25 April 2024 12:56 AM

Egypt facing 'existential threat' due to Ethiopia's GERD on Nile

Friday، 09 July 2021 - 01:15 AM

Foreign minister Sameh Shoukry said on Thursday that the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) is a threat to the life of Egyptians.

"Egypt, a nation of a 100 million-plus population, is facing an existential threat posed by the construction of a giant entity on the artery that gives it life,” Sameh Shoukry told a UN Security Council session.

“This building has risen with a massive wall made of iron and steel between the two banks of an old and great river, overshadowing the future and destiny of the Egyptian people,” the top diplomat said.

“With every added new stone to its structure, the Ethiopian renaissance dam is rising and its reservoir is widening, which is narrowing a life artery for millions of innocents who live far beyond this dam on the River Nile,” he added.

The foreign minister said Egypt has resorted to the UN Security Council on June 29, 2020 to warn the international community against this imminent danger in the offing.

Egypt on 29 June, 2020 resorted to the Security Council, cautioning of the near occurrence of the first filling of the Ethiopian dam, and warning against the repercussions of pursuing to impose dominance on the Nile River which “our survival depends on,” the top diplomat told the Security Council.

“We appealed to the Security Council to work, with all effort and perseverance, to avoid the escalation of tension that threatens peace in a fragile region … and we called on our brothers to shoulder responsibility and to recognize that the future of the wealth of our peoples are intertwined,” Shoukry added.

Several days after the Security Council's session last year, Ethiopia initiated the filling of the dam unilaterally, and its foreign minister arrogantly declared "the river became a lake... the Nile is ours", Shoukry said.

“Egypt’s response towards this aggression was characterized by self-restraint and following the paths of peace and security to reach a settlement to this crisis through a fair agreement that preserves the rights of the three parties,” the foreign minister added.

"Egypt has sincerely adopted an initiative by the African Union to restart the negotiations under its auspices, and Egypt has engaged – over a year- in the talks held by the union and ran by our African brothers to reach an African solution to this critical crisis," he said.

However, these negotiations failed, and after a year of fruitless talks, we "find ourselves in the face of the unilateral Ethiopian behavior without an agreement that guarantees the protection of the downstream countries from its dangers."

"This [unilateral action] is obvious in Ethiopia’s declaration on July 5, 2021 of the beginning of the second filling of the dam unilaterally and without an agreement," he added.

“This impertinent behavior does not only reflect the lack of responsibility from the Ethiopian side, and the indifference towards the harm caused by the filling of this dam to Egypt and Sudan, but also Ethiopia’s ill-intention and favoring to impose a fait accompli on the downstream countries in a blatant challenge to the collaborative will of the international community,” the minister said.

Ethiopia’s approach and its continuous unilateral acts show its ignorance and disdain for the rules of international law as it does not pay attention to the Security Council, Shoukry said.

“Ethiopia’s unilateral acts reveal its real policies that aim to capture the Nile River and to turn it from a trans-boundary river into a political instrument to exercise political influence and impose dominance, which risks to undermine international peace and security in the region,” the top diplomat said.

Therefore, Egypt has chosen anew to re-introduce the issue to the Security Council due to the continuous unilateral moves by Ethiopia and the repeated failure of the negotiations amid the absence of any effective and serious path in this turn to achieve a political settlement to this vital issue, he added.

“Egypt has come to the Security Council out of its strong belief in international law, its established conviction of the importance and effectiveness of the multilateral action as an instrument to boost peace and prevent conflicts and disputes, and its commitment to principles founded by the UN Charter,” Shoukry added.

The foreign minister expressed his full trust in the council’s ability to shoulder its responsibility in maintaining international peace and security through taking necessary measures to address the dam crisis.

Egypt has engaged in a whole decade of negotiations on the GERD, the foreign minister said.

"Since Ethiopia unilaterally commenced the construction of this dam – without fulfilling the duties incumbent upon it as an upstream state to notify and consult its downstream co-riparians – Egypt has sought to reach an agreement on the GERD that would preserve the rights of the three countries and promote their common interests," he added.

"Our hope was – and remains – to conclude a legally binding agreement that enables Ethiopia to achieve its developmental objectives by generating hydropower from the GERD expeditiously, efficiently, and sustainably," Shoukry said.

This reflects the fact that Egypt was – and remains – committed to Ethiopia’s stability and prosperity and it also exemplifies Egypt’s longstanding policy of engendering and expanding cooperation with our co-riparians throughout the Nile Basin, he noted

"However, any agreement on the GERD must be equitable, reasonable, and legally binding," the foreign minister said.

It must include provisions to mitigate the adverse effects of this dam, especially during periods of drought …… it must prevent the infliction of significant harm on the riparian interests of Egypt and Sudan …… it must guarantee the safety, functionality, and resilience of downstream dams …… and it must ensure that Egypt’s water security is not imperiled by the filling and operation of what will become Africa’s largest hydropower facility," he said.

Realizing this objective of concluding a fair and balanced agreement on the GERD is not unsurmountable nor is it beyond reach, the foreign minister said.

“Indeed, the continued failure of negotiations is not due to a lack of scientific solutions to the outstanding technical issues, nor is it because we lack the requisite legal expertise to draft an agreement.

“Rather, the singular source of our failure has been – and remains – Ethiopian intransigence,” he added.

This reality is best reflected in the following statement from the letter addressed by Minister of Foreign Affairs of Ethiopia to the Security Council on June 23, 2021 ……

“Filling and operating the GERD without seeking agreement from Egypt and Sudan is the bare minimum of the exercise of this sovereign prerogative as a riparian country of an international watercourse”.

"The sentiment in this statement, is the root of the problem," the top diplomat said.

"It demonstrates that the cause of this crisis is political. It reveals that Ethiopia is operating under the assumption that it is engaging in negotiations on the GERD out of comity or charity," he added.

Ethiopia has conveniently decided to ignore the realities of geography and appears to be under the illusion that the Blue Nile is an internal river that it can exploit to its exclusive benefit, he said.

Ethiopia refuses to sign a legally binding agreement …… It has even objected to calling the instrument being negotiated an “agreement” and has proposed to designate the text as merely “guidelines and rules”.

Ethiopia also refuses to include any form of binding dispute resolution provisions …… and insists on codifying an unlimited right to alter and amend the GERD agreement whenever it so desires, he added.

Ethiopia has sought to justify these unreasonable positions by invoking some mythical injustice that had been wrought upon it by so-called colonial treaties or by an unfair status quo, the foreign minister said.

"Ethiopia was never a colony, and has never concluded a treaty relating to the Nile under the threat of coercion or compulsion …… Moreover, Egypt has never objected to Ethiopia’s right to harness the resources of the Blue Nile," he said.

"However, Egypt expects, and indeed demands, that its upstream co-riparian complies with its international legal obligations, which require it to prevent the infliction of significant harm against the interests of its downstream neighbors.," Shoukry told the Security Council.

Ethiopia is also seeking to use the GERD negotiations as a back-door through which to consecrate an unlimited and an unregulated right to construct future projects along the Blue Nile and has demanded that its co-riparians sign a hydrological blank-check that grants it unrestricted control of the river, Foreign Minister Sameh Shouky said.

"This was expressed in no uncertain terms in a letter dated January 8, 2021 from Ethiopia’s Minister of Water in which he stated Ethiopia does not have an obligation emanating from law or practice to acquire agreement from downstream countries to construct the GERD or any future water development project,” Shoukry told the Security Council.

"This policy was put into practice when the prime minister of Ethiopia announced, on May 30, 2021, that his country plans to construct over 100 dams over the coming fiscal year, without even the slightest mention of the interests or equities of its co-riparians, as if Ethiopia holds exclusive proprietary rights

over the Nile and the other rivers that it shares with its neighbors, which was especially apparent in the damage inflicted by Ethiopia on Lake Turkana in Kenya," he said.

Despite Ethiopia’s persistent pattern of bad faith and in spite of its incessant unilateralism, Egypt continued to negotiate in good faith and with a genuine political will to reach an equitable agreement.

"For a whole decade … we explored every avenue and exhausted every opportunity to conclude a document that would enable Ethiopia to fill and operate the GERD while mitigating its harmful downstream impacts … an agreement that would become an instrument of regional integration and collaboration and that would herald a new era of cooperation between our three countries," the top diplomat said.

"We sought an agreement through years of fruitless trilateral negotiations during which Ethiopia effectively torpedoed our efforts to undertake joint studies on the socio-economic impacts of the GERD and to assess its environmental impacts …… and as a result of Ethiopia’s obstructionism we now have no impartial scientific record of the adverse effects of this mega-dam," he added.

Egypt also accepted an invitation to participate in negotiations facilitated by the United States of America and the World Bank Group, and in which Ethiopia participated fully and freely, and that led to the drafting – after twelve rounds of intensive negotiations – of a comprehensive agreement on the filling and operation of the GERD, which Egypt signed, but which Ethiopia rejected.

"We also engaged in negotiations held upon an invitation from the Prime Minister of Sudan, which – despite the significant progress achieved – were ultimately undermined by Ethiopian intransigence," he said.

Moreover, for a whole year, since the previous session convened by the Security Council on the question of the GERD, Egypt participated actively in the negotiations that were led by the African Union, he pointed out.

"We engaged in this AU-led process with a sense of optimism and faith in the ability of our African brethren to facilitate the adoption of an agreement on the GERD," he said.

"We worked diligently to implement the instructions of the Bureau of the Assembly of the African Union at the summit level to reach a legally binding agreement on the filling and operation of the GERD …… and we welcomed the constructive engagement of our partners from the European Union and the United States in this process," he added.

However, after a year of faltering negotiations …… and despite the highly appreciated good offices and untiring efforts of President Cyril Ramaphosa of South Africa and President Felix Tshisekedi of the Democratic Republic of the Congo during their respective periods as Chair of the African Union …… the AU-led process failed to yield the desired agreement, the foreign minister said.

"Our three countries were even unable to execute the simple task of compiling a complete text of a zero-draft of the GERD agreement that provides a record of their negotiating positions …… and countless weeks were exhausted in ineffectual virtual meetings and disagreements on peripheral matters of procedure.

More troublingly, throughout this process, Ethiopia effectively derailed the AU-led negotiations," he said.

It repeatedly attempted to redirect the talks towards reaching non-binding arrangements for the filling of the GERD or for the appointment of focal points for the exchange of technical data, he added.

"While these ideas may appear reasonable to the untrained eye …… the reality is that these Ethiopian proposals contravene the instructions of the Bureau of the Assembly of the African Union on the summit level, which directed us to agree on the rules governing both the filling and the operation of the GERD, Shoukry added.

"More importantly, the practical effect of these Ethiopian proposals is to deny the downstream states any meaningful protection against the adverse effects of the GERD, and entitle Ethiopia to fill its reservoir and activate its massive turbines without instituting rules to mitigate the harmful impacts of this dam and regulate its operation, thereby posing a grave danger to our rights and interests," Shoukry added.

Furthermore, despite claiming to support the granting of an enhanced role to our partners who attended the A.U.-led negotiations as observers …… the reality is that during the latest ministerial meeting held in Kinshasa on April 4-6, 2021, upon a kind invitation from President Felix Tshisekedi, Ethiopia rejected every proposal submitted by Sudan and Egypt to augment the AU-led process and expand the role of our partners in order to assist us in reaching an agreement on the GERD, he noted.

"As such, I find it deeply disheartening that I must report to the Security Council that the AU-led process, in its current format, has reached an impasse," the top diplomat said.

"A whole year of negotiations was expended in fruitless talks, while Ethiopia continued the construction of the GERD and has now reached the point of continuing to unilaterally fill its reservoir," he said.

"Throughout these winding and arduous processes and at every juncture of the negotiations, Ethiopia remained implacable.

It refused every proposal and rejected every idea presented by Egypt that would have guaranteed that Ethiopia would be able to generate hydropower from the GERD at optimal levels of efficiency, while protecting downstream states against the potential harms of this dam," he added.

Shoukry accused Ethiopia of "blocking every compromise formula submitted to us by our international partners, and continued to adopt inflexible positions designed to evade and elude any commitment to protect – or even provide minimal safeguards – to the interests of Egypt and Sudan."

"Even our efforts to engender confidence an build bridges of trust between our countries came to naught," he said.

"We signed the 2015 Agreement on Declaration of Principles to affirm our commitment to reaching a fair and equitable agreement on the GERD," he added.

"We presented a plan to establish a common infrastructure fund to broaden the horizons of cooperation between our countries …… we proposed to contribute to the financing of the GERD to turn this dam into a symbol of friendship and brotherhood between our peoples …… and we suggested to extend our power lines to help energize Ethiopia and assist its quest for development; and still Ethiopia remained unyielding in its intransigence," he said.

As a result, the two downstream states are now left vulnerable to the evils of the GERD, he added.

"We have no independently verifiable guarantees regarding the safety and structural stability of the GERD, and as such 150 million Sudanese and Egyptians are condemned by Ethiopia to live under the harrowing specter of a towering structure that can hold up to 74 billion cubic meters of water without assurances regarding its safety and reliability, nor do we have any protections against the incalculable damage that the GERD can inflict during future periods of drought," he added.

"At a time when the river grows dry … and the land gets parched under the searing sun and the livelihood of Egyptians is imperiled … Ethiopia is unwilling to release the waters of the Blue Nile to quench the thirst of the downstream valley, he said.

"Indeed, that is the crux of the problem."

"All that Egypt has called for and sought is a binding agreement that includes an insurance policy against the harmful impacts of the GERD on Egypt’s water security by designing a mechanism through which our three countries would cooperate to collectively bear the burden of addressing future periods of droughts. Unfortunately, however, Ethiopia remains steadfast in its rejection of any form of agreement that provides any meaningful measure of protection to the interests of downstream states.

"It is not an overstatement to affirm that, for Egypt, the GERD is an existential threat," he said.

"Our estimates and scientific models indicate that this mega-dam can wreak incalculable damage on Egypt, despite the precautionary measures that we have taken in anticipation of Ethiopia’s unilateral filling of the GERD and our tireless efforts at conservation and water reuse," the foreign minister said.

"For us, the harm that the GERD might inflict will affect every aspect of the lives of the Egyptian people like a malignant plague," he noted.

In the absence of an agreement that regulates its filling and operation, the GERD can cause cumulative water shortages in Egypt amounting to 120 billion cubic meters, it will diminish access to clean drinking water, it could deprive millions of farmers of the water they use to irrigate their fields, it will rob countless families of their income and livelihood, it will destroy thousands of acres of arable land, it will increase desertification and degrade the riparian eco-system, and it will increase vulnerability to the effects of climate change, the foreign minister said.

This is a situation that Egypt cannot, and will not, tolerate. It is, therefore, imperative for the international community to exert every effort …… including by acting through the Security Council …… to preempt this eventuality and prevent the GERD from becoming a threat to the very existence of Egypt, he noted.

"This requires the Council to unequivocally call upon the parties to reach an equitable agreement on the GERD, within a defined timeline, and to encourage them to work diligently and with earnestness to achieve that objective forthwith," Shoukry said.

Otherwise, if its riparian rights are jeopardized or if its survival is imperiled, Egypt will be left with no alternative but to uphold and protect its inherent right to life that is guaranteed by the laws and customs of nations and the imperatives of nature, he added.

"We come here in search for a viable path towards a peaceful, amicable, and negotiated solution to this crisis …… and to avert the dire consequences of our inability to reach a settlement to this matter," he further said.

"Our hope is that the Security Council will recognize the gravity of the situation and fulfill its responsibility to maintain international peace and security," he said.

"Our expectation is that this Council will take the necessary measures to ensure that the parties engage in an effective process of negotiations that could yield an agreement that serves our collective interests, Shoukry added.

"As evident from the text of this draft resolution, we do not expect the Council to formulate solutions to the outstanding legal and technical issues …… nor did we request that the Council impose the terms of a settlement of a riparian dispute on the parties.

Rather, this resolution is political in nature …… and its purpose, which we believe is eminently balanced and constructive …… is to relaunch negotiations according to an augmented format that retains and enhances the leadership of the Chairperson of the African Union and that enables our international partners, including the United Nations, to use their expertise in this area to aid our three countries in their quest to conclude, within a reasonable timeframe, an equitable agreement on the GERD, he said.

Indeed – if anything – this resolution aims at implementing and effectuating the outcomes of the two meetings of the Bureau of the African Union Assembly that were held on this matter …… which instructed the parties to expeditiously finalize, with the assistance of our partners attending these talks as observers, the text of a legally binding agreement on the filling and operation of the GERD, and called upon them not to take unilateral measures that could jeopardize this process, he added.

Adopting this resolution would reaffirm the Security Council’s resolve to upholding its responsibility to maintain international peace and security … and would send an unequivocal signal of reassurance that it remains committed to the peace and prosperity of our African continent, while failure to take effective action on the question of the GERD would be a disheartening dereliction of duties.

Egypt will exert every effort to reach an agreement on the GERD that upholds the unbreakable bond of brotherhood between our countries and that reflects the timeless kinship among the peoples living along the banks of the Nile River, he said.


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