Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia meet to chart way forward on the economic use of River Nile as Africa's largest dam nears completion

The dam which is expected to hold 74 billion cubic metres of water has raised serious concerns from environmentalist and neighbouring countries that it would have a negative impact on the region.

The ministers on Tuesday visited the dam's construction site and were on Wednesday to hold closed-door discussions over the filling and operation of the GERD, the most controversial of the issues.

The talks come at a time when 60 per cent of the GERD project is complete, according to Ethiopia’s minister for Water, Irrigation and Electricity Seleshi Bekele.

Egypt has long been opposed to the dam over fears that it would reduce water downstream while Sudan, on the other hand, seems to be convinced that the giant reservoir would regulate the flow of water and prevent flooding.

“It is not abnormal to have differences among us. These differences may present challenges, but they also open opportunities for cooperation on regional integration, poverty alleviation, among others,” said Mr Mutaz Musa, Sudan's minister for Water Resources, Irrigation and Electricity.

A joint study had been slated to start in February to address the concerns but until now had not taken place, something Egypt is disappointed about.

“We are facing a crucial situation, as we signed the contract with the consultancy firm in September 2016. The commencement date was 15th February 2017 and until this moment we are not able to approve the Draft Inception Report…This visit gave us insight regarding the development on the ground related to GERD, which requires urgent actions in order to conclude the discussions, adoption of the draft inception report and finally empower the assigned consultant to complete the requested two studies in due time,” Egyptian Water minister, Dr Mohamed Abdel Aty said.

The studies had been recommended by the International Panel of Experts (IPOE) that was established in May 2012 to address the concerns of downstream countries --Sudan and Egypt -- regarding the safety and impacts of the dam.

Once completed, the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam will be the largest dam in Africa; 1,800 m long, 155 m high and with a total volume of 74,000 million m³.

Ethiopian Electric Power began the construction of the ambitious but controversial dam in 2010 at a total cost of € 3,377.05 million to generate electricity; the dam is expected to produce an estimated 15,000 GWh per year when completed.

Dr Seleshi stressed the need for cooperation in the filling and operation of the dam as one of the 10 principles the three countries agreed on in March 2015 in Khartoum.

“If we focus on the actual pros and cons of GERD, without linking to other complicated issues around Nile discourse, the issue we have would be simpler and I urge you to focus on the pending, but most important issues,” Dr Seleshi said.

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