The House Foreign Affairs Committee addressed outstanding issues involving Ethiopia, Sudan and Egypt over Ethiopia’s Nile Dam during a hearing on Tuesday.
Acting Assistant Secretary of State for the Bureau of African Affairs Robert Godec testified before the committee along with Sarah Charles, assistant to the administrator of the USAID Office of Humanitarian Assistance. Most of the audience focused on the conflict in Ethiopia’s Tigray region.
Some members also mentioned the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD). Ethiopia built the massive hydroelectric dam to provide water to its population of over 110 million and help alleviate poverty. Downstream nations of Egypt and Sudan believe unilaterally filling the dam without a deal could dangerously lower the water levels of the Nile and connected rivers in their territories. Ethiopia filled the dam last July during East Africa’s rainy season and plans to do so again this summer.
US policy on GERD continues to favor a negotiated settlement, and Godec said the United States continues to support African Union efforts in this regard.
Republican Rep. Darrell Issa of California compared the current humanitarian disaster of the Tigray War to what could happen to ‘close and powerful ally’ Egypt if Ethiopia fills the dam faster than Egypt can. do it.
“If the dam is completed and Ethiopia chooses to fill it at the rate they are threatening and negotiations are not yet settled, the impact on Egypt at a minimum…would certainly be equally disastrous and devastating,” he said. said Isa.
He said there would be a risk of “poverty and famine” if the Nile water was “cut off”.
Godec said there are solutions on the table that address Egypt’s concerns.
“There are technical solutions that are for all parties, that allow Ethiopia to build the dam and have electricity, that allow Egypt to have water, that allow in Sudan to have water,” Godec said.
Godec said the question on the GERD is whether the states involved are willing to reach a lasting agreement.
“The problem is really a question of political will,” he said. “The leaders of these countries really need to come to an agreement.”
Issa also warned against a war between the countries involved that would be “pale in comparison” to that in Tigray. He then asked why the State Department trusted the Ethiopian government of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, which faces international criticism for its handling of the war.
Godec responded by saying that they continue to urge Addis Ababa to reach an agreement on the GERD.
“We believe it is ultimately in the interests of the Ethiopian people to have an agreement,” he said.
Republican Representative Tim Burchett of Tennessee also asked witnesses if there could be a war, citing the al-Fashaga border dispute between Ethiopia and Sudan and joint military exercises between Egypt and Sudan.
“Al-Fashaga’s border dispute poses a risk of conflict in the region,” Godec said.
The diplomat said that the US government had discussed the border issue with Sudan and Ethiopia.
The conversation resembled a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on Ethiopia in May. During that hearing, Republican Senator Jim Risch of Idaho also lamented the prospect of war between Egypt and Ethiopia over the dam. Godec also said there was a “lack of political will” among the countries involved at the time.
The hearing also included a brief mention of the UAE’s role in the GERD dispute. The UAE is an ally of Egypt but also enjoys warm relations with Ethiopia. Abu Dhabi has come out in favor of a filling agreement.
Godec referred to the UAE’s “deep engagement” during the hearing, describing it as “useful”.