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Egypt Alarmed as Ethiopia Plans Unilateral Fifth Filling of GERD

July 7, 2024

The Ethiopian government has announced its plans to proceed with the fifth filling of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) reservoir this month, despite ongoing negotiations with downstream nations failing to reach a consensus on its operational protocols.

Along the banks of the Nile River, where approximately 95 percent of Egypt’s population resides, the Nile serves as the lifeblood for nearly all Egyptians, supplying essential water. 

Cairo remains apprehensive that the dam’s implementation could diminish vital Nile water flow essential to Egypt’s sustenance, while Sudan has voiced concerns over Ethiopia’s independent initiatives potentially jeopardizing its own dam infrastructure.

“Illegal” Fillings

In its initial phase, the reservoir of the GERD accumulated 4.9 billion cubic meters during its first filling conducted in July 2020]. Subsequent fillings saw volumes of three billion and nine billion cubic meters. As of the fourth filling, finished on 10 September 2023, the reservoir holds a total of 41 billion cubic meters, with water levels reaching 625 meters above sea level.

The 2015 Declaration of Principles, signed in Khartoum by Egypt, Ethiopia, and Sudan, outlined crucial provisions: firstly, the GERD should not inflict substantial harm on any of the three nations; secondly, the dam is expected to foster economic growth and encourage cross-border cooperation; thirdly, that operational agreements must precede any reservoir filling. 

Following the fourth filling, the Egyptian Foreign Ministry stated on a Facebook post that Ethiopia’s “unilateral” expansion of the reservoir breached a 2015 declaration of principles agreed upon by all three nations. Accordingly, Egypt denounced Ethiopia’s actions as “illegal.”

The middle passage of the GERD is expected to undergo an elevation to reach 640 meters, according to Abbas Sharaki, a professor specializing in geology and water resources at Cairo University. This adjustment will accommodate an additional 23 billion cubic meters of water, effectively boosting the reservoir’s total capacity from 41 billion cubic meters to 64 billion cubic meters.

Egypt “could run out of water”

Since 2011, Ethiopia has forged ahead with the construction of the dam despite objections from downstream neighbors Sudan and Egypt. Both countries perceive the project as jeopardizing their longstanding entitlement to Nile waters.

“Egypt would not be negatively affected were the reservoir to be filled over a longer period,” Sharaki revealed.

According to the United Nations, Egypt confronts an annual water deficit of approximately seven billion cubic meters, with projections suggesting the nation could exhaust its water resources by 2025.

“Now the operation process has effectively been left in the hands of Ethiopia there are no guarantees that enough water will be released to ensure a sufficient supply to Egypt and Sudan during periods of drought or double drought,” Nader Noureldin, Cairo University professor of land and water resources, said.

Egypt’s ability to mitigate the worst effects of previous dam fillings and potentially weather the impacts of the upcoming fifth filling, largely due to the strategic reservoir of Lake Nasser, must not deter the incoming government from intensifying efforts to safeguard Egyptian water rights, according to Sharaki. 

He emphasized that the fifth fling is another violation of the Declaration of Principles and all international norms related to establishing water projects on shared rivers.

“The GERD will have a political usage, and Egypt will not allow Ethiopia’s control and domination of the Nile waters,” Egyptian Minister of Irrigation and Water Resources, Hani Sewilam, stated to TV channel, Al-Arabiya, in December 2023.

On 22 March of this year, he said, “Ethiopia will be liable for any impact on Egypt.”

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