Leaders from Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan signed a cooperation deal on Monday over a giant Ethiopian hydroelectric dam on a tributary of the Nile, in a bid to ease tensions over regional water supplies.
The leaders said the "declaration of principles" would pave the way for further diplomatic cooperation on the Grand Renaissance Dam, which has stirred fears of a regional resource conflict. No details of the agreement were immediately released.
Egypt, which relies almost exclusively on the Nile for farming, industry and drinking water, has sought assurances that the dam will not significantly cut the river's flow to its rapidly growing population. The deal is important because it appears to mark a move away from Egypt's historical insistence on maintaining colonial-era agreements on water rights.
Ethiopia, the source of Blue Nile which joins the White Nile in Khartoum and runs on to Egypt, says the dam will not disrupt the river's flow and hopes the project will transform it into a power hub for the electricity-hungry region.
Ethiopia’s Prime Minister Hailemariam Desaleon said the dam "will not cause any harm to downstream countries."
Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi stressed his country's dependence on Nile waters, adding that with the deal signed Monday the three nations "have chosen cooperation, and to trust one another for the sake of development."
The principles in the agreement include giving priority to downstream countries for electricity generated by the dam, a mechanism for resolving conflicts, and providing compensation for damages, Egyptian Irrigation Minister Hossam al-Moghazii said after the ceremony.
He told reporters the signatories also pledged to protect the interests of downstream countries when the dam's reservoir is filled.
Sudan's deputy water resources minister, Saif al-Din Hamed, said the signing of the agreement "will not stop the current construction and building" of the dam in Ethiopia.
Ethiopia began diverting the Blue Nile in May 2013 to build the 6,000 MW dam, which will be Africa's largest when completed in 2017.
Addis Ababa has long complained that Cairo was pressuring donor countries and international lenders to withhold funding from the 6,000 megawatt dam, which is being built by an Italian company.