Egypt refers Ethiopia to UN over controversial Nile dam
Egypt has referred its dispute with Ethiopia over a controversial dam on the Nile to the UN Security Council in an escalation of tensions between the two countries over the issue.
Ethiopia sees the nearly-completed Great Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) as necessary for its future development but Egyptians fear that it could deprive of them of the water they need to live.
On Wednesday night, news emerged that Egypt’s foreign minister, Sameh Shukri, had sent a letter to the UN Security Council’s president and members of the Security Council complaining about Ethiopia’s failure to reach agreement with Egypt about the dam’s operation.
The contents of the letter have not officially been made public by the Egyptian Foreign Ministry. However, the Ethiopian news agency Ethiopian Insider said that it had seen the draft of the letter, which was 15 pages long.
"Ethiopia's unilateral filling of GERD before reaching a final agreement with downstream countries on the rules governing the filling and dam operation is inconsistent with the spirit of cooperation between co-riparian countries that share an international watercourse and amounts to material breach of Ethiopia's legal obligations", it quoted the letter as saying.
The letter was also referred to in an Egyptian foreign ministry statement about a telephone call between Shukri and Estonian Foreign Minister Urmas Reinsalu. Estonia currently chairs the UN Security Council.
The dispute between Ethiopia and Egypt is focused on the speed at which the dam will be filled. Ethiopia wants to start filling the GERD in July and plans to finish the filling process within 4 to 7 years. Egypt says that this will greatly reduce the flow of the Nile to its territory, potentially causing drought and famine.
"This [filling the dam] would jeopardize the water security, food security and indeed the very existence of over 100 million Egyptians who are entirely dependent on the resource of the Nile River for their livelihoods… the prospect of being subjected to significant harm to its riparian rights and interests would be wholly intolerable for Egypt", the letter added.
US sponsored negotiations between Ethiopia and Egypt, led by US Treasury Secretary Stephen Mnuchin broke down in March after the US drafted an agreement regarding the filling and operation of the dam.
Egypt accepted and signed the agreement but Ethiopia refused, saying that it had never accepted US mediation and that the agreement was biased in Egypt’s favour. The Egyptian foreign ministry’s letter said that Ethiopia should not proceed with filling the dam before consulting with downstream countries.
A source from Ethiopia’s opposition Tigray People’s Liberation Front party said that the Ethiopian government would submit a “long memorandum” in response to the Egyptian letter.
The source added that “Ethiopian officials don’t consider Egypt’s move important. They don’t think it will have a significant effect. But at the same time, the Ethiopian mission to the UN has begun direct and widespread contacts with member countries of the Security Council and countries with influence in the General Assembly.”