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In this file photo handout satellite image obtained courtesy of Maxar Technologies on July 21, 2020 shows a view of northwestern Ethiopia that focuses on the status of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) and the Blue Nile River on July 11, 2020. Image Credit: AFP

Abu Dhabi: the UN Security Council adopted on Wednesday a presidential statement on the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD), calling for a resumption of the negotiations led by the African Union (AU) to reach a “binding agreement on the filling and operation of the GERD”. This was the first Security Council product on the issue.

Egypt welcomed the presidential statement by the Security Council, saying “it comes in confirmation of the special importance that members of the Security Council attach to the issue of the Renaissance Dam, and in recognition of the importance of containing its negative repercussions on international peace and security, and of their responsibility to remedy any deterioration in the situation resulting from not paying the necessary attention to it.”

Egypt’s Foreign Ministry added: “In light of its mandatory nature, the Security Council presidential statement represents an important impetus for the efforts made for the success of the African negotiating track, which requires Ethiopia to engage seriously and with a sincere political will, to reach a binding legal agreement about the rules for filling and operating the Renaissance Dam.

For her part, Sudanese Foreign Minister Maryam Al Mahdi expressed her country’s aspiration to resume negotiations under the leadership of the African Union, stressing at the same time the need to change the “ineffective” methodology in the previous negotiations on the dam.

Al Mahdi reiterated that continuing to fill the Renaissance Dam without an agreement represents a direct threat to Sudan’s interests.

The ongoing dispute concerns a major dam on the Blue Nile and dates back to 2011, when Ethiopia started the construction of the GERD-- a hydropower dam which is reported to have an expected capacity of 6,000 megawatts and to cost $4 billion.

While Ethiopia argues that the dam is vital for its development, downriver countries Egypt and Sudan have expressed concern that the GERD threatens their own water supply.

In March 2015, Egypt, Ethiopia, and Sudan signed a Declaration of Principles on the GERD, in which they committed to the equitable and reasonable use of water resources.

However, disagreements among the three states have persisted on some aspects of the functioning of the dam, including the filling and operations of the GERD during periods of drought and on a dispute resolution mechanism, preventing the parties from reaching common ground. Negotiations on the outstanding issues, including under the auspices of the AU, have yielded little progress.

The dispute was first discussed by the Security Council on 29 June 2020, in conjunction with the first filling of the GERD by Ethiopia. When Addis Ababa’s intention to move forward with the second filling of the dam became clear earlier this year, the dispute again garnered international attention.

On 15 June, following a meeting requested by Egypt and Sudan, the League of Arab States (LAS) adopted a resolution, which called on the UN Security Council to discuss the dispute and on Ethiopia to refrain from filling the dam without first having reached an agreement with the countries affected.

In a 15 June statement, the Ethiopian Ministry of Foreign Affairs rejected the LAS resolution “in its entirety”. Tunisia— a member of both the UN Security Council and the LAS—has raised the issue within the Security Council, requesting a meeting on the GERD (which was held on 8 July) and leading the negotiations on a Council product.

In the presidential statement, the Security Council “encourages” Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan to restart the AU-led negotiations “to finalise expeditiously the text of [a] mutually acceptable and binding agreement on the filling and operation of the GERD”.

Similarly, the Council calls upon the three countries to resume the negotiation process “in a constructive and cooperative manner.”