Statement By H.E. Sameh Shoukry, Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Arab Republic of Egypt before the United Nations Security Council session on the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD).
Your Excellency the Permanent Representative of France to the United Nations and President of the U.N. Security Council for the month of June, Distinguished Representatives of the Member States of the U.N. Security Council, Colleagues and Dear Brothers, Representatives of Sudan and Ethiopia, At the outset, I would like to congratulate the President of the Security Council for his able leadership of the Security Council during a time of unprecedented challenges and daunting crises.
Indeed, these are truly tumultuous times. Humanity is being tested by an invisible foe that has robbed us of countless souls, wrought untold economic suffering, and brought life to a standstill across the world. But as we face the scourge of this global pandemic, and as our frailty is laid bare before us, we are reminded of our common humanity.
We are reminded that, beyond the multitude of cultures and creeds, and the diversity of nations and peoples, we are, ultimately, a single human family, the welfare of which demands that we look beyond narrow self-interest and promote the bonds of solidarity within our global community.
The matter on which I am addressing you today is of the greatest consequence to the Egyptian people, and requires, like our efforts to combat this global pandemic, a commitment to uphold the spirit of cooperation, and to recognize that no nation is an island unto itself, entire of itself, but part of a community bound by a common destiny.
A threat of potentially existential proportions has emerged that could encroach on the single source of livelihood of over 100 million Egyptians, The Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD), a colossal project that Ethiopia has constructed across the Blue Nile, could endanger the security and very survival of an entire nation by imperiling its wellspring of sustenance.
While we recognize the importance of this project to the developmental objectives of the Ethiopian people, a goal that we share and support, it is essential to realize that this mega-dam, which is Africa’s largest hydropower facility, potentially threatens the welfare, wellbeing, and existence of millions of Egyptian and Sudanese citizens.
Therefore, the unilateral filling and operation of this dam, without an agreement that includes the necessary precautions to protect downstream communities and to prevent the infliction of significant harm on their riparian rights, would heighten tensions and could provoke crises and conflicts that further destabilize an already troubled region.
Accordingly, it is important that the Security Council consider this matter. As the body entrusted, by the international community, with the unique responsibility to maintain international peace and security, the Council is expected to exercise watchful vigilance to avert the escalation of tensions, to prevent the outbreak of conflict, and to contain crises that threaten to prejudice the peace in a fragile region. We trust that, in discharging these duties and fulfilling its responsibilities, the Security Council will act with diligence and vigor to resist instances of unilateralism that could undercut the foundational tenets of our international system that are enshrined in this organizations’ hallowed Charter.
As a responsible stakeholder, Egypt elected to bring this matter to the attention of the Security Council to forestall further escalation and to ensure that unilateral actions do not undermine efforts to reach an agreement on the GERD or prejudice the riparian rights and interests of downstream states, or, more alarmingly, to endanger the lives of almost 150 million Egyptian and Sudanese citizens, thereby generating greater tension in an unstable region.
We are, therefore, encouraged that the Security Council is holding today’s session. This reflects the commitment of its members to ensure that this essential organ of the United Nations fulfils its responsibilities, as enshrined in the Charter.
We in Egypt populate the most arid of the Nile Basin riparian states and one of the most water-impoverished nations on earth. This harsh reality compels us to inhabit no more than 7% of our territory along a slender strip of green and a fertile delta teeming with millions of souls, whose annual share of water is no more than 560 cubic meters, which places Egypt well below the international threshold of water scarcity.
On the other hand, our brethren in Ethiopia have been endowed by divine providence with plentiful water resources, which include an average annual rainfall of almost 936 billion cubic meters of water, of which a mere 5% flow into the Blue Nile, and eleven other river basins, some of which are shared with neighboring states, and all of which provide endless opportunities for regional economic cooperation and integration.
This means that, if the GERD is filled and operated unilaterally, in the absence of a mutually beneficial agreement that protects the lives and livelihood of downstream communities, it can place further stress on an already severely strained hydrological reality and endanger millions of people in both Egypt and Sudan.
Concurrently, however, we are unwaveringly committed to support our fellow African nations, especially in the Nile Basin and including Ethiopia, in their efforts to realize greater prosperity. This is evident in the fact that Egypt has cooperated with every Nile Basin state in constructing dams, in rain harvesting projects, in digging water wells, and the removal of waterweeds that constrict the flow of the river. This reflects our unshakable belief in our common destiny as Africans, and confirms our conviction that the Nile River is not the exclusive property of Egypt or of any riparian state, but the common heritage and sacred trust of all our peoples.
Therefore, for almost a decade, Egypt has initiated and engaged in painstaking negotiations on the GERD. Our objective, throughout these arduous talks, was to reach a fair and just agreement that ensures that Ethiopia achieves its legitimate developmental objectives, while minimizing the harmful effects of this dam on downstream communities. We endeavored, tirelessly, to reach an agreement that harnesses the developmental potential of this dam for Ethiopia, while limiting its many perils for Egypt and Sudan.
Because the two letters addressed by the Government of Egypt to the Security Council, on May 1st and June 19th, 2020, have detailed the successive stages of the negotiations on the GERD, I will only recount the main milestones of these arduous talks throughout which we conducted ourselves with good faith and demonstrated a genuine political will to reach a fair and balanced agreement that preserves the rights and equities of all three riparian states that share the Blue Nile.
Since Ethiopia unilaterally commenced the construction of this dam, our negotiations have included numerous trilateral and bilateral summit meetings between the leaders of our three countries.
Moreover, in a testament to our enduring commitment and abiding faith in the values of our African continent, we attended and convened several regional bilateral and multilateral summits and meetings with our other African brethren in a bid to facilitate the reaching of an agreement that assures Ethiopia that it will generate hydropower efficiently and sustainably, while limiting and minimizing the adverse effects, and preventing the significant harm of this dam on downstream states.
We also held countless trilateral meetings between the ministers of water affairs and their technical teams, and many meetings of the ministers of foreign affairs to provide political support to these talks, and we established an independent committee of hydrologists to provide impartial scientific analysis of the scenarios of the filling and operation of the GERD.
Unfortunately, however, all of these efforts came to naught. To overcome the hurdles facing our negotiations and invigorate these talks, our three countries concluded, on March 23rd 2015, the Agreement on Declaration of Principles on the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam.
This treaty, the content and terms of which are unambiguous and unequivocal, was intended to provide greater political impetus and guidance to our discussions. It reconfirmed the legal obligation incumbent upon Ethiopia to conduct studies on the transboundary hydrological and socio-economic effects of the GERD and to undertake an assessment of its environmental impact.
It also reaffirmed Ethiopia’s political commitment and its legal obligation not to fill the dam without an agreement with its two downstream co-riparians on the rules governing both the filling and operation, which would guarantee Ethiopia the hydropower benefits of this project while minimizing its many harms on downstream states.
Regrettably, however, despite the fact that we contracted an international consultancy firm to conduct the studies on the effects and impacts of the dam, the process of undertaking these studies was obstructed, and as a result, they were never completed. Nor do we have unassailable guarantees regarding the safety and structural soundness of the GERD. This means that, in the absence of sufficient scientific data, communities downstream of this great structure, appear condemned to live in the dark shadow of a great unknown.
If, God-forbid, the GERD experiences structural failures or faults, it would place the Sudanese people under unimaginable peril and would expose Egypt to unthinkable hazards. Indeed, our concerns in this regard are not unwarranted. In 2010, the headrace tunnel of the Gibe II dam constructed across the Omo River collapsed within days of the completion of its construction.
It is also deeply disheartening that, throughout the winding path of these negotiations on the GERD, Egypt has been subjected to an unjustifiable campaign of unfounded claims that we sought to bind other parties to agreements from the dark era of colonialism.
The reality, however, is that every treaty relating to the Nile that was concluded by Ethiopia was signed by its government, free of any compulsion or coercion, and as an independent and sovereign state. These include a treaty freely signed by the Emperor of Abyssinia in 1902, that prohibited the construction of any waterworks across the Blue Nile that affect the natural flow of the river, and a General Framework for Cooperation also freely signed by Ethiopia’s late-prime minister Meles Zenawi and Egypt’s president in 1993, in addition to the 2015 Agreement on Declaration of Principles. Needless to say, all of these treaties remain binding and in force.
As construction of the GERD neared completion, and as every other path towards an agreement proved unsuccessful, Egypt called upon our partners in the United States of America and the World Bank to join our talks in an attempt to bridge the gap between our three countries.
This led, after intensive negotiations, in which the three countries fully participated, and for the first time after almost a decade of talks, to an agreement that was prepared under the auspices of the United States and with technical input from the World Bank. This agreement, which Egypt accepted and initialed on February 28th, 2020, but which Ethiopia rejected at the eleventh hour, provided a fair and balanced, win-win solution, that promotes the interests of our three countries and preserves their riparian rights and equities.
This agreement, which is annexed to our letter addressed to the Security Council dated June 19th, 2020, is now available to the international community as a testament to Egypt’s good will and as evidence, beyond any doubt, that an equitable and fair agreement was available for the parties to sign.
Furthermore, because Egypt is dedicated to explore every possible avenue to reach an agreement on the GERD, it partook in the latest rounds of negotiations that were held upon the initiative of the Republic of the Sudan. However, these talks were also unsuccessful.
It is Egypt’s belief that an agreement on the GERD must be a legally binding instrument under international law, that must also include clear definitions that establish the threshold of significant harm that must be prevented, in addition to a binding dispute resolution mechanism to ensure the effective implementation of this agreement. On the other hand, it was argued that mere guidelines of uncertain and ambiguous legal value that could be unilaterally adjusted should suffice. It was also suggested that any such document would not include a firm obligation to prevent the infliction of significant harm on downstream riparians.
Moreover, in keeping with our principled position that the GERD must be filled and operated in accordance with a mutually beneficial agreement that promotes the common interests of our three countries, Egypt accepted the invitation of H.E. President Cyril Ramaphosa of South Africa, to hold an Extraordinary African Union Bureau of the Assembly of Heads of State and Government meeting on June 26th, 2020 to deliberate on this matter.
The object and purpose of this meeting was to ensure that an agreement on the GERD is reached expeditiously. As such, it was agreed that inter-governmental technical negotiations will be held with a view to achieving this goal within two weeks.
Moreover, during this meeting Ethiopia committed not to take any unilateral measures by commencing the filling of the GERD before an agreement is reached.
This commitment can only be interpreted as an unequivocal undertaking to ensure that the filling of the GERD is executed in accordance with rules agreed upon between the three riparian states.
Any other understanding or interpretation of this commitment would reflect the lack of political will to reach an agreement on the GERD and reveal an underlying intention to impose an unacceptable fait accompli on downstream states and enforce the unilateral will of an upstream state on its co-riparians, and turn any talks into an exercise in futility.
It is incumbent on the Security Council to take note of and welcome these outcomes of the meeting of the African Union Bureau and to call upon the three counties to comply with their commitments and pledges.
Filling the GERD unilaterally, without an agreement with Egypt and Sudan would jeopardize the interests of downstream communities, whose existence and survival depend on the Nile River.
Furthermore, the unilateral operation of this mega-dam could have disastrous socio-economic effects that will diminish every dimension of the human security of Egyptians, including food security, water security, environmental security, and human health. It will also expose millions to greater economic vulnerability, leading to increasing rates of crime and illegal migration. It would reduce water quality, disrupt the riparian ecosystem, damage biodiversity, and aggravate the dangers of climate change.
This eventuality represents a serious threat to international peace and security. It could also have serious, if not seismic, political ramifications. Downstream states would find themselves in an intolerable situation and create an atmosphere of animosity between our countries, and sow the seeds of discord between our peoples.
It is, therefore, necessary for the Security Council and the international community to exert every effort and support every initiative that is intended to lift this looming threat and remove this ominous peril on the horizon.
While our positon remains that the only viable solution to the question of the GERD is to reach a fair and balanced agreement, Egypt will uphold and protect the vital interests of its people. Survival is not a question of choice, but an imperative of nature.
Accordingly, we call upon the Security Council to encourage the parties to negotiate in good faith to reach an agreement on the GERD, and to refrain from any unilateral measures until such an agreement is reached. Until our efforts are successful and an agreement is concluded, the Security Council should, as it discharges its duties, remain actively seized of the matter.
In this context, Egypt has presented a draft resolution for deliberation by the Security Council that is consistent with the outcomes of the African Union Bureau meeting. It encourages the three states to reach an agreement within two weeks, and not to take any unilateral measures in relation to the GERD, and emphasizes the important role of the U.N. Secretary General in this regard. This draft resolution is not intended to preempt or forestall any negotiations, but to express, at the highest level, the keen interest of the international community in reaching an agreement on the GERD and its appreciation of the dangers of acts of unilateralism in this matter.
While we continue to extend an unfailing hand of friendship to our brethren, we expect our kinsmen with whom we share the Nile River to reciprocate our good will and to act with responsibility. Much as we wholeheartedly support Ethiopia’s right to development, including through the use of our shared water resources, we believe that justice dictates that Ethiopia respect Egypt’s right to life.
Indeed, as H.E. President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi declared in his statement before a Joint Session of the Ethiopian Parliament, and I quote:
“I urge us to lay the foundations for a better future for our children and grandchildren … a future where all classrooms in Ethiopia could have electricity … and where children in Egypt could drink water from the Nile as their parents and grandparents did … a future where the economies of both our countries would expand to absorb their entire labor force … with the purpose of guaranteeing a decent life to our peoples … so as to restore their standing among the family of nations given their glorious history and immense potential”.
In conclusion, Mr. President I must reiterate that we stand ready to exert every effort to reach an agreement on the GERD. I call on my friends and colleagues in Ethiopia and Sudan to summon the spirit of brotherhood and kinship between our countries and peoples. Let us embrace the undeniable truth of our commonality and camaraderie. Let us grasp the opportunity that is before us to shape our fate, rewrite history, and chart a new course of peace and prosperity for our peoples.