A reservoir behind the disputed Ethiopian Great Renaissance dam on the Nile has started to fill with water – a day after talks with Egypt and Sudan ended, officials said.
Ethiopian Minister of Water Seleshi Bekele has confirmed the latest satellite images showing rising water levels.
Ethiopia considers the hydroelectric project to be crucial for its economic growth.
But Egypt and Sudan, which are downstream, fear that the big dam will significantly reduce their access to water.
Years of difficult negotiations have failed to reach a consensus on how and when to fill the tank and how much water it should release.
Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry had previously warned that filling and operating the dam without an agreement “which protect downstream communities … would increase tensions and could cause crises and conflicts that would further destabilize an area already in difficulty “.
A conflict between Egypt and Ethiopia, both of which are allies of the United States, would put millions of civilians at risk.
What did the minister say?
Seleshi told Ethiopian television station EBC on Wednesday that water had started to fill the reservoir “in accordance with the natural process”, adding: “The construction of the dam and the filling of the water go hand in hand.”
His comments come after satellite images taken between June 27 and July 12 show a steady increase in the amount of water held by the dam.
The reservoir behind the dam will naturally fill during the rainy season in Ethiopia, which started in June and lasts until September.
The latest satellite images have sparked enthusiasm in Ethiopia about the $ 4 billion (£ 3.2 billion) Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (Gerd) dam project, but have raised concerns in Egypt.
A large reservoir begins to form behind the dam
July 12, 2020
June 26, 2020
When fully operational, the dam will become the largest hydroelectric power station in Africa, providing electricity to some 65 million Ethiopians, who currently lack a regular supply of electricity. However, Egypt draws almost all of its water from the Nile and fears that the dam will reduce its supplies.
How will the dam be filled?
The minister’s announcement confirmed that rainwater has already started to accumulate. Ethiopia has always said it will fill the roadblock in July, while Egypt has warned it to delay further talks.
Given the stage where construction is “there is nothing to prevent the reservoir from filling up to the lowest point of the dam,” Dr Kevin Wheeler, who has been monitoring the Gerd project since 2012, told the BBC.
Since the process began in 2011, the dam has been built around the Blue Nile as it continues to cross the huge construction site.
Africa’s largest hydroelectric project
Construction has startedon the Blue Nile in 2011
The cost of $ 4 billionwas partially met by citizens buying bonds
The power generatedwill transform the lives of millions of Ethiopians
Egypt worriedbecause it rests almost entirely on the water of the Nile
It is downstreamof the dam and wants a guaranteed water flow
Negotiationshave so far failed to reach agreement on some key issues
Source: Reuters / BBC
The builders could work on the large structures on either side of the river without any problems. In the middle, during the dry season, the river was diverted by culverts or pipes to allow the construction of this section.
The bottom of the middle section is now complete and the river is currently crossing bypass canals at the foot of the wall.
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As the impact of the rainy season begins to be felt at the dam site, the amount of water that can pass through these canals will soon be less than the amount of water entering the area, which means that it will increase further and increase the lake that will sit behind the dam, said Dr. Wheeler.
Ethiopian authorities may close the doors of some of the canals to increase the amount of water retained, but this may not be necessary, he added.
How long does it take to fill?
In the first year, Gerd will conserve 4.9 billion cubic meters (m3) of water, bringing it up to the lowest point of the dam wall, allowing Ethiopia to test the first set of turbines. On average, the total annual flow of the Blue Nile is 49 billion cubic meters.
During the dry season, the lake will recede a little, which will make it possible to build the dam wall and in the second year, an additional 13.5 billion m3 will be conserved.
At that point, the water level should have reached the second set of turbines, which means that the water flow can be managed more deliberately.
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Ethiopia says it will take between five and seven years to fill the dam to its maximum capacity of 74 billion m3 for the flood season. At that time, the lake to be created could recede approximately 250 km (155 miles) upstream.
Between each subsequent flood season, the reservoir will be lowered to 49.3 billion cubic meters.
Egypt, which depends almost entirely on the Nile for its water needs, fears that for most years of filling, it will not be guaranteed a specific volume of water.
And once the filling phase is over, Ethiopia hesitates to be linked to a figure indicating the amount of water to be released.
In years of normal or above average precipitation, this should not be a problem, but Egypt is concerned about what might happen during a prolonged drought.
What’s going on with the talks?
Negotiations on the mega dam have not resulted in an agreement after nearly a decade of talks between Egypt and Ethiopia, with Sudan caught between the two.
Last year, Egypt requested the intervention of the United States in the impasse.
Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah al-Sissi has asked US President Donald Trump to mediate the conflict, which Ethiopia was initially reluctant to accept.
The United States and the World Bank got involved but failed to get Ethiopia to sign a document agreed with Egypt in February.
When the United States then declared that the dam should not be completed without agreement, Ethiopia accused the superpower of having overstepped its role as a neutral observer.
The African Union (AU) has said it will try to find a solution.