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Ethiopia starts filling Grand Renaissance dam, minister says

A general view of the Blue Nile river as it passes through the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD), near Guba in Ethiopia, on 26 December 2019. - The Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam, a 145-metre-high, 1.8-kilometre-long concrete colossus is set to become the largest hydropower plant in Africa. Across Ethiopia, poor farmers and rich businessmen alike eagerly await the more than 6,000 megawatts of electricity officials say it will ultimately provide. Yet as thousands of workers toil day and night to finish the project, Ethiopian negotiators remain locked in talks over how the dam will affect downstream neighbours, principally Egypt. [EDUARDO SOTERAS/AFP via Getty Images]
A general view of the Blue Nile river as it passes through the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD), near Guba in Ethiopia, on 26 December 2019 [EDUARDO SOTERAS / AFP/Getty Images]

Ethiopia has started filling the Grand Renaissance dam, a giant hydroelectric project it is building on the Blue Nile, its water minister said on Wednesday, a day after talks with Sudan and Egypt on the issue became deadlocked, Reuters reports.

“The construction of the dam and the filling of the water go hand in hand,” Seleshi Bekele said in televised comments. “The filling of the dam doesn’t need to wait until the completion of the dam.”

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

Egyptian and Sudanese officials could not immediately be reached for comment. But the move is likely to spark fierce protests from those countries, which also depend on the Nile’s waters.

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

The $4 billion Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam will have an installed capacity of 6,450 megawatts – more than doubling its existing capacity – and is the centrepiece of Ethiopia’s bid to become Africa’s biggest power exporter.

But it has raised concerns in Cairo that already limited Nile waters, on which its population of more than 100 million is almost entirely dependent, would be further restricted. Egypt gets 90% of its fresh water from Nile.

The dam is being built about 15 km (9 miles) from the border with Sudan on the Blue Nile, source of most of the Nile’s waters. Sudan and Egypt have sought a legally binding agreement before the dam is filled.

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