ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia — Egyptian officials tried to cool tensions with Ethiopia Wednesday over the new Nile River dam project by highlighting its “neighborliness” as the Ethiopian prime minister’s spokesman insisted that nothing would stop the dam from being completed upstream from Egypt, which is wholly dependent on Nile River water.
Egypt fears a diminished flow from Africa’s largest dam and hydropower station but Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi said Egypt respects Ethiopia and will not engage in any aggressive acts against the East African nation. Egyptian politicians had suggested the country should sabotage the project in a meeting with the president Monday.
Getachew Reda, a spokesman for Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn, said late Tuesday that Egyptian leaders in the past have unsuccessfully tried to destabilize Ethiopia.
Ethiopia a week ago started diverting the flow of the Nile toward the $4.2 billion hydroelectric plant dubbed the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam. The project is about 20 percent complete.
“The Renaissance Dam is here to stay. It is advisable for all actors of the political establishment in Egypt to come to terms with this reality,” Getachew said in an interview.
Since Ethiopia announced it was going to build the dam in March 2011, it has insisted the water flow to Sudan and Egypt will not be affected. It has initiated a tripartite Egypt-Sudan-Ethiopia experts panel to study the impact of the dam.
The 10-man panel, which includes four international experts, submitted its report to the countries last weekend. Ethiopia’s Ministry of Water and Energy said the report concluded the dam “will not significantly affect” either Sudan or Egypt.
Egyptian political leaders on Monday met Morsi to discuss the report. Apparently unaware their discussion was being televised live, some of them proposed hostile acts including aiding rebels inside Ethiopia and destroying the dam itself. Ethiopian officials long have accused Egypt of backing anti-government rebels in Ethiopia. More than a dozen rebel groups exist in the East African nation, some wanting more autonomy, others a separate state.
“There are on the one hand people who still think that they can turn the clock back on Ethiopia’s development endeavors including of course the construction of the Renaissance Dam,” said Getachew. “Second you have people like President Mohammed Morsi, who according to the reports, said to have stressed that there is no point in trying to force Ethiopians, but the best solution would be to engage to Ethiopians.”
Experts estimate that already water-starved Egypt could lose as much as 20 percent of its water in the three to five years that it would take to fill the massive reservoir. Ethiopia diverted the course of the Blue Nile to make way for ongoing dam construction. The Blue Nile has its source in the Ethiopian mountains and is responsible for 85 percent of the water that reaches Egypt.
The live transmission of the politicians’ comments has kicked off an uproar in Egypt’s independent media, with many government critics saying that carrying the meeting live on TV has shown the extent of Morsi’s mismanagement of a national security issue.