The government of Ethiopia has described preparations for land clearing behind the controversial Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) ahead of commencing filling its Blue Nile reservoir with water in July.

Bashir Abdel Rahim, Director General of Ethiopia’s Job Creation Agency said 30 June that more than 2,000 workers will be deployed to remove trees, shrubs and stones from the land behind the dam, with a total of 1,000 hectares to be cleared within 45 days.

This comes after Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan agreed to resume technical discussions on filling the dam on 21st May, following virtual talks between Sudanese Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok and Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed.

Earlier talks between the three parties fell through after Ethiopia refused to sign an agreement citing bias against it. The EU has said that resolving the dispute is important for stability in the whole region and welcomed Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia’s decision to resume technical talks between the ministers of water resources.

Ethiopia and Egypt are both undertaking efforts to enlist international support for respective positions about the dam, and now the UN Security Council has been approached from the Egyptian side.

A series of international tours have been conducted by diplomats from the two countries in recent weeks, after the failure of a US-sponsored agreement at the end of February and Ethiopia’s announcement of its intention to begin filling the dam reservoir in July this year, following a decade of fraught negotiations between the Nile Basin countries.

However, the US Treasury and the World Bank maintained that the earlier agreement addressed “all issues in a balanced and equitable manner… taking into account the interests of Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan”. In a statement, it also warned Ethiopia that “final testing and filling (of the dam) should not take place without an agreement.”

Egypt has written a letter to the international community calling on Ethiopia to respect international legal obligations to the 2015 Declaration of Principles around the project, and to reconsider its position and to accept the agreement on the filling and operation of the dam initiated by Egypt in February 2020.

Stakes are high on the massive dam which sits on the Blue Nile River about 20 miles from the Sudan border. The Ethiopian government has had to resettle about 20,000 people since construction commenced in 2011. GERD is on course to become the largest hydroelectric power plant in Africa upon completion.

It is estimated the dam will have the capacity to inject 6450 MW into Ethiopia’s electric grid. In addition, the dam will be able to absorb all flood causing runoff, irrigate 500,000 acres of land and supply water to the region.

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