Sudan PM, Egyptian official meet amid tensions over Nile dam
Sudan's government gave scant details about the one-day private meeting between Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok and Abbas Kamel, saying only that it came "in the framework of bilateral relations".
But those relations have acquired intense significance in recent weeks, as a few thousand miles upstream, Ethiopia's $4.6 billion dam, the largest in Africa, nears completion and fills with heavy seasonal rainfall.
Ethiopia is staking its hopes of becoming a major power exporter and pulling millions out of poverty on the national mega-project.
Egypt fears the dam could slice into its share of the Nile, the primary source of freshwater for its 100 million people, with catastrophic consequences. Sudan stands to benefit from cheap electricity and reduced flooding, but has raised fears over the safety of its own smaller dams.
For years, the three Nile basin countries have engaged in repeated rounds of talks over the dam's operation. The discussions have grown increasingly testy in recent weeks as Ethiopia threatened to fill the reservoir without a long-sought deal. Experts warn a unilateral filling could push the dispute to a critical juncture.
"River Tales": People of the Nile
For so many people, the River Nile is a source of life and income. It passes through no less than 11 countries on its way to the Mediterranean. From 16 April to 27 May 2015, the Goethe-Institut in Dessau, Germany, is hosting an exhibition of the works of three young photographers depicting life on the banks of the Nile River in Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan. The works are divided into three sections: "A day in the life of a Rosetta family" by Mahmoud Yakut, "Lab of creation" by Elsadig Mohamed Ahmed and "Lessons of humility by the Blue Nile" by Brook Zerai Mengistu
Going beyond the crisis: instead of portraying the political conflicts that affect the countries along the Nile, the exhibition focuses on the people who live along the banks of the river and their everyday lives. Photographer Mahmoud Yakut depicts life in Rosetta, Egypt. Thanks to the soil's fertility, agriculture is a major source of income for many families in the Nile delta.
Fish farms on the Nile: near Rosetta, the world's longest river empties into the Mediterranean. Many people here earn a living from fishing. Floating on the water are wooden fish farms with small huts in the middle. Each cabin has just enough space for a bed and tea-making facilities. Family members take it in turns to guard their fish farms.
Life in the city: the past meets the present in Rosetta. Since the Middle Ages, the seaport of Rosetta has been an important trading hub. History and bustling activity go together. Though life is very simple, the people of Rosetta are renowned for their warmth and generosity.
The role of women: most women in Rosetta stay at home, looking after the children and managing the household. They bake their bread in traditional ceramic ovens. Some sell vegetables and homemade cheese at the market. Despite their poverty, people are very hospitable: sharing is part of their philosophy.
Creative inspiration: the exhibition's three young photographers took part in a workshop organised by the Goethe-Institut in Sudan in 2013. It allowed them to travel to their home countries, many of which are deeply affected by conflict. Photographer Elsadig Mohamed Ahmed from Sudan was inspired by the traditional craft of pottery along the Nile. He feels that the materials and artists are influenced and shaped by each other.
A lifeline in the desert: along the Nile, people have made pottery for centuries. Before the Aswan Dam was built, the annual floods made the surrounding land in Egypt fertile. The river is a lifeline for several African countries: people have always depended on it for water, transportation, energy, agriculture and habitat. It is also a symbol of constant change.
Ancient traditions: pottery combines utility and aesthetics. Down through the centuries, the oldest craft in the world took on the most diverse forms. Many examples of Nubian pottery are now showcased in museums, serving as a testimony of the culture and history of the Nubian people and the Nile.
Lessons of humility: the photographer Brook Zerai Mengistu takes us to the Blue Nile in Ethiopia. He portrays a group of Bible students who try to live like the early Christians. They live isolated from society in order to gain access to the spiritual world and become healers for others. A Bible student's training in this chosen state of solitude lasts 14 years.
Begging Bible students: from time to time, the scholars leave their isolated community to beg for food in the villages. They believe begging teaches them humility, opening the door to spiritual power.
Unity and divine eternity: the Blue Nile in Ethiopia symbolises unity and divine eternity. Away from the cities, the Nile offers space and peace.
That key moment seemed to arrive last week when Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed hailed the first filling of the dam's 74 billion-cubic-meter reservoir, attributing it to the torrential rains flooding the Blue Nile. But he stressed that the filling occurred naturally, "without bothering or hurting anyone else."
The announcement sparked fear and confusion downstream in Sudan and Egypt, leading Egyptian President Abdul Fattah al-Sisi to address the issue in a televised speech on Tuesday at the opening of an industrial complex in Cairo. "We are negotiating, and negotiation is a battle that will go on," he said, seeking to reassure the public that Egypt would not be drawn into an arrangement that jeopardizes its vital water supply. "If there is no success in negotiation, what will we do?" he asked. "No, we will succeed."
Al-Sisi reiterated warnings that Egypt has viewed the Nile as "a matter of life'' since ancient times, acknowledging the anxiety gripping the country as "legitimate". "I am also concerned," he said, but warned Egyptians, including popular TV commentators, against throwing around threats of military action, which he said "is not how to serve our nation's interests".
The president's comments come as African Union-mediated talks, a last-ditch attempt at a deal, drag on. Another round is set to resume next week. Key sticking points remain, including how much water Ethiopia will release downstream if a multi-year drought occurs and how the countries will resolve any future disputes. Egypt and Sudan have pushed for a binding agreement, which Ethiopia rejects.
Sudanese Prime Minister Hamdok chaired a meeting on Tuesday to discuss "Ethiopia's unilateral filling and its impact on Sudan,'' according to a government statement. In a press conference on Monday in the capital, Khartoum, Sudanese Irrigation Minister Yasser Abbas criticised the dam's filling as "a concerning and harmful precedent" in negotiations, leading to "various negative impacts on Sudan." He did not elaborate on the impacts, but last week Sudanese authorities said they recorded a startling decline in water levels at their station on the Blue Nile. Sudan's irrigation ministry accused Ethiopia of formally initiating the filling process by closing the dam gates – a move that gives Ethiopia control over the flow of the water downstream, rendering Egypt and Sudan vulnerable. (AP)