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Sudan declines Ethiopian proposal for data sharing on GERD filling

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A handout satellite image shows a view of the GERD and the Blue Nile River in Ethiopia on July 12 2020. (Maxar Technologies/Reuters)April 10, 2021 (KHARTOUM) - Sudan has declined an Ethiopian offer to share data on the second filling of a giant dam before reaching a legally binding agreement. Egypt has adopted a similar position.

Ethiopia’s foreign ministry on Saturday said it has formally requested Sudan and Egypt to "nominate dam operators to exchange data before the second filling of the GERD commences in the upcoming rainy seasons in Ethiopia".

"In the letters addressed to Minister of Water Affairs of Sudan and Egypt, the Minister of Water Affairs of Ethiopia invited the two countries to nominate focal persons/ dam operators to exchange data among the three countries with regards to the second-year filling which will take place in July and August 2021".

The Ethiopian offer triggered an immediate rejection in Khartoum by both the foreign affairs and the water ministries.

"Any sharing of information without a legally binding agreement comes as a gift from Ethiopia that can be held back at any moment," said the Sudanese Foreign Minister, Mariam al-Mahdi in a statement on Saturday morning.

"It is important to reach a legally binding agreement on the information of the filling and operation together and not one without the other," al-Mahdi further stressed.

Ethiopian officials say nearly 80% of the dam has been built and plan to carry out a preliminary energy-generating trial this year before reaching its full capacity of 15,695 gigawatt-hours (GWh) annually, in the future.

In a separate statement, the Irrigation Ministry said that the Ethiopian irrigation minister in a letter on Thursday 8 April informed Sudan they will release about one billion cubic meters of water in less than 48 hours to test the lower gates of the dam.

"This is a short period for taking preventive technical measures, showing the importance of reaching a binding agreement before filling the dam," stressed the statement.

The ministry further added these measures mean that part of the filling process will take place during May and June, contrary to the agreed schedules that provide the start of filling in next July.

"This will put pressure on the Sudanese electricity generation system," added the emphasized.

It worth mentioning that the technical details of the filling process have been agreed upon by the parties during the 9-years talks.

The irrigation ministry stressed the need to strike a binding agreement according to which the parties can manage their needs in water and strategic projects adding that it remains possible to negotiate it in one week.

Ethiopia had proposed to negotiate two separate deals one on the filling and another on the operation of the dam. Also, they repeatedly said that the downstream countries want to control the Blue Nile water.

Last year, they proposed to negotiate a water-sharing deal but Cairo and Khartoum rejected the idea pointing it was not part of the 2015 Declaration of Principles. As a result, Addis Ababa proposed to restart talks from scratch.

Sudan during the past years sought to reassure Ethiopia and often backed its positions even when Egypt lodged a complaint to the UN Security Council, Khartoum backed the idea to maintain the file at the level of the African Union.

However, Sudanese authorities have been surprised by the unilateral filling of the first phase without any notification from Addis Ababa.

The irrigation minister said in December 2020, Addis Abba refused to respond to their question about the sudden change of the percentage of silt in the water saying any information sharing will be effective once an agreement is signed.

(ST)

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