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Ethiopia starts filling dam after talks with Egypt, Sudan stall

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Dawit Endeshaw

ADDIS ABABA (Reuters) – Ethiopia has begun filling the reservoir behind the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam, its water minister said on Wednesday, a day after talks with Sudan and Egypt on the giant Blue Nile hydroelectric project stalled.

The comments by Seleshi Bekele did not address whether Ethiopia had closed the gates of the dam, or the role of recent heavy rains in filling the area behind it. The minister and his spokesman did not return calls seeking clarification.

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The project has raised concerns in Egypt that already limited Nile waters, which its 100 million people depend on heavily, 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 of whether it had started filling the dam, the foreign ministry said.

“The construction of the dam and the filling of the water go hand in hand,” Seleshi said in televised comments, a transcript of which was provided to Reuters by his spokesman. “The filling of the dam doesn’t need to wait until the completion of the dam.”

The water level had increased from 525 metres to 560 metres, he said.

The $4 billion dam, when finished, will have an installed capacity of 6,450 megawatts – more than doubling Ethiopia’s existing capacity – and is the centrepiece of the country’s bid to become Africa’s biggest power exporter.

The dam is being built about 15 km (9 miles) from the border with Sudan. Sudan and Egypt have sought a legally binding agreement before the dam is filled.

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Sudan’s Ministry of Irrigation and Water Resources said it was prompted to investigate after satellite images appeared to show the dam filling.

“It was evident from the flow meters in the al-Deim border station with Ethiopia that there is a retreat in the water levels, equivalent to 90 million cubic meters per day, confirming the closure of the gates of the Renaissance Dam,” it said in a statement.

Sudan rejects any unilateral actions taken by any party as negotiating efforts continue, it said.

On Tuesday, talks between the three nations to regulate the flow of water from the dam failed to reach agreement.