On Dec. 29, Ethiopia, Egypt and Sudan signed the "Khartoum document," an agreement on the terms of moving forward with the problematic venture.
The agreement mandates technical assessments on the throughput of the dam and studies on the environmental impact on Sudan and Egypt. These new studies, to be conducted over the next year, will be managed by two separate French consulting firms, which were agreed upon jointly by the three countries involved.
It is notable that Ethiopia has agreed not to divert any water from the Nile River into the reservoir until the studies are complete and there is a consensus on managing dam operations. Currently the Nile River is diverted around the construction site, but it is the removal of volume from this stream into the reservoir — which could take up to six years — that could greatly reduce water supplies into Egypt. Eventually, the static water in the reservoir will also lead to a reduction in volume because of evaporation, which could deteriorate water quality. Holding back on filling the reservoir is something that Egypt has requested for quite some time, but until now, Ethiopia had been hesitant to commit. That Addis Ababa has finally agreed to proceed with negotiations, risking slowing construction, is a clear sign of its desire to reach a regional consensus. This is further proved by allowing Egypt a voice in logistical discussions and the consideration given to adding more gates to the dam to ensure sufficient throughput.
Egypt has a critical interest in securing its historical water rights and is insistent that Ethiopia sign a legally binding deal with enforcement guarantees, which Ethiopia has been unwilling to do. Egypt also wants to be part of the dam administration, but Ethiopia has so far only allowed it an investment role.
The dam is reported to be about 50 percent complete right now, and water is being diverted around the construction site. Still, even though construction is far along, Ethiopia has been unable to secure foreign investment for the project, and less than 30 percent of the total $4.8 billion price tag to complete the dam has been secured. Unless Ethiopia manages to secure the required funding, completion of the dam could easily be delayed by several years. This is precisely why negotiations are so important: The better negotiations go, the better Ethiopia's chances for obtaining funding.
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