ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia (AP) — Ethiopia’s water minister is denying reports citing him as saying the government had begun filling dam filling the massive hydroelectric dam that has caused severe tensions with Egypt.
Ethiopia has told Sudan that news reports that it had started filling the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam reservoir on the Blue Nile were incorrect, Sudan’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement on Thursday.
After Minister Sileshi Bekele told the Ethiopian Broadcasting Corporation on Wednesday that the dam’s construction and filling “go hand in hand” and confirmed satellite images from recent days showing the dam’s reservoir swelling, media outlets reported that he said the government had begun the filling.
The minister told The Associated Press the images reflected the heavy rains and that inflow was greater than the outflow.
Ethiopia’s latest round of talks with Egypt and Sudan on an agreement over the dam’s operation failed early this week.
Ethiopia says the colossal dam offers a critical opportunity to pull millions of its nearly 110 million citizens out of poverty and become a major power exporter. Downstream Egypt, which depends on the Nile to supply its farmers and booming population of 100 million with fresh water, asserts that the dam poses an existential threat.
Experts fear that filling the dam without a deal could push the countries to the brink of military conflict.
Ethiopian Water Minister Seleshi Bekele said on Wednesday in televised comments, of which a transcript was given to Reuters by his office, that “the construction of the dam and the filling of the water go hand in hand”.
“The filling of the dam doesn’t need to wait until the completion of the dam,” he added.
However, the Sudanese statement quoted the Ethiopian envoy as saying that the minister “did not make the comments attributed to him yesterday about starting the process of filling the dam”.
Addis Ababa is committed to continuing African Union- sponsored talks with Sudan and Egypt over the dam, its envoy was quoted as saying.
Earlier this week talks between the three nations to regulate the flow of water from the dam failed to reach agreement.
Sudan and Egypt both fear the $4 billion hydroelectric dam could lead to water shortages in their own nations.
The project has raised concerns in Egypt that already limited Nile waters will be further restricted. The Blue Nile is a tributary of the Nile from which Egypt gets 90% of its fresh water.
Egypt asked Ethiopia for urgent clarification on whether it had started filling the reservoir, the foreign ministry in Cairo said on Wednesday.