ADDIS ABABA (Reuters) - Ethiopia will deny Egypt a chance to examine a new mega dam it is building on the Nile unless Cairo inks a new deal relinquishing its veto powers over allocation of the river’s waters, an official said on Thursday.
Egypt has been locked for more than a decade in a dispute with other countries through which the river passes, refusing changes to colonial-era treaties contested by Ethiopia and other upstream nations.
Under the pact signed in 1929, Egypt is entitled to 55.5 billion cubic meters a year, the lion’s share of the Nile’s total flow of around 84 billion cubic meters, despite the fact some 85 percent of the water originates in Ethiopia.
Cairo has said it will not recognize a new agreement signed last May, and Ethiopia, ignoring Egypt’s long-standing concerns, started work on the $4.78 billion dam this month.
“We are ready to negotiate and engage ourselves at the higher and technical level, but we are an independent country,” Ethiopian Foreign Minister Hailemariam Desalegn said when asked if Addis Ababa was willing to allow Cairo to inspect the dam over fears it could affect the flow of the river.
“The cooperative framework agreement (signed by upstream countries) gives this option (examination) to all countries, so we have to engage ourselves to an agreement where we can work together equally,” he told a news conference.
Ethiopia has built five huge dams over the last decade and aims to produce 15,000 MW of power within 10 years to overcome chronic power shortages and export to other energy-starved African countries.
Analysts have expressed fears that the dispute over the river could spark war. Tensions rose last month when Burundi joined five other countries -- Ethiopia, Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda, Tanzania -- and signed the new pact.
Egypt, threatened by rising temperatures and a growing population, is almost entirely dependent on the Nile for its water and has been nervously watching hydro-electric power dam projects take shape in upriver nations.
Ethiopia says it will be forced to finance the dam from its own coffers and from the sale of government bonds because Egypt was pressuring donor countries and international lenders not to fund its dam projects.
However, Hailemariam said relations had improved since the downfall of Hosni Mubarak’s autocratic regime in Egypt earlier this year, and that Egyptian authorities were willing to cooperate with the signatory countries.
“There’s a new momentum now in Egypt after the revolution, there’s desire from all sides that we should engage ourselves together, closing all the past chapters, because there were ups and downs in the past,” Hailemariam said.
Editing by George Obulutsa and Michel Rose