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Nile Powers Set End of Month to Finalize U.S.-Backed Deal on Dam

Saleha Mohsin

(Bloomberg) -- Egyptian and Ethiopian officials agreed to finalize by end-January a pact on the filling and operations of a giant dam Ethiopia is building on the Nile, as the U.S. tries to broker an end to a dispute between two of its key African allies.

The countries and mutual neighbor Sudan announced plans for the Jan. 28-29 meetings on Wednesday after talks in Washington this week observed by the U.S. Treasury and World Bank.

They’d previously set a deadline of Jan. 15 to resolve the dispute over the use of crucial freshwater by the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam, which is set to be Africa’s biggest hydro-power project when completed.

Egyptian, Ethiopian and Sudanese officials reconfirmed that the dam on the Blue Nile will be filled in stages and in an “adaptive and cooperative manner,” according to a joint statement from the African countries, U.S. and World Bank. It didn’t give significant new details.

U.S. President Donald Trump met the foreign, water resources ministers of Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan earlier this week, where he reaffirmed Washington’s “support for a cooperative, sustainable, and mutually beneficial agreement among the parties,” according to the White House.

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin intervened late last year in the long-running dispute over the dam, where the most pressing current issue is how to fill the reservoir -- a process crucial to ensuring a reliable flow to Egypt, which depends on the Nile for almost all its fresh water. Ethiopia wants the filling to happen as quickly as possible to produce the power central to its economic plans.

Egypt is urging parties to respect a 1959 pact on water allowances, which Ethiopia says should be reworked because it dates to the colonial era.

Construction on the dam is five years behind schedule and probably well over its original 3.4 billion-euro ($3.8 billion) budget. When the government ran short on funding, ordinary Ethiopians were tapped for donations, and civil servants donated parts of their salaries. Ethiopia’s government recently said the filling will begin in July 2020.

--With assistance from Samuel Gebre.

To contact the reporter on this story: Saleha Mohsin in Washington at smohsin2@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Alex Wayne at awayne3@bloomberg.net, Joshua Gallu, Justin Blum

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