Ethiopia will start filling its $5 billion hydroelectric dam on the Nile River in two weeks, the government said Saturday, Anadolu Agency reports.
Ethiopia hopes to retain 4.9 billion cubic meters of water during the coming rainy season in July and August as part of the first-phase filling and the volume will be enough to test two turbines in 2021.
Ethiopia, which is building the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) which worries its downstream neighbours Egypt and Sudan, only confirmed "fruitful discussions" with the help of the African Union, the foreign ministry said in a statement.
Ethiopia has hinged its development ambitions on the mega-project, describing the dam as a crucial lifeline to bring millions out of poverty.
Egypt, which relies on the Nile for 90 percent of its water supply, has raised concerns about the GERD, and said it could impact the country's growing population.
Ethiopia's water minister, Seleshi Bekele, said that consensus had been reached to finalise a deal within two to three weeks, a day after leaders from the three countries and South African President Cyril Ramaphosa, who chairs the African Union, held an online summit.
Sisi stressed that Egypt holds a honest desire to reach a fair and balanced agreement on the GERD that enables Ethiopia to achieve its desired economic development and increase its capacity to generate electricity, while taking into account Egypt and Sudan's water rights as well.
Moussa Faki Mahamat, chairperson of the AU, said the countries "agreed to an AU-led process to resolve outstanding issues", without elaborating.
Sticking points in the talks have been how much water Ethiopia will release downstream from the dam if a multi-year drought occurs and how Ethiopia, Egypt and Sudan will resolve any future disagreements. The Council was expected to hold a public meeting on Monday to discuss the issue.
Joseph Siegle, director of research at the Africa Center for Strategic Studies based at the National Defense University, called Ethiopia's change in position "significant". Earlier this month, an Ethiopian military commander said Egypt knows that Ethiopia can "conduct war" in what was seen as a threat over the issue. "The dams down the river, including the Aswan High Dam, they are at their near capacity", said Siegle.
This June 2013 photo shows construction work at the site of the planned Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam near Assosa in the Benishangul-Gumuz region of Ethiopia, near Sudan, some 500 miles from the capital, Addis Ababa.