Egyptians enjoy a Nile River cruise in Cairo last week. Egypt has demanded Ethiopia stop building a dam on one of the main tributaries of the Nile, citing fears the project will affect Egypt's main source of water.   Picture: REUTERS
Egyptians enjoy a Nile River cruise in Cairo last week. Egypt has demanded Ethiopia stop building a dam on one of the main tributaries of the Nile, citing fears the project will affect Egypt's main source of water. Picture: REUTERS

ADDIS ABABA — In defiance of stern warnings, Ethiopia’s parliament on Thursday ratified an accord that replaces colonial-era deals that awarded Egypt and Sudan the majority of the world’s longest river — the Nile.

The vote comes amid verbal jousting between Ethiopia and Egypt after the former started to divert Nile waters for a massive $4.2bn hydroelectric dam dubbed the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam last month.

Ethiopia’s growing economy frequently suffers from power cuts and needs more electrical capacity. But Egypt fears that the dam will mean a diminished share of the Nile, which provides almost all of the desert nation’s water needs.

Egyptian politicians have suggested attacks to sabotage the dam, and Egyptian President Mohamed Mursi warned on Monday that "all options are open" to challenge Ethiopia’s Nile project.

Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn responded on Tuesday, forcefully vowing that "nothing" and "no-one" will stop the dam’s construction. He downplayed the prospect of conflict, saying Egypt’s leaders would not go to war unless they "go mad".

African Union head Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma on Wednesday urged dialogue and co-operation between Ethiopia, Egypt and Sudan.

A 10-person Egypt-Sudan-Ethiopia panel of experts concluded that the dam will not "significantly affect" water flow to Egypt and Sudan, according to Ethiopian officials. Sudan said it accepts the outcome of the finding and this week announced that it supports Ethiopia’s project.

Ethiopia’s parliament has unanimously endorsed the new Nile River Co-operative Framework Agreement, an accord already signed by five other Nile River countries.

The accord is the product of decade-long negotiations. It was conceived to replace the 1929 treaty written by the UK that awarded Egypt veto power over upstream countries’ Nile projects. Sudan and Egypt signed a deal in 1959 splitting the Nile waters between them without giving other countries consideration.

The new co-operative agreement — signed by Ethiopia, Rwanda, Tanzania, Uganda, Kenya and Burundi — aims to establish a commission to oversee Nile projects. The Democratic Republic of Congo and South Sudan, which seceded from Sudan in 2011, have announced plans to join the new pact. Eritrea is participating as an observer in the 10-nation Nile Basin Initiative.

Egypt has previously said it accepts most of the agreement. But it opposes a clause saying member countries would work to ensure "not to significantly affect the water security of any other Nile Basin state". Egypt wanted the clause to say countries would not "adversely affect the water security and current uses and rights of any other Nile" states.

Ethiopian Water and Energy Minister Alemayehu Tegenu told parliament that Ethiopia made two bold decisions concerning the dam. The first, he said, was to postpone ratification of the agreement by a year to accommodate Egypt’s request for time until an elected government was in place.

"The second one was to let experts, including from Egypt and Sudan, inspect our Renaissance Dam," he said. "No other country does this but we did it in co-operation and a friendly spirit. But we are seeing how our good intentions are being responded to. We can no longer wait. We need to go ahead with the ratification."

After ratifying the legislation, legislators called on the other five signatory countries to follow suit.

The dam has been under construction for two years on the Blue Nile in Ethiopia’s Benishangul-Gumuz region, near Sudan.

Sapa-AP