UN chief António Guterres wants Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan to overcome differences and reach agreement on the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam.
The Secretary-General noted “good progress” in negotiations between the three countries to achieving a mutually beneficial agreement.
Going up along the Blue Nile near the Sudan border and under construction since 2011, the $4.5 billion dam – also known by its acronym GERD – will be Africa’s biggest hydro-electric power plant when completed.
Negotiations centre on the pace at which Ethiopia fills the 74 billion cubic metre reservoir behind the dam and the impact on water supplies downstream in Sudan and Egypt.
Ethiopia is keen to start filling the reservoir in July.
“The Secretary-General stresses the importance of the 2015 Declaration of Principles on the GERD, which emphasise co-operation based on common understanding, mutual benefit, good faith, win-win and international law,” Guterres’ spokesman said.
Cairo, Addis Ababa and Khartoum are all willing to resume discussions, but differences persist over the appropriate mechanism for talks.
UN experts say Egypt wants to put international pressure on Ethiopia to agree to a proposal – put forward by the US and World Bank – on the dam’s first filling and annual operation.
Ethiopia rejects that as limiting the dam’s capacity to generate electricity and curtailing rights to future upstream development among others.
Egypt also insists Ethiopia must not start filling the reservoir until agreement is reached, in line with its interpretation of the Declaration Ethiopia is contesting.
The Declaration, signed in March 2015, outlines the parties’ commitment to co-operation and to resolve differences through negotiations. It states if a dispute cannot be resolved the matter can be referred to heads of state and government with an option of a joint request for mediation.
Ethiopia favours resolving the dispute at trilateral level and has historically been against internationalising the issue, seeing no mediation role for the UN.
Earlier in May the Sudan Ministry of Irrigation said the country could not agree to an Ethiopian proposal on initial filling as it failed to address longer term technical, legal and environmental issues.