP).

Ethiopia, Egypt and Sudan have now held three rounds of discussions on implementing the recommendations of the IPoE on the GERDP. The three Water Ministers agreed on a number of important points at the first and second rounds of meetings on November 4 and on December 8-9. Differences appeared, however, at the third meeting in January when Egypt proposed setting up of a new International Panel of Experts along with the agreed national committee to oversee the recommendations. Ethiopia and Sudan agreed that this proposal, to establish a new International Panel of Experts in parallel with the proposed national committee drawn from the three countries, was unnecessary and the agreed national committee could provide adequate clarification and oversight for implementation of the recommendations.

The Egyptian delegation then put forward a new suggestion on principles of confidence building which was outside the agenda of the tripartite meeting. These proposed principles were also opposed to elements of the Cooperative Framework Agreement which Ethiopia has recently ratified and which have been signed by six upper Nile riparian countries. Both the Ethiopian and Sudanese delegations made it clear that the agenda of the tripartite meeting was to set up the necessary mechanisms to follow-up implementation of IPoE report and to settle any contentious issues that had not been agreed at the previous two meetings. These did not include new items of the sort suggested. The major element of the recommendations was for further studies on a water resource system/hydropower model and a trans-boundary environment and socio-economic impact study to be carried out in the context of the Eastern Nile System.

After the end of the third tripartite meeting, the Egyptian delegation said it would not return to the tripartite discussions, though Ethiopia made it clear that although three rounds of discussions had failed to resolve the issue, it still attached great importance to dialogue and further discussions to attain the objectives set by all three countries.  In fact, despite its denial of participation in further negotiations with Ethiopia and Sudan, the Egyptian Minister of Water Resources and Irrigation made further requests to visit Addis Ababa at the end of January and early in February to further discuss the recommendations of the IPoE report. The original proposals for January 30 and February 4 were impossible as these coincided with meetings of the Eastern Nile Council of Ministers and ENTRO on those dates. Dr. Mohamed Abdel-Moteleb finally arrived in Addis Ababa on Monday this week and held talks with Ato Alemayehu Tegenu on the GERDP. Reports that he and a ministerial delegation had been invited by Minister Alemayehu for further negotiations on the GERDP were incorrect. Ethiopia has made it clear that it will not hold discussions with Egypt in the absence of the Sudan.

During his meeting with Ato Alemayehu, Dr Mohamed Abdel-Moteleb again presented the proposals over confidence building and other unresolved issues raised at the last tripartite meeting in relation to the establishment of a new international panel of experts. He raised no new suggestion or proposal for implementation of the recommendations of the IPoE report and the suggested additional reports. The Ethiopian side raised concerns over inflammatory and unjustified remarks made by Egyptian authorities, suggesting it was important for the authorities to refrain from such activity. The Ethiopian delegation emphasized that there was no option other than to continue discussions through the tripartite Water Ministers to consider the details of implementation of the recommendations and resolve their differences. The Ethiopian delegation also noted that it would be helpful to refrain from actions that might undermine confidence in each other. It emphasized the technical nature of their differences and the importance of resolving these amicably on a technical level. It also noted the need to participate in Eastern Nile programs within the framework of Nile Basin Initiative to which both were committed. It insisted that discussion and dialogue must be the guiding principles to bridge any difference, and emphasized the significance of cooperation at regional, basin and sub-basin levels in order to encourage mutual understanding and transparency.

The Ethiopian delegation also underlined that the issue of the principles of confidence presented by the Egyptian side had clearly been dealt within the Cooperative Framework Agreement. It had made this point during the three tripartite meetings. In addition, the Ethiopian delegation pointed out that it had accepted that any new international panel of experts could be formed if the national committee found itself in disagreement over the two studies which it would be mandated to oversee. Ethiopia and Sudan said establishing another international panel along with the national committee at the outset would be unjustified, since the need for another international experts’ panel would only come after completion of the studies and only if there was total disagreement. In any case, the studies themselves are to be given commissioned from independent international consultants, rendering any additional team irrelevant.

Water Minister Alemayehu also made it clear to Dr Abdel-Moteleb that Ethiopia was not ready to conduct further discussions in the absence of Sudan. It was unacceptable for Ethiopia to hold such talks outside the framework of the tripartite Water Ministers’ meeting. He also said that the suggestion that construction of the GERDP until Egypt had conducted further studies was not possible. As Prime Minister Hailemariam has said, construction of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam, a flagship project for the nation, will not be halted for a second. Minister Alemayehu stressed it would be built on schedule. As a project signifying the Renaissance of Ethiopia, GERD will be completed within its project timeline with the full participation of the Ethiopians at home and abroad.

At the same time, from the beginning of the GERD project Ethiopia has exerted every effort to address the concerns of Egypt and Sudan over possible implications of the dam on the lower riparian countries. On the basis that cooperation among Nile Basin countries was a central principle of Ethiopian policy, Ethiopia established the International Panel of Experts to encourage trust and confidence in Egypt and Sudan. The IPoE produced a report showing that the GERD would cause no appreciable harm to downstream countries and that it would provide a wide range of benefits to all three states. The report also suggested some recommendations to ally any still existing fears. Ethiopia, underlining its determination to respond to any concerns, immediately accepted these recommendations and started to implement them unilaterally and without delay. It also moved to implement the further studies suggested by the IPoE immediately, through the tripartite Water Ministers’ meetings. It has, in fact, made every effort to take into account the concerns of Sudan and Egypt, and will continue to do so as far as is actually necessary., A week in the Horn,14.2.2014