The long-standing dispute over the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) has entered a new phase, as the water ministers of Egypt, Ethiopia, and Sudan met in Cairo on Sunday to resume negotiations on the filling and operation of the dam. The talks came after a four-month hiatus and a meeting between the Egyptian and Ethiopian leaders in July, who agreed to finalize an agreement within four months.

The GERD, which is being built by Ethiopia on the Blue Nile, is expected to hold 74 billion cubic meters of water, an amount that could affect the water shares of Egypt and Sudan, which depend on the Nile for most of their water needs. Egypt has been calling for a binding legal agreement that would ensure its water security and prevent any unilateral actions by Ethiopia. Ethiopia, on the other hand, has been insisting on its right to use its natural resources for development and electricity generation.

Egypt’s Minister of Water Resources and Irrigation, Hani Sweilam, stressed the importance of reaching an agreement that would take into account the interests and concerns of the three countries. He also highlighted the importance of stopping any unilateral steps by Ethiopia, such as filling and operating the dam without an agreement, which he said would violate the Declaration of Principles signed in 2015.

Ethiopia’s Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, who met with Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi in Cairo in July, reiterated his country’s commitment not to harm Egypt’s and Sudan’s water shares during the filling of the dam. He also said that Ethiopia had no intention to cause harm to its neighbors and that the Nile River strengthened relations between the countries of the region.

However, former Egyptian Irrigation Minister Mohamed Nasr Allam expressed his surprise at the sudden announcement of the start of negotiations and his pessimism about their outcome. He said that there was no announced timetable for reaching an agreement and that Ethiopia had almost finished the fourth filling of the dam without consultations or information exchange. He added that there was nothing new for Ethiopia to retreat from its intransigent positions.

“The negotiations began after Ethiopia almost finished the so-called fourth filling of the dam without consultations or even an exchange of information,” Allam wrote in a public post on his Facebook account.

The former water official said that he is not optimistic, and there are no indications on the ground that this round might succeed. “There is nothing new for Ethiopia to retreat from its intransigent positions!!”

Recent satellite images showed that the fourth filling of the GERD was nearing completion, with only 4 meters left to reach the level of the middle corridor in the dam.

According to Abbas Sharaky, a professor of geology and water resources at Cairo University, this meant that the dam lake would have about 36 billion cubic meters of water in a few days.

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Shaimaa Raafat