Ethiopia has acknowledged the water levels behind the giant hydroelectric dam it is building on the Blue Nile River are increasing, though officials described this a natural part of the construction process.
The Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (Gerd) has been a source of tension in the Nile River basin ever since Ethiopia broke ground on it in 2011, with downstream countries Egypt and Sudan worried it will restrict vital water supplies.
Addis Ababa says the project offers a critical opportunity to pull millions of its nearly 110 million citizens out of poverty. It has had long intended to begin filling the dam’s reservoir this month, in the middle of its rainy season, though it has not said exactly when.
Cairo and Khartoum are pushing for the three countries first to reach an agreement on how it will be operated.
“The Gerd water filling is being done in line with the dam’s natural construction process,” Seleshi Bekele, Ethiopia’s water minister, was quoted by state media as saying on Wednesday, a day after talks with Sudan and Egypt on the project stalled.
He said the water level had increased from 525 metres to 560 metres, but did not say whether Ethiopia had taken steps to store the water in the reservoir. The area has also seen recent heavy rainfall.
Seleshi had tweeted earlier in the day: “The inflow into the reservoir due to heavy rainfall and runoff exceeded the outflow and created natural pooling. This continues until overflow is triggered soon.”
William Davison, an analyst with International Crisis Group (ICG), said Ethiopia has not stated explicitly whether the water backing up behind the dam is due to the remaining outlets being closed, or whether it is simply water accumulating behind the almost complete structure during the rainy season”.
Egypt has asked Ethiopia for urgent clarification on the matter, its foreign ministry said.
Cairo told the United Nations last month it faces an “existential threat” from the hydroelectric dam.
Sudan’s government, meanwhile, said water levels on the Blue Nile had declined by 90 million cubic metres per day after Ethiopia started filling the dam on its side of the border.
Sudan rejects unilateral actions taken by any party as negotiating efforts continue between the two countries and Egypt, its irrigation ministry said in a statement.
“It was evident from the flow metres in the Dimim border station with Ethiopia that there is a retreat in the water levels … confirming the closure of the gates of the Renaissance Dam,” it said.
Relying on the Nile for more than 90 percent of its water supply and already facing high water stress, Egypt fears a devastating effect on its population of 100 million.—Al Jazeera