UN ready to resolve Blue Nile dam disagreement

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The UN is ready to support Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan in efforts to resolve a decade-long disagreement over the Great Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD), senior officials told the Security Council this week.

UN Special Envoy for the Horn of Africa, Parfait Onanga-Anyanga, reported recent AU negotiations yielded little progress.

The parties were unable to agree a framework for engagement to settle outstanding issues, including a dispute resolution mechanism and management of the dam during protracted drought.

“The UN remains available to promote a win-win solution in supporting Member States to navigate this complex issue, where genuine political will, compromise and good neighbourliness are essential,” he said.

The GERD dispute dates back to April 2011, when Ethiopia began building the dam on the Blue Nile, set to be the largest hydro-electric power project in Africa.

When finished, it will store 74 billion cubic metres of water and generate more than 5 000 megawatts of electricity.

Construction is nearing completion and last year the reservoir behind the dam began to fill for the first time. Ethiopia this week said it is filling again.

Egypt and Sudan object, stating any further filling should occur in the context of an agreed framework.

While shared water resources are the cause of contention, they can also be a foundation for co-operation, the head of the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), Inger Andersen, told ambassadors.

“At this stage and with other sources of regional tension increasing, we must recognise overcoming differences among the parties involved will require careful, meticulous work, supported by technical and legal experts and with a determination by the three states to arrive at a co-operative solution, in pursuit of sustainable development for all in the spirit of ‘one river, one people, one vision’,” she said.

Andersen maintains agreement on the dam can and must be reached, underlining UN readiness to support the countries and the AU, to reach an agreement beneficial to all.

Co-operation among the three countries has never been more important as demand for water rises, she added. This is due to factors including population growth, urbanisation and industrialisation. At the same time, they face a threat of increased flooding and more intense droughts, due to climate change.

“It is imperative the parties work together to manage these inter-connected challenges. To reach an optimal agreement, trust and transparency and open engagement will be key.”