New Ethiopian leader seeks to calm Egypt fears over Nile dam
ADDIS ABABA - Ethiopia's newly appointed prime minister, Abiy Ahmed, said on Thursday that the controversial dam his country is building on the Nile will not harm Egypt's share of water supplies.
Egypt relies almost totally on the Nile for irrigation and drinking water, and says it has "historic rights" to the river, guaranteed by treaties from 1929 and 1959.
It insists the Grand Renaissance Dam will reduce its water supplies from the Nile, and talks on the issue involving Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan have been deadlocked for months.
"We don't have any intention to harm Sudan or Egypt," Ahmed told reporters in Khartoum after meeting Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir.
"In our opinion, utilisation of Nile would benefit the three countries with insignificant harm," Ahmed said in English with Bashir standing next to him.
"The most important thing is to reduce, to minimise the downside of the project and we are doing that in a very responsible manner."
Ethiopia began building the $4-billion dam in 2012, but the mega project has triggered tensions primarily with Egypt as Cairo fears that once commissioned the dam will reduce its water supplies.
Cairo argues the treaties grant it 87 percent of the Nile's flow, as well as the power to veto upstream projects. It fears any reduction of water supplies to the biggest Arab country will affect its agriculture.
Egypt is primarily concerned at the speed at which the dam's reservoir would be filled.
To ease Cairo's concerns a tripartite meeting between the foreign ministers and intelligence chiefs of Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan was held last month in Khartoum but it failed to reach a breakthrough.
Bashir reiterated Khartoum's support for the project.
"We have fully supported the dam since it was at its planning stage," said the Sudanese president.
"We are assured that the share of Sudan and Egypt in Nile water is completely guaranteed."
The Blue and the White Nile tributaries converge in Sudan's capital Khartoum and from there run north through Egypt to the Mediterranean.
The project aims to produce 6,000 megawatts of hydro-electric power -- the equivalent of six nuclear-powered plants.
The dam was initially expected to be commissioned in 2017, but Ethiopian media reports say only about 60 percent has so far been built.