The leaders of Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia have agreed that Addis Ababa will delay filling its dam on the Blue Nile until the three nations have reached an accord on the use of the river’s water-sharing, the Egyptian and Sudanese governments said on Friday.
The announcement comes as a minor reprieve after weeks of escalating tensions between Ethiopia, which had previously pushed to start filling its multi-billion-dollar Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam in July, and downstream countries Egypt and Sudan.
Both Egypt and Sudan had appealed to the UN Security Council last week to intervene in the decades-old dispute.
Sudanese Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok also issued a statement saying, “it has been agreed upon that the dam filling will be delayed until an agreement is reached.” His office said that technical committees for all three countries will start negotiations with the aim of reaching a deal within two weeks.
“A legally binding final agreement for all parties stressing the prevention of any unilateral moves, including the filling of the dam, will be sent in a letter to the UN Security Council to consider it in its session discussing the Renaissance Dam issue next Monday,” the office of Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi said on Friday.
“Sudan is one of the biggest beneficiaries from the dam and also one of the biggest losers if risks are not mitigated, thus it urges Egypt and Ethiopia to the impending necessity … of finding a solution,” Hamdok said.
The statements from the two leaders announcing the breakthrough came after an emergency virtual summit of the African Union, chaired by South African President Cyril Ramaphosa.
While there was no immediate response from Ethiopia, Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed on Twitter described the discussion about the dam as “fruitful.”
Ethiopia has been vocal about its intentions of filling the dam, which it says is critical to its electrification and development needs. It says the $4 billion (€4.57 billion) hydropower project will have an installed capacity of 6,450 megawatts and will help bring millions out of poverty.
Egypt, on the other hand, relies on the Nile for 97 percent of its freshwater needs. It says the dam cut could its water supply and have a devastating impact on its population. Sudan, too, depends on the Nile for water and has played a key role in bringing the two sides together.
Both Egypt and Ethiopia have hinted at taking military action to protect their interests, raising fears of open conflict.