CAIRO — Egypt appealed to the United Nations Security Council on Friday to intervene in talks over a $4 billion hydroelectric dam being built by Ethiopia on the Blue Nile river.
The request came as tensions continue run high after multiple rounds of talks over decades between Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan have failed to produce a deal for the filling of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam.
“The Arab Republic of Egypt took this decision in light of the stalled negotiations that took place recently on the Renaissance Dam as a result of Ethiopian stances that are not positive,” the foreign ministry said in a statement.
Talks over the dam were halted once again earlier this week without a deal even though Ethiopia is expected to start filling it next month.
The decade-long dispute exposes competing desires of the two nations. Ethiopia aspires to become a major power exporter, opposed to Egypt’s concern that the dam will significantly reduce its water supply if filled too quickly. Egypt, which is almost entirely dependent on the Nile for its fresh-water, is also concerned about Ethiopia using more water during drought years.
Sudan which sits between the two countries has long been caught between the competing interests.
The arrival of the rainy season is bringing more water to the Blue Nile — the main tributary of the river which originates in Lake Tana in Ethiopia — making it an ideal time to begin filling the dam’s reservoir in July.
Egypt and Ethiopia have both hinted at military steps to protect their interests, and experts fear a breakdown in talks could lead to conflict.
Egyptian presidential spokesman Bassam Rady said in a statement that President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi reviewed the fighting units of the country’s air force on Saturday morning. The military is “capable of defending Egypt’s national security inside and beyond the nation’s borders,” he said.
Egypt’s letter to the Security Council on Friday was based on Article 35 of the U.N. Charter, which allows members to alert the council about any issue that could threaten international peace and security.
Despite Egypt’s concerns, the dam is the centerpiece in Ethiopia’s bid to become Africa’s largest power exporter, and the country calls the project a lifeline for millions in poverty.
Ethiopian Foreign Minister Gedu Andargachew told the Associated Press on Friday that his country would start filling the dam next month, even without an agreement.
“For us it is not mandatory to reach an agreement before starting filling the dam, hence we will commence the filling process in the coming rainy season,” he said.
He added that “we want to make it clear that Ethiopia will not beg Egypt and Sudan to use its own water resource for its development,” saying that Ethiopia is paying for the dam’s construction itself.
The U.S. earlier this year tried to broker a deal, but Ethiopia did not attend the signing meeting and accused the Trump administration of siding with Egypt.
Charlene Gubash reported from Cairo and Isobel van Hagen from London.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.