Talks on the Nile dam are at a standstill

"We cannot continue this vicious circle of circular talks indefinitely," said Sudanese minister Yasir Abbas
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AFP/ EDUARDO SOTERAS   -   Overview of the Blue Nile River as it flows through the Great Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) near Guba in Ethiopia

The construction of the Blue Nile dam continues to generate dispute between the three countries involved: Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan. The Great Dam of the Renaissance, as this Ethiopian-designed civil engineering work was named, began construction in 2011 using water from the Blue Nile River, a tributary of the Nile from which Egypt extracts more than 90% of its fresh water. The main objective of this large hydroelectric dam is to provide electricity to the Horn of Africa in general and to Ethiopia in particular.

The main countries affected by the construction of this dam have certain discrepancies, making it difficult to reach an agreement to end the continuous blockades. The last negotiations held last November ended, once again, without progress.

Egypt and Sudan, which are further down the river, were seeking a legally binding agreement, especially on the management of the dam and its filling. For its part, Ethiopia, which considers the Great Dam of the Renaissance to be fundamental to its development, is somewhat more reticent and states that the water supply to these countries will not be affected.

During a new round of talks, negotiations between Ethiopia, Sudan and Egypt have reached a new impasse. "We cannot continue this vicious circle of circular talks indefinitely," said Sudanese Irrigation and Water Resources Minister Yasir Abbas.

The Egyptian Ministry of Foreign Affairs has reported the closure of this dialogue by video conference without "any progress" due to differences over how to resume negotiations and the procedure for the dialogue process itself, according to the Egyptian state newspaper 'Al Ahram'.

However, Egypt and Ethiopia, in separate statements, blame Sudan's objections to the new blockade. "Sudan insists on the need to delegate to experts appointed by the African Union to present solutions to the issues in dispute and to draw up an agreement, which Egypt and Ethiopia refuse to do," the Egyptian Foreign Ministry has stated, considering these actions "fundamental rights of the three countries". Furthermore, Egypt argues that the experts from the AU, which is mediating in the conflict, are not experts in water resources engineering and dams.

The Ethiopian country believes that the dam is key to plans to become Africa's biggest energy exporter. Egypt, which gets more than 90 percent of its scarce fresh water from the Nile, fears that the dam could devastate its economy. On the other hand, Sudan said on Sunday that it was concerned that the dam could pose a direct threat to the Roseires Dam if no agreement was reached allowing countries to share data.

Sudanese Minister Yasir Abbas expressed his concern about the Roseires dam and said that "the dam poses a direct threat to the Roseires dam, which has a capacity of less than 10 percent of the Great Dam of the Renaissance, and even more so as the Renaissance dam has begun to operate without an agreement or daily exchange of information."

Although no agreement has been reached, Ethiopia has no intention of stopping the project. The African country sent a letter to the African Union, Sudan and Egypt stating its intention to undertake the second phase of filling the Great Dam of the Renaissance with some 15 billion cubic metres of water next July, whether or not there is an agreement.