Contentious Issues and Recent Developments
Updated: Feb 15, 2021
The Legacy Agreements and treaties, i.e. the 1902, 1929 and 1959 Nile Water Agreements, did not include Ethiopia as a beneficiary of its own resources. Ethiopia, despite being the source of the Blue Nile, along with all downstream riparian Nile Basin states are excluded by the legacy agreements from sharing and utilizing the Nile waters.
The 1999 Nile Basin Initiative (NBI) brought all the Nile Basin countries together for dialogue leading to the drafting of the Comprehensive Framework Agreement (CFA) of 2010. The CFA allowed the waters of the Nile river to be utilized for the benefit of all nations in the Nile basin and facilitated the establishment of new arrangements for the rules for sharing of the water among the Nile basin nations.
CFA was ratified by six of the Nile basin countries including Ethiopia. Egypt opposed the ratification of the CFA claiming that the 1959 agreement is non-negotiable and argues for upholding the 1929 Nile agreement.
In 2015, Ethiopia, Egypt and Sudan signed the Declaration of Principle agreement which stipulated cooperative approaches in fair use of the waters, sharing of data and information and guiding principles in the first filling of the GERD and its operations, based on the recommendations of the International Technical Experts Committee.
In 2020, various meetings and negotiations had taken place. The ministerial level meetings in February 2020 demanded Ethiopia not to start filling the dam before Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan reached and signed a U.S. sponsored agreement. Ethiopia completed the first filling of the GERD in July 2020, per internationally recognized and accepted project design.
The African Union, then led by the South African Cyril Ramaphosa, its Chairperson began to play a leading role in the GERD Negotiations in June 2020. The initial round of talks was relatively successful. A major point of contention in the tripartite negotiations involved the period of the filling of the dam. Initially, Ethiopia proposed filling the dam in three years, while Egypt suggested a gradual process lasting up to fifteen years.
Egypt maintains that filling the GERD at normal flow through three years will reduce the active storage of Lake Nasser by 25.413 Billion Cubic Meters (BCM) each year. It also predicts that the dam would reduce Egypt’s electricity production by 25%.
Ethiopia maintains that the GERD will have minimal impact on Egypt’s agricultural projects if the reservoir is filled over 6 years. The downstream countries, especially Egypt, are also concerned about the impact the dam will have on the Blue Nile if drought occurs. But Ethiopia reasons that the entire Nile basin economies will benefit if the dam is filled over a period of three-four years.