Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan must solve the water crisis in two months

At a meeting held in Washington and sponsored by the United States, which has been attended by mediators Steven Mnuchin, secretary of the US Treasury, and David Malpassto, president of the World Bank, the delegations of the three countries of the Tripartite Technical Committee on the Great Dam of the Ethiopian Renaissance (GERD), led by Foreign Affairs Ministers -Sameh Shoukry (Egypt), Gedu Andargachew (Ethiopia) and Asma Mohamed Abdalla (Sudan) – have reaffirmed “Its joint commitment to reach a comprehensive, cooperative, adaptive, sustainable and mutually beneficial agreement on filling and operation” of the installation, according to a statement published by the Treasury.

This has been translated, in practice, into the elaboration of a roadmap composed of a series of meetings in which work will be carried out to achieve this goal. The first meeting will take place on December 9 and the second, on January 13, 2020. These meetings will be supported, in turn, by four government technical sessions at ministerial level, specifically, those responsible for Water Portfolios and Water Resources, which have traditionally led the negotiations forming the so-called Tripartite Technical Committee: Mohamed Abdel Aati, from the Egyptian side; Seleshi Bekele, on the Ethiopian side; and Yasser Abbas, on the Sudanese side.

The plan must be completed before January 15, 2020, deadline that the three nations have set as a goal to reach a definitive agreement on the GERD, under construction on the Blue Nile. 2020 is also the year in which the beginning of the infrastructure filling process is scheduled.

If an agreement is not reached for that day, the invocation of article 10 of the Declaration of Principles of the year 2015 has been decreed, which postulates that “if the parties cannot resolve the dispute through consultation or negotiation, they may jointly request conciliation, mediation or refer the matter to the heads of State or Government ”. Then, if this circumstance were to occur, the matter would rise to a national level, in which the leaders of the three countries would have to take full responsibility: the Egyptian president, Abdel Fattah al-Sisi; the president of Ethiopia, Sahle-Work Zewde or the prime minister Abiy Ahmed -Recently awarded the Nobel Peace Prize-; and the president of the Sovereign Council of Sudan, Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, or, also, the prime minister Abdalla Hamdok.

At this point, too the possibility of introducing the figure of an external mediator is contemplated, in the same way that Mnuchin and Malpassto have exercised this role in this Wednesday's meeting. Although the first option, as has been proven, has always been the United States, it has also been contemplated that Nigeria will mediate in the crisis. Egyptian Parliament spokesman Ali Abdel-Aal Sayed Hamad sent a request to the Nigerian president, Muhammadu Buhari, to assist in resolving the conflict. At the moment, the response to the request has not been known. Also, Russia has expressed its willingness to offer "assistance" through the Kremlin spokesman, Dmitry Peskov.

The adoption of this commitment comes after a chain of failed negotiations. Two previous ministerial meetings have been held: September 15 and 16; and on October 4 and 5, in which the positions could not be approached. However, the dialogue round welcomed a new momentum on October 24, where Al-Sisi and Abiy Ahmed met in the framework of the first Russian-African Summit that took place in Sochi. The conclusion of the meeting was that both parties agreed to “resume the work of the Technical Committee in a more open and positive way, to reach a final vision on the rules for filling and operating the dam”, Said the spokesman for the Egyptian president.

The positions have been facing nine years, since the engineering mega project was announced in 2011, mainly due to the question of filling the dam and its subsequent management. It should be remembered, at this point, that although Ethiopia can be an unprecedented revulsive for the development of its economy, because once the 16 turbines of the dam are turned on, the installation of 6,000 megawatts – equivalent to six nuclear power plants- it will increase the country's electricity supply by up to 150% at a stroke, which would provide energy to 57.9% of the Ethiopian population it currently does not reach; for Egypt it can mean the loss of up to 25% of access to fresh water for at least three years, since 90% of the Egyptian supply of that resource comes from the Nile River. In the middle of the dispute, is Sudan , which has 650 kilometers of river in its territory – out of a total of 1,450 – and which, so far, has played a more passive than proactive role in the dispute.

According to the expert hydrologists consulted by Reuters, "A country faces water shortage if supplies are less than 1,000 cubic meters per person per year". Current levels in Egypt have already fallen below that value, up to 570 cubic meters, and it is expected to reach 500 by 2025. However, this forecast does not take into account the reduction that will bring the commissioning of the GERD, dated to the year 2022, so it is quite likely that the decline is much more pronounced.

Therefore, while Ethiopia is committed to a total filling time of between four and seven years, from Egypt they defend a more extensive process, so that they can prepare in the best possible way before the expected loss of freshwater line.

For the International Crisis Group (ICG), in addition to reaching an agreement before January 15, 2020, "the most stable solution to the conflict is through a partnership in development" between Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan. “In the long term, ICG supports the idea that the three countries, along with the other eight that share the waters of the Nile (South Sudan, Eritrea, Kenya, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Burundi, Rwanda, Uganda and Tanzania) establish a broader agreement to share resources through the Nile Basin Commission, which will be formed once six of the eleven riparian nations ratify the Cooperative Framework Agreement (CFA), ”a 2010 document prepared by the Nile Basin Initiative (NBI) that includes the principles, rights and obligations for cooperative management and the development of water resources of the longest river in the world, a designation that is disputed with the Amazon.