Ethiopia’s statement at the UN Security Council on the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam

29 Jun 2020

Delivered by H.E. Ambassador Taye Atske-Selassie,
Permanent Representative of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia to the United Nations,
at the Security Council open VTC on Peace and Security in Africa
29 June 2020
New York

Check against delivery.

Mr. President,

As a founding member of the United Nations, Ethiopia’s commitment to the principles and purposes of the U.N. Charter has been solid and consistent. It has always been a staunch supporter of the principle of collective security and multilateralism. Ethiopia’s track record in this regard speaks for itself. It has always adhered to, and actively supported and promoted these principles at regional and international levels. In its entire history, Ethiopia has never caused a threat to any country. It has instead been contributing to the cause of peace through its active participation in peacekeeping and peacebuilding since the early days of the United Nations up until now.

This said, let me be clear that Ethiopia does not believe the issue being discussed today has a legitimate place in the Security Council. It is bound to set a bad precedent and open a Pandora’s box. This Council should not be a forum for settling scores and for exerting diplomatic pressure. It is, therefore, regrettable that the Council has allowed itself to be politicized in this manner.

As we have informed the Council, the tripartite negotiation between Ethiopia, Egypt, and the Sudan has not yet been concluded. The three countries have in fact reached consensus on most of the prominent technical issues in the latest rounds of the negotiation. That is why Ethiopia is of the view that progress is at hand and a mutually beneficial agreement is within reach.

Even if the three countries fail to resolve their differences on the outstanding issues, the Declaration of Principles (DoP) ― signed in 2015 by their leaders ― provides for dispute settlement mechanisms, which are yet to be exhausted. Furthermore, the African Union has the necessary goodwill and expertise to help the three countries in bridging their differences and reaching a mutually acceptable solution.

It is indeed lamentable, to say the least, that the principle of complementarity and subsidiarity between the UN and regional organizations, much talked about in this Council, was ignored when the issue related to the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) was unjustifiably brought to its attention. It also contravenes Article 33 of the UN Charter, which stipulates that parties to any dispute, among others, shall first “resort to regional agencies or arrangements.”

Members of the Council are aware that, three days ago, the Bureau of the Assembly of the African Union held an Extraordinary meeting under the Chairmanship of H.E. President Cyril Ramaphosa. As stated in the Communique, issued on 27 June 2020, the three countries agreed to resume negotiations and resolve the remaining issues through tripartite consultations, under “an AU-led process” in the spirit of pan-African solidarity and within the framework of African solutions to African problems. Therefore, the African Union is now seized of the matter, and it is only appropriate that this Council allows the AU-led process to take its course.

Mr. President,

Needless to say, the Nile is as important to Ethiopia as it is to Egypt and the Sudan as a source of livelihood and economic development. The GERD is conceived as a centerpiece of our national development aspirations. Ethiopia generates 86% of the total average annual flow of the Nile waters, but it has never benefited from the river at all. The 1959 agreement between Egypt and the Sudan has apportioned the entire waters of the Nile between the two of them, with Egypt securing the lion’s share, leaving nothing for Ethiopia. That was the most unilateralist decision to have ever been taken concerning transboundary rivers.

This is not all, excellencies. In 1997, Egypt again took another unilateral decision and built the Toshka and Peace Canals, taking the Nile waters away from its natural course. Ethiopia’s repeated complaints over these projects since the mid-1950s fell on deaf ears. The first complaint was made by the government of Emperor Haile Selassie regarding the 1959 agreement. Egypt ignored Ethiopia’s subsequent objections. Despite these historical facts, Egypt continues to accuse Ethiopia of taking unilateralist actions with respect to the building of the GERD.

Mr. President,

Ethiopia is not asking too much; it is seeking to correct past injustices and share this precious resource in an equitable and reasonable manner. Despite being endowed with abundant water resources in the Nile basin, for years, the people of Ethiopia have been deprived of their rights to use this resource to extricate themselves from abject poverty. This is why, for Ethiopia, accessing and utilizing its water resources is not a matter of choice, but of existential necessity.

The unfortunate reality is that today, in 2020, tens of millions of Ethiopians still use firewood as a primary source of fuel ― with severe consequences to their health and the environment. All rural households where 85% of Ethiopians live and nearly two-thirds of school children are forced to stay in darkness. By contrast, nearly 100% of the Egyptian population, both in cities and rural areas, have access to electricity.

Therefore, Ethiopia believes it has a national and moral imperative to do everything in its power to improve the lives of its people. GERD is an answer to Ethiopian mothers’ cries for help, so that they do not have to trek hours to collect firewood. The unfortunate reality is that pregnant mothers are still being carried on stretchers over a long distance due to lack of electricity to access life-saving emergency obstetrics care. The images of young girls with back-breaking loads of firewood on their shoulders is also a daily reality.

Once completed, the Dam will generate 15,700 GWh annually, bringing electricity and an opportunity for a dignified life to more than 65 million people, who currently live in darkness. That is why we are emphasizing, again and again, that GERD is a development project and it cannot in any way be a matter of security threat. If there is a security threat to be discussed, it has to do with the fact that there are millions of Ethiopians living under the poverty line. The dam is meant to uplift these people, and, in a way, it is averting a potential threat rather than posing any. Seeking social progress and better standards of life for our people ― leaving no one behind ― is indeed consistent with the spirit of the U.N. Charter and the Sustainable Development Goals that we all aspire to achieve in 2030. The GERD is also one of the megaprojects envisioned under Ethiopia’s efforts to meet the African Union Agenda 2063.

I should also underline here why the GERD is a people’s project, which is being built by Ethiopians from all walks of life with unprecedented zeal. It is to be recalled that various obstacles were created to prevent Ethiopia from accessing international support. My government is just coordinating a public-owned and public-funded project. Therefore, it has a solemn responsibility to bring this project to a successful completion.

Mr. President,

From the very beginning, Ethiopia took unprecedented initiatives to create understanding with both Egypt and the Sudan on the GERD by, among others, establishing the International Panel of Experts (IPoE), and the Tripartite National Committee (TNC) to implement its recommendations and later the National Independent Scientific Research Group (NISRG) to formulate “different scenarios and the first filling and annual operation of the GERD.”

All these initiatives failed to deliver the desired result because of Egyptian intransigence and its insistence on “historic rights and current use.” The reason why Egypt has been consistently engaged in scuttling the tripartite negotiation has more to do with its own internal domestic situation than anything else. On the other hand, Sudan knows full well the benefits of the Dam, but we understand the challenges of political transition that the country is grappling with at the moment.

Be that as it may, Ethiopia has been guided by the internationally accepted principle of equitable and reasonable utilization and not causing significant harm in building the Dam. Ethiopia cannot harm Egypt and the Sudan through the Dam because, if to harm is not to release water, then building it in the first place would have been meaningless. We are all the people of the Nile. Therefore, Ethiopia cannot harm Egypt without harming itself. The DoP clearly encapsulates Ethiopia’s firm commitment to the principles of transboundary water utilization.

In fact, Ethiopia’s good faith efforts have been unprecedented in the history of transboundary rivers. It does not deserve to be mistreated; it should instead be commended for demonstrating exemplary cooperation. Neither Egypt, nor the Sudan, consulted Ethiopia when they built dams on the Nile river.

Mr. President,

In October 2019, at the request of Egypt, the United States government invited the three countries to Washington, D.C. for consultation. Ethiopia responded positively, in good faith, and hoping that the presence of observers will help facilitate the negotiation. However, Egypt sought to impose unacceptable terms on Ethiopia by leveraging and instrumentalizing the process.  Unfortunately, Egypt’s actions muddied the water even further.

Throughout the course of the negotiations, Ethiopia has shown a great deal of flexibility in the tripartite process to build the necessary trust and confidence. As a demonstration of its good faith gesture, Ethiopia agreed to fill the GERD reservoir from 4 to 7 years, although it could be filled in three years without causing significant harm to Egypt and the Sudan. Furthermore, Ethiopia agreed to postpone the second phase of the first stage filling if annual inflow at the GERD is below 31 Billion Cubic Meters.


The three countries have already agreed on the initial filling of the Dam. Mother nature is in agreement, too. This year is an opportune time to begin impounding water in the GERD reservoir. Currently, both the Blue Nile and the White Nile have above normal flow. Lake Victoria is at a record high level. The High Aswan Dam is also at its full supply level of 182 meters above sea level, which is a record high for the past four decades. During the first stage of impoundment, which is a testing or trial phase, Ethiopia will retain only about one-tenth of the average annual flow of the Blue Nile.

By contrast, every year, twice the amount of the water retained during the initial filling of the GERD is lost to evaporation from the High Aswan Dam. This is in addition to the wastage through water intensive, flood irrigation practices in Egypt. Water is increasingly becoming a scarce commodity. More than 60% of Ethiopia’s surface area is dry land with no sustaining water resources. Egypt, on the other hand, is endowed with plenty of groundwater resources and has access to sea water, which could be desalinated for use.

Mr. President,

In any transboundary watercourse, drought management is the joint responsibility of all riparian countries. But Egypt wants Ethiopia to shoulder the burden of drought alone. This is not acceptable. Water use or dam operation rules are dependent on the availability of water. Hence, operation rules must have special guidelines, catering to different hydrological conditions, including drought. Therefore, the three countries must agree on drought thresholds and cooperative mechanisms for sharing the responsibility for addressing and mitigating any consequences of drought and climate change.

Furthermore, Ethiopia believes that any future dispute, arising from the use of the Blue Nile waters, should be resolved in line with the Principles agreed to in the DoP, which provides for a mechanism that allows the three countries to address their grievances through “conciliation, mediation or [by referring] the matter for the consideration of the Heads of State and/or Government.” Ultimately, Ethiopia believes any agreement must not in any way constrain its sovereign rights to future use and upstream development on the Blue Nile.

Mr. President,

Finally, the involvement of the Security Council on this issue risks hardening positions and making compromise even more difficult. Instead of pronouncing itself on this matter, the Council should differ to the African Union and encourage the three countries to return to the tripartite negotiations as the only means to finding an amicable solution to the remaining outstanding issues. We also hope the Council would be cautious not to amplify differences and undermine the AU-led process.

In this momentous year, marking the 75th anniversary of the United Nations, I wish to recall a moment in history when another Ethiopian leader – Emperor Haile Selassie – spoke before the League of Nations to make a moral case against the scourge of colonialism and the invasion of my country. He warned that, “It is us today, it will be you tomorrow.” The League of Nations, unfortunately, did little to heed that call.

It would be regrettable if Ethiopia’s call today not to politicize and internationalize the issue of the GERD is not heeded by this august Council. We can only hope that the Council will choose to be on the right side of history, for in a lot of ways, the matter being dealt with by the Council today is deeply rooted in a colonial legacy.

Mr. President,

Let me conclude by emphasizing the fact that the Nile Basin countries enjoy one of the oldest relationships in human history. The seeds of our common development were planted thousands of years ago. Our time-tested links through the Nile should provide us with truth and faith to do what is just for the betterment of all of our  peoples. The GERD offers a unique opportunity for transboundary cooperation between our sisterly countries. It should never be an object of competition or mistrust.

In this spirit, Ethiopia will pursue an amicable solution through win-win negotiations. We also seek the understanding of our brothers and sisters from Egypt and Sudan. We are confident that we will reach a cooperative agreement in the coming weeks under the AU-led process.

I thank you.

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